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!

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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.

 

 

Even More Gratitude for a High Bottom

Something happened last week that I’d like to tell you about. This story is aimed especially toward anyone who’s sitting on the fence, suspecting that their relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy, but not sure if that’s a good enough reason to quit. After all, you probably have a successful career, marriage, happy family…. You’re fine! You’ve never had to deal with any negative consequences of your drinking, right?

I totally get where you are – I was there too, for many years.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the main reasons I decided to quit drinking was the fear that I would do something under the influence that would hurt one of my grandchildren. Thankfully – I stopped before anything like that ever came to pass.

Our youngest granddaughter is almost two. She lives six minutes away and we see her several times a week. This child is a miracle – born to our older daughter after a pregnancy fraught with complications that I’d never heard of before – complete with an emergency c-section delivery that was completely harrowing.

In her short time on earth, she’s been hospitalized two or three times with viruses and high fevers. She has asthma. And peanut, tree nut, and cat allergies. You’d never know it by her appearance or the way she talks and plays and sings. To say that she’s precious to us is an understatement of epic proportions.

So last weekend was rainy and chilly. I had a hankering for homemade sauce and meatballs. We invited our daughter, son-in-law, and this little one over for dinner.

I’m happily tending to the sauce and boiling spaghetti. For some reason I may never understand, a little voice in my brain says, “Check the pasta boxes.” So I go to the recycling bin and pull one out. I’m struck dumb when I read the ingredients: made with chick pea and lentil flour. Both are legumes and could have caused – no, WOULD have caused – a pretty dramatic allergic reaction. So I told my daughter what I discovered and we quickly regrouped. Little sweetheart did have Grandma’s meatballs, cottage cheese, and corn. Strange combination, but she loved it.

But here’s the thing: if I hadn’t made the decision to quit drinking, I know myself well enough to know that I would have had two or three glasses of wine already on an afternoon just like that one. (Pasta and sauce? You HAVE to have wine, right?) And if I even heard that little voice, which I doubt, I’m reasonably certain that I would have ignored it.  The results would have been awful: for her, for her parents…. And most definitely for me.  I would never, EVER have forgiven myself.  And the entire situation would have been a direct result of the muddled state of mind that I routinely inflicted upon myself by drinking.

By nature, I’m not a hand-wringer or a worrier.  I’m not big into wasting my time with “what-ifs.”

But I know, in the very core of my being, that I dodged a HUGE bullet last weekend.  Another reason I’m so incredibly grateful that I stopped drinking when I did.

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.

The Clarity of Hindsight

The other night I went out to dinner with some family members I haven’t seen since before I quit drinking.  One is a sister who has struggled mightily with alcohol for several years.  The booze is winning, I’m afraid.  She isolates and lives a pretty sad life. I kind of doubt she’ll ever stop.  The other is an aunt, who got to the restaurant a little early, as I did.  She invited me to join her in a glass of wine.  I said, “Actually – I quit drinking.”  She was pretty surprised and responded, “That’s great!  I’m not going to ask why, but – good for you!”  I realized later that when people make a point of saying they’re NOT going to ask why, they’re REALLY asking why.  Without skipping a beat, I told her, “I’ll tell you why. I didn’t like where it was going.  If booze is an elevator, for me it was only going down.  I think I was heading for real trouble.  It didn’t add anything positive to my life so I got rid of it.”

I don’t know if she expected that level of honesty from me but she seemed really impressed.  Her only brother (my dad) was hospitalized for depression and alcohol abuse when I was a kid. My mother’s father was an alcoholic, as was at least one of her sisters.  Besides the sister I mentioned, I have two other siblings I suspect might have a problem with alcohol. Alcohol abuse most definitely runs in my family.

I think the bravest, strongest thing I ever did was to seize on that one moment of desperation and utter despair of the morning of August 18th last summer.  That one moment in time when I flashed both back and forward, seeing where I started with a couple of beers on the weekend when I was in my 20’s, to constant obsessive thoughts about drinking.  Then looking ahead to a future full of more blackouts, hangovers, shame, and what I believed to be the probability of an early, unpleasant death.

That absolutely scared the shit out of me.

And then telling my husband before I could talk myself out of it, like I’d done a million times before.  You probably know what I mean – all the times you make more rules about and around your drinking, only to break them almost immediately.

Anyway.  The point of all this is that, after a little more than 8 months of sobriety, I’m getting more honest – with myself and others – about what was really going on in my mind when I decided to quit the demon rum.  And I’m coming to the conclusion that, if there’s a continuum of alcoholism – a progression of sorts – I was well on my way.

And unlike what you might see in the rear view mirror, as I look back I see things more sharply and clearly than ever.

Quitting drinking is the best, most important thing I’ve ever done.

Life with a normal drinker

My husband had minor surgery on his hand a couple of weeks ago. The other day the surgical site started to look a little funky: swollen, yellowish, and was super tender to the touch. So he called the doctor who prescribed an antibiotic. He stopped at the pharmacy after work and asked the pharmacy tech if there’s anything he should avoid while taking it.  She couldn’t give him a clear-cut answer.

He comes home and searches the drug on the Mayo Clinic website.  Sure enough, there’s a strong caution about avoiding alcohol while taking this medication.

From the other room he calls to me, “Hey, hon – you’re gonna have some company for the next week!”  I have no clue what he’s talking about, of course.  So he tells me he can’t drink while on this antibiotic.  To him, it’s no big whoop.  He doesn’t even bat an eye. I find that kind of approach to booze absolutely fascinating. Bewildering, in fact.

If that had been me, I would have probably talked to the doctor BEFORE he prescribed anything, nervously making sure that whatever he gave me was safe to take if I ‘had a glass of wine or something’. I would have felt an inner panic rising if I had been faced with a whole week in which I couldn’t drink. I’d have done EVERYTHING in my power to ensure that I was prescribed something that wouldn’t interfere with my wine consumption. And if that failed, I would have been completely, 100 percent miserable.

Add that to the list of reasons I really needed to quit drinking.

The Dichotomy of Recovery

Here’s what I’m thinking about today…..

I wrote recently about finally feeling like a grown up. Handling stress, letting it flow through me without trying to control it. Or stuffing it down and drinking over it later.

I was talking to my husband the other day about a kind of revelation I’d had about sobriety. I told him that, another thing I’m realizing about this decision to stop drinking, is that I’m experiencing life now at two extremes of the spectrum.  I feel such joy in the most ridiculously simple things: crawling into bed with a good book, playing with my granddaughters, drifting off to sleep at night cuddled against my husband, a good cup of coffee….. It’s happiness and serenity in its purest form.  Like being a child again.

And at the opposite end, I feel like a brand-new grown up. I’m learning that I can deal with whatever life throws at me, stone-cold sober.  I’ve noticed it may take me a while to figure out exactly how I feel about a situation, and that’s new, too. Just giving myself the gift of time to process instead of rushing to react to everything like I used to.  I would spend so much time shoving unpleasant shit down or avoiding dealing with it by having a couple of drinks to soften the edges for a while.

Life is so much richer and better and authentic now.

Which makes me kind of sad that I didn’t quit long, long ago.