Addition by Subtraction

Last weekend we went to a concert .  Our local philharmonic was playing, featuring the music of Elton John.  His music comprised a huge chunk of the soundtrack of my youth. One of the first songs they played was “Daniel.”  Admittedly, it’s a sad song – and I felt the tears start to well during the opening notes.  I was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia and regret and gratitude.

The nostalgia piece is probably obvious…. I spent hours as a young teenager, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom in front of the record player listening to “Madman Across the Water” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”  Memorized the lyrics written inside the album cover, singing along with every song.  It brought back memories of the girl I was, with my entire life ahead of me. I’m at a point in my life where there’s more of my life behind me than in front of me, and I guess I’m getting nostalgic in my old age.

And I had one of those “time-removed-from-time” moments: when you step outside of yourself and view your circumstances with such clarity and perspective that it feels almost other-worldly. I was so acutely aware of how the old, pre-sobriety me would have most likely approached an evening out like this one.  I would have suggested dinner out first – most likely with a cocktail first, and then wine with the main course.  The concert hall had several bars set up – I would have insisted that we wait in line to purchase overpriced glasses of wine to sip either before the concert or during the intermission.  Then I would have been a little “itchy” as the evening wore on, anxious to get home and have even more drinks.  Because it’s the weekend.  And a special occasion, of course.

And finally, the gratitude that washed over me was all-encompassing. Almost overwhelming.  It occurred to me that I was absolutely present and living in the moment – loving every second of the concert and so gloriously, acutely aware that this new way of life is a gift and a blessing.

I was struck by this feeling that I’d  been asleep for so long, focusing too often on the wrong things – and I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 months honing in on how to create a new life for myself. Without a trap door or escape hatch.  I’m just now fully waking up and appreciating the gifts that have been right in front of me for so long.

This sober life, that I was so terrified of – is so completely amazing.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Two Secret Lives: Then and Now

Oh, my friends…. how much can change in one short year!

I think we all have two lives in many respects: the life we’re given, and the life we make.  Or the life we show the world, and the one we live in private.

I’m no different.  A little more than a year ago, I looked exactly the same.  Well, maybe about five pounds heavier.  Same hair, same clothes.  Same smiling face that I showed to the world.

But what was going on inside was very different than what my exterior portrayed.  It was nearly impossible for me to allow myself to feel any intensely uncomfortable emotion: anger, frustration, sadness…. I’d push those feelings down or just far enough away to hold them at bay – until I could have a drink.  And then they’d dissolve – temporarily.  And, oh – how I worried about my relationship with alcohol.  How I’d create opportunities to drink.  I felt so much guilt over how much I looked forward to it.  I’d promise myself over and over that I’d drink less often. And break that promise to myself, time and time and time again. How I struggled, keeping my concerns to myself because I knew if I shared them with my husband, he’d be terribly concerned about my drinking.

I finally reaching a tipping point.  A point of no return, when I realized that I could no longer drink in safety.  That I might have already done permanent damage to my health, although I had no symptoms as such – yet.  I simply couldn’t continue the way I was going.  I absolutely could not imagine a life without alcohol.  But I knew in my soul that, for me,  a life that continued to include booze would be tragically abbreviated.

So what’s my secret life like now?

I gotta tell you, it’s friggin’ awesome. I’m learning to show compassion to myself.  When I make a mistake, I own it, try to learn from it, and move on.  I find myself getting lost in moments of pure joy – just like when I was a kid and would play for hours and hours, losing track of time.  I’m still reveling in this new found, wondrous, child-like simplicity. To have a ball-crusher of a day and reward myself with a decaf and a couple of chapters of a trashy romance novel?  Who’da thunk it? Talk about simple pleasures!  And the best part is, no dark shadows in the back of my mind, like I struggled with/pushed away/drank over for years.  It’s just the best, BEST feeling to be clear of mind, heart, and conscience!

And – I feel a li’l bit superior, I have to admit.  I’ll take life, straight-up, no chaser, please! I’m so proud of myself for making this decision and sticking to it, come hell or high water.  I have this glow I feel, deep within, that I’ve done something that few people can say they have. It wasn’t easy – as a matter of fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I’m really the most bad-ass grandma in town.

Almost every single choice we make has pros and cons.  But, honestly?  Not this one.  It’s a win-win-win: for me, my family – the world!

One Year: Celebrations and Observations

So, the parade is over. Confetti’s been tossed, marching band is back on the bus. Clowns have piled back into their teeny tiny car and driven off.  And life goes on.

The night before my one year anniversary, my husband took me out for dinner at one of our city’s finest restaurants. The waitress approaches to take our drink orders and excitedly announces that, since it’s the restaurant’s 40th anniversary, the first glass of wine is only 40 cents! I just smile and order my club soda with cranberry and lime – and the two of us notice how the waitress’s face falls momentarily.  Whatevs.  We had a delicious, special dinner on a lovely summer evening.  So we get the bill and his eleven dollar glass of chianti costs 40 cents and my two mocktails come to six dollars.  But, interestingly enough, most of the nice restaurants we’ve been to in the last year don’t even charge for club, cran, and lime.  When we called it to one waiter’s attention, he said, “It’s just water.”

Yesterday, which was the actual one-year mark, we babysat two of our granddaughters during the day.  They’re 5 and 2 and super active so I didn’t have too much time to reflect on what I was doing on this day last year.  Last night, we watched our youngest little sweetheart because it was her mommy’s birthday and we offered to take her so her parents could have some time to themselves.

She is just beginning to walk and loves nothing more than to practice her new skill, toddling from one end of the family room to her Grandpa, then pivoting and making her way across the room to me.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

As I’m watching her, I just can’t get enough of her energy: eyes alight with glee, her little tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth with concentration, huge grin, babbling with delight…. And I have that moment – when time freezes and you step outside yourself – and I remember EXACTLY where I was and how I felt one year ago.

And the contrast just floors me.  I was in the same room, holding this same precious baby, who was 2 1/2 months old, feeling so shaky and teary and scared shitless.  Terrified of the thought of never drinking again. So, so sad to have to say goodbye to alcohol. Too scared to to even try to imagine what my life would be like, post-booze. Feeling like I was teetering on the edge of a precipice, taking a heart-stopping free fall into an alien world.

And I had this moment of realization – I feel JUST like this sweet little toddler! Thrilled and proud and so friggin’ EXCITED about life!  Like I’m steady on my feet and confidently striding into the future! Getting stronger and more sure of myself and more confident with every step – I can’t WAIT to see what the coming year holds!

I hope you’ll come with me as I embark on the next phase of my journey – let’s go!!!

 

First Sober 4th and a Few Other Things…

My first sober Fourth of July is in the history books…. and, much to my surprise, it provided more challenges than I thought it would. Summer’s been harder than I thought it would be, even after almost 11 months of sobriety. It seems booze is in my face everywhere I go… Strolling down the main street of our town where people are dining and drinking outside, there are live bands playing every block or two and people are holding cups of beer or wine.

And – have you been to the movies lately? Have you seen the booze commercials before the movie? And here’s what I love: the slogan is all about “making the night unforgettable” with booze.  Hello?  Are you shitting me right now?

And I’m the allergic little kid staring longingly in the pet store window at the adorable puppies romping inside.

We went to a family party on the 4th where again, I was surrounded by people drinking beer, wine, mojitos… But guess what. Nobody but me gave one little shit about what was or wasn’t in my cup. (Diet grapefruit soda.) After I got over my bad self, I ate whatever I wanted.  And second helpings of dessert.

I was never at risk of throwing in the towel and drinking; I don’t ever plan to imbibe alcohol again. But the notion of being sober had faded to the background; become a thread in the fabric of my daily life. That fabric has become a little scratchy and uncomfortable lately and I just need to break it in a little bit –  it’ll be just fine.

Oh – and the counseling dilemma – I did go back for the second visit. We talked a little more and I was very honest about how deeply upsetting I found the breathalyzing/pee testing. And we agreed that this particular agency is not the place for me.  So the counselor there is going to come up with some names of psychologists she’s referred other people to.  She seems to think (and I agree) that short-term, issue-specific CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is what would be most beneficial for me.

So that’s what’s new.  My plan is to keep plugging along, doing my thing and enjoying my summer.

And I have confidence that things will get easier again, as long as I keep doing the next right thing.

Battle

“When called into battle, you don’t rise to the occasion. You default to the level of your training.”

Well, my friends – my level of training is woefully deficient.  Here’s what’s been happening, as I round the corner on 11 months of sobriety. First, and most importantly, my life absofuckinglutely rocks.  I’m crazy about my husband, kids, grandchildren, job, co-workers, friends, and most of my family.  I’ve got this self-care thing down pat.  I work out, eat right, make sure I have plenty of “me” time, and have pared way back on things I was doing that didn’t make my soul sing.

But there’s ONE thing that’s bubbled up to the surface of my mind, and it’s floating along like trash on the surface of a pristine lake: my relationship with my mother. It is difficult.  Has always been difficult.  For me – not so much for her. She thinks everything is peachy. Because I keep my mouth shut.

Listen, I don’t mean to offend, but – her belief systems, world view, and politics are diametrically opposed to mine. Which is fine.  I have a couple of friends who hold the same opinions as she does and we’re civil.  We respect each other’s right to be wrong and move on. Not an issue. Not the same with my mother. If you don’t agree with her, she plays the morality card. Or the “next life” card.  She has been known to take something I’ve said, gnaw on it for six months, sharpen the edges, and throw it back in my face when I least expect it. I don’t feel safe with her.  I’ve learned not to share anything of substance with her. So I bite my tongue and seethe and passive-aggressively avoid her for seven weeks at a stretch.

And goddamn it, as a 55-year-old grandmother, I have earned the right to speak my mind when she goes off on a tirade about global warming or how the Democrats were against the Civil Rights Act or whatever.

I just don’t. Know. How.

When I was growing up, I was a feisty, mouthy, spirited little kid. And I learned, in very short order, that those qualities were not valued in my family.  Any sign of rebellion was quite literally squashed – with the back of a hand, a hair brush, wooden spoon, fly swatter, or belt. I never learned conflict resolution skills because she doesn’t fight fair.

So I find myself seeking counseling to put some tools in my sad, empty little toolbox. I want to learn how to stand my ground and respect myself without diminishing her.  Because to me, silence is compliance.

I had my first appointment yesterday.  I went back to an agency that my husband and I went to years ago, for codependency, when our daughters were in active addiction.  And I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision about where to seek help, but I’m going to reserve judgement until the initial assessment is over.

But I didn’t appreciate having to blow a breathalyzer and having to pee in a cup with a counselor standing next to me in the bathroom. Ew.

The irony being that I’m there BECAUSE I’m solid in my sobriety – and that, from what I’ve learned, it’s pretty common for other issues to crop up once you’re not thinking about not drinking all the time.

So, friends, I’ll keep you posted.  If this isn’t the right place for me, I’ll keep looking for help.  Because she’s 84 and life’s too short to waste.  I know she’ll never change; I’m the one who has to. I just need some expert advice.

A Few Thoughts on Drinko de Mayo

Just wanted to share a few random thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain…

So last weekend I’m watching TV and there’s a commercial about celebrating Cinco de Mayo (which is, in my opinion, is nothing more than May’s excuse to get shitfaced, much like St. Patrick’s Day in March.) It’s a combined commercial for some brand of tequila and Corona – and the message is that you absolutely have to include alcohol to have a good time. So annoying. Give me some good guacamole, queso, and chips – and I’m a very happy girl.  No booze required.

So then last week I went out to dinner with some girlfriends.  There’s this wonderful Italian restaurant we like to go to: “Ole Blue Eyes” croons in the background, tons of black-and-white photos of New York City and the Rat Pack on the walls…  Anyway.  I’m enjoying my decaf, looking around, and notice this quote by Frank Sinatra, in a frame on the wall near our table.  It says, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink.  When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”

Huh.  I would have agreed with him, 265 days ago. I felt sorry for poor suckers who didn’t drink – they did NOT know what they were missing!

But I have to vigorously, fundamentally, emphatically disagree with him, after nearly nine months – NINE EFFING MONTHS, KIDS!!!  I feel good in the morning, sure – but the time of day that I generally feel the best is when I crawl into bed at night, super proud of myself and totally stoked to read for a little bit before I turn off the lights. In the old days I’d quite often have a drink on the nightstand and to be honest, didn’t retain too much of what I’d read…. And typically, I’d be feeling disappointed in myself for drinking more than I meant to/should have/wanted to.

So Frank can suck it, as far as I’m concerned.  Sober is SO much better.

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.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Leaving a little later this morning; my third sober vacation since I quit drinking. I have books loaded on my phone, my meditation app to help me sleep, and my headphones. I’m good to go.

Had a momentary flashback of our trip last April…. We went to a Sandals resort for our 35th anniversary. They airline overbooked our original flight and we ended up getting upgraded to first class for the two flights to the resort.

The whole experience was exciting and luxurious. The steward fussed over us the whole time, refilling my wine glass over and over. And over. By the time we got to the resort, I had probably consumed the better part of a bottle of wine. You can’t say no, right? I mean – it’s free!

So we get to our room and it’s early afternoon and I need a nap. My husband decides to walk around the resort, get the lay of the land – while I sleep for a little while.

Well, while I’m sleeping off multiple glasses of Chardonnay, he’s texting to check in with me. My phone’s on silent, so it doesn’t wake me up. He’s texting and texting. I’m sleeping and sleeping. He’s getting more and more annoyed with me.

So our first day at this gorgeous, exotic resort starts on a sour note because I’ve had too much to drink.

Seriously? Wasting the first three hours in paradise asleep and then bickering with my husband???

Never. Again.