The Journey of 1,000 Days

….. Began with a decision. A decision that was born from a moment of the purest intuition. I just knew – in the very deepest core of my being – that I could no longer continue drinking. It was absolutely going to kill me.

One thousand mornings ago, I woke up – yet again – unable to remember going to bed the night before.  Or the details of the television show I’d watched.  Or much of anything after the big fat martini I’d consumed, come to think of it. (Which was after the drink in the afternoon and the glasses of wine I’d  had with dinner, of course.)

I woke up to my morning ritual – silent self-interrogation:

How much did I drink?

Do I remember going to bed?

Did I say or do anything I need to apologize to my husband for?

Along with the resolve to STOP drinking so often, so recklessly, so unpredictably….

I’ll never forget that moment: when a thought – no, more like a voice – unbidden and unwanted, said, “You need to stop drinking.” I couldn’t un-hear it.  Couldn’t un-know what I knew. I felt my blood turn to ice as I realized what I needed to do.  I had to save my own life. There was no turning back.

And the first year was alternately exhilarating, and terrifying, and sad, and frustrating, and exquisitely strange, and unbelievably wondrous.

Year two was when I could start to take my eye off the ball. Being a non-drinker became much more comfortable and natural. I felt like my old self, only a little more socially subversive and with just a touch of bad-assery.

I thought I’d be done getting used to this new way of life by now.  But I’m still growing and learning how to navigate tricky situations and uncomfortable moments.  Mostly by reminding myself that “I am the sky, and my feelings are just the weather.”

And when I start to feel guilty about treats or self-care, I need to remind myself that:

Sobriety is HARD work.

Taking care of myself benefits not only me – it allows me to be the very best person I can, which in turn creates a positive ripple effect that touches everyone in my life.

There was always money for booze – why not for self-care?

And the thing that I’ve realized that surprises me the most, is that my growth as a sober person will continue for the rest of my life.  At least, I certainly hope so.  Because I’m ready – both hands and my heart are wide open.

 

 

 

 

Moving Right Along….

Holding steady here at 26-plus months of sobriety. Ticked off the last milestone on my list: a wedding. The only problem I encountered was having to wait until almost 8:30 for some kind of food to be put out at the reception, and avoiding some family members whom I don’t care for.

It was extra nice to not have to wait in a loooooong line for little tiny glasses of wine.

It was a wonderful evening – my entire little family was all there, sitting at the same table. I loved watching my sweet granddaughters play with each other.

We’ve had some more family stress since I wrote last. My son and his family were in an accident while riding in a Winnebago a few weeks ago. My son and daughter in law are both still dealing with aches and pains and bruises. Our older granddaughter suffered a broken collarbone; her little sister has a severe laceration on her face. They’re all lucky to be alive and I’m so, SO grateful that the injuries weren’t worse.

I had a mini-crisis at work, which caused me to struggle to get through every day without crying (and I’m not a cryer) – which I finally brought to the attention of my co-workers. The issues were addressed and resolved and I’m happy to go to work every day again.

And through it all, I realized that, again, drinking never occurred to me. It’s just not how I cope any more.

But here’s the thing: I’d been getting multiple daily emails about sobriety, and subscribed to a couple of sobriety podcasts. I had the realization the only time I thought about drinking was when it was brought to my attention….. And what I’ve discovered is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to read or listen to everything in my inbox.  Nor do I feel the need for the support.  It’s kind of like getting constant emails about how to care for a newborn – when you’ve got teenagers.  Just not relevant any more.

So I’ve unsubscribed from all of it and am enjoying the feeling of working without a net. Those emails were a lifeline for so long – but I’m solid in my sobriety.  I don’t ever see myself drinking, ever again. Life is too good to mess around with booze.

I’m still active in the private Facebook  group I belong to, although I tend to check in and ‘like’ and comment occasionally, rather than post often.  My life is happy and busy and overall, my problems are pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things.

So, friends….. My posts here are likely to become more and more infrequent, as the revelations that early sobriety brings have pretty much run their course. I’ve no plans to shut down my blog, but I’ll only be posting things I think will be helpful or resonant with you guys.

Take good care; talk to you later!

Two Years Sober

Two years ago today, I woke up sick at heart, sad, disgusted with myself, and desperate. Desperate for change. Desperate for something better. Desperate for a life I had no clue how to create. I knew that doing the same thing, over and over, was not working for me. And that it would most likely have disastrous results.

I was drinking. Too much and too often. Not every day.  And not every time I drank.  But far too often – more often than I was comfortable with.  I’d wake up full of regret and self-recrimination and promise myself that I’d never do that again.

I wasn’t drinking to escape anything. There wasn’t any trauma in my past that I was self-medicating over. I had an amazing husband who adores me.  A comfortable lifestyle. Three great kids, all happily married, productive members of society. Three beautiful, healthy granddaughters. A fulfilling job I enjoy with co-workers I adore. Plenty of time off.  So why?  WHY couldn’t I control my drinking?  What was wrong with me?

I may never know for sure, although genetics is probably a factor. There’s alcoholism and alcohol abuse on both sides of my family.  I’ve reached a stage in my life where we have more expendable income. My kids are grown and independent and I’m not “on call” 24/7. And maybe, just maybe – if you ingest an addictive substance often enough over a period of say, 30-plus years, you juuuuuust might start sliding down the slippery slope of addiction.

I knew in the very core of my being that I was in trouble and that something had to change. How I secretly wished that some external force would intervene and I’d have to stop drinking! Something that wasn’t life-threatening but serious enough that it would be an easy choice – because I had zero faith in my ability to walk away and stay away.

Pulling the thread of alcohol from the fabric of my life left a pretty big hole, and I had no idea how to fill it.   I started by searching online for blogs and support groups – and found both. I found Tired of Thinking About Drinking and pledged not to drink, come hell or high water, for 100 Days. I found Mrs. D and UnPickled and a private FaceBook support group full of the best people on earth. I started this blog about two months into the journey. I napped a lot. Rediscovered a long-forgotten love for sweets and homemade desserts – because macaroons and martinis don’t go well together.

I had to work hard to learn how to feel and process uncomfortable feelings, without pushing them down or away, to drink over later.  And – boy, howdy – I’ve had many opportunities to practice this new skill! I hit a real rough patch at work that reduced me to tears more than once, about six months in. Helped one daughter through a cancer scare and another through a miscarriage.  My son lost a job we all foolishly assumed was incredibly secure.

And there have been two Thanksgivings and Christmases and New Year’s Eves – stone cold sober. Another huge surprise? The ever-present glass of wine only added to the stress of hosting holiday gatherings. Not so easy to coordinate dinner for upwards of 20 people when you’re muddle-headed on Chardonnay.  Who knew?

What I never expected to discover is that saying “no” to one thing – something that I thought I loved but finally realized wasn’t doing me any favors – has allowed me to enthusiastically say “yes!” to so many things I never would’ve even considered trying.  Like taking ice-skating lessons with my husband. And meditation. And taking Power Yoga classes, which I’ve become 100% obsessed with.

If you’d told me, two years ago today, as I sat in my family room so sad and lost and feeling so alone and broken – that I’d have better and more authentic relationships, more fun than I’d had in years, and peace of mind and a serenity the likes of which I’ve never known – I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend how it would be possible. And I’m not sure I would’ve believed you.

Let me amend that – I DEFINITELY would have thought you were lying to me, at best – or full of shit, at worst.

But when I wobbled, I was able to stay firm in my decision, using experiences from when I quit smoking as a reference point. I quit smoking, cold turkey, when I was 22. A few years later, I picked it up again socially (this was before smoking was banned in bars and clubs). Within very short order, the compulsion got stronger and stronger. I created opportunities to smoke. My re-addiction was cut short by my third pregnancy, and I never picked up a cigarette again.  So I knew I could be free of my obsession with alcohol, as long as I quit completely.  Forever.

Initially, I felt such an overwhelming sense of relief – especially after sharing my decision with my sweetheart of a husband, who told me how proud of me he was and that he’d do anything – including remove alcohol from our home – to make things easier for me.  And then I got through the first weekend and thought, “Okay. That wasn’t so bad – I can DO this!”  Keep in mind that, other than my pregnancies and a month or so over 20 years ago when I stopped just to prove to myself that I could – I hadn’t gone a weekend without drinking in more than 30 years.

And, sure – there were times when I felt “other than” and left out of the fun.  I mourned the end of socializing, and celebrating, and consoling myself, and I don’t know –  Tuesday – as I knew it. I got the “grumblefucks” when it seemed like everyone in the friggin’ world was sipping ice cold white wine or drinking a craft brew. And there I was  – with my big dumb coke glass with a big white straw  jabbed into it- sticking out like a sore thumb.

But slowly and gradually, I’ve evolved. As a non-drinker and, hopefully, as a human being. My perception has shifted. I’ve gone from feeling conspicuous and uncomfortable to feeling just a li’l bit like a superhero. I mean, this is HARD, people! To say “no” and hold firm while navigating my way through a society that’s absolutely DRENCHED with booze?  When everything from Paint Night to Book Club to Play Group to Yoga is paired with alcohol? Amazing!

So. Year One was all about navigating new experiences as a sober person.  Figuring out how to create new habits and coping strategies when stress came calling. Year Two beckoned me to get my health – physical and mental – in order. Talk therapy? Check! Physical therapy for a bum elbow and shoulder? Check! Re-establish healthy eating habits? Check! Explore new forms of exercise? Check!

Onto Year Three – come along with me?

 

Perspective

I had an experience the other night that I’d like to share. This is especially for those of you who are in the very early days of sobriety.  I remember feeling so anxious and awkward and anxiety-ridden, especially as it pertained to social events and dining out. Like my skin was on inside-out; unsure of myself and uncomfortable.

About eight weeks in, I celebrated a special birthday.  My husband and I went to a fancy-schmancy restaurant for dinner. Once we were seated, the maitre d’ approached our table with two glasses of champagne and a big smile. Internally, I freaked out.  What do I do? What do I say?

So I kind of blurted out, “I’m sorry – I don’t drink!”

You know  that sound effect on TV – when the needle screeches across a record and everyone freezes?  Well, that’s what the reaction was like.  He stopped dead in his tracks, his smiled faded, he spun on his heel and whisked the offending beverages away.

Awk- warrrrrrrd.

So fast forward to this week.  Another nice dinner out to celebrate our 37th anniversary.  Different restaurant, same scenario. Waiter approaches our table with two champagne flutes, saying, “First things first. Happy anniversary!”

This time?  I smiled graciously, thanked him, and as soon as he walked away, slid the glass over to my husband.

When the waiter came back, I ordered a club soda with lime and a splash of grenadine.

And everything was just lovely.

It gets so, SO much easier, friends!

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.

This is What 600 Days of Sobriety Looks Like

Today marks 600 days since my last drink. 600 days since I woke up with shame. Or self-loathing. Or regret. Or worry about the damage I was doing to myself.

And, the morning of the day I decided that I’d had enough – that I had to stop or I was going to die before my time, by my own hand – I was as scared as I’d been in as long as I could remember.

Scared that I’d never have fun again. Scared that it would negatively affect my relationship with my husband. Scared that I wouldn’t know how to fill the gaping hole that would be left.

So much has changed since that day.

Yes, I’ll admit that I was sad and teary and terrified to leave my old buddy, my pal booze, behind forever.  I was in an emotional free fall, plummeting blindly without a clue where I’d land.  I felt raw and weird – like my skin was inside out. And after a month or so of what seemed like a bone-deep craving for sleep – these emotions started bubbling up from some pit in my psyche.  And I didn’t know what the hell to do with them!

I had so much help from Belle (Tired of Thinking About Drinking) and her 100-Day Challenge.  Her daily emails gave me accountability and a lifeline to a sober mentor. She’d give me homework assignments and reassure me that everything I was feeling and thinking was 100% normal and to be expected. I ate all the treats that I’d denied myself for years: homemade macaroons, pies, cakes and cookies.  What fun I had!  And I still lost weight without trying.  I read sobriety memoirs and found Mrs. D. and UnPickled on the internet.  I started writing this blog and eventually found my way into that private Facebook sobriety support group I’ve mentioned before.  That was another game changer.

I cut way back on “have to” and focused way more on “want to.”   My husband and I are taking ice-skating lessons!  I’ve started taking a weekly yoga class and intend to explore that even more often as the school year wraps up and I have the summer off.

There have been more subtle changes that I only notice when certain situations arise: conflict or any kind of emotional discomfort.  I find that I perseverate and beat myself up less.  I’m learning how to sit with unpleasant feelings and not immediately try to change them. And I can’t even remember the last time I picked a stupid argument with my husband or went to bed in tears over some real or imagined slight. We’ve never been closer…. His eyes shine with pride when he looks at me. Even better – I’m proud of who I am.  This is something only total badasses do!  And another surprise is that he drinks much less than he did before.  I was a very bad influence, I’m afraid…

Life continues to be “interesting.”  I’m becoming more confident that no matter what happens, I can handle it without altering my mental state.   Or even wanting to.

Which is pretty amazing, considering the fact that only 20 short months ago, that was my automatic go-to; my one and only coping mechanism.

Oh, friends.  Don’t get me wrong.  My life isn’t perfect.  I’m certainly not perfect.  But life is so much better and richer and more authentic and more – real – than I could’ve ever imagined. Or dared to hope for, on the morning of August 18th, 2014.

I’m one of the lucky ones who got to make the decision to walk away, before there were any horrible consequences.

You can do this, too.  Care to take a walk with me?

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.

My Word for 2016: Health

Well, friends… now that I’ve got enough sober time under my belt, it’s time for me to focus on my health – mental and physical.  Starting this week, it’s back to counseling.  My therapist has recovered sufficiently to begin seeing me again.  I have so much to catch her up on, in the four months that’s elapsed since our last chat. I feel as though I’ve been in an emotional state of stasis since I saw her in September.

And I see my primary physician early next month to discuss physical therapy for a strained left shoulder,  and golfers’ elbow in my right arm.  Super frustrating as I tried cold laser therapy for the elbow, which was a gigantic waste of money and time. And I love to incorporate weights in my workouts.  Now I can’t even lift a 6 pound dumbbell comfortably.  I used to curl 20 pounds! Ugh.

The fridge and freezer are both stocked with healthy foods: fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy.   Breakfasts and lunches are prepped and healthy dinners are planned for the week. Time to tame the sugar monster: bowls of berries and cut-up fruit will replace ice cream for evening treats.  This is my year to focus on getting in the best shape of my life.

The second set of sober holidays was much, MUCH easier than the first.  So much more comfortable and normal feeling.  I’ve also noticed that the “drink counter” in my brain seems to have taken a hike.  I no longer notice, with such glaring focus, what everyone else seems to have in their glass.

Another new experience? Handling some pretty overwhelming worry sober.  One of my kids has a health issue that is almost positively minor, but I had managed to work myself into a near-frenzy over it. It cast a pall over much of my holiday break. I’m typically not a worrier and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t “talk myself off the ledge.”  Until I realized that this is the first time I’ve experienced something like this without any anesthetic.  I did work my way through to the other side, but – boy, howdy – it sucked scissors. But it just goes to show that we can handle the hard shit that life throws us, stone-cold sober.

And continue to grow, and learn, and evolve.

 

Is That All There Is?

Ugh. I’m really struggling these past few days. The entire world seems to be awash in cocktails, celebrating and partying and having fun.

And here I sit, with my stupid decaf. Feeling like a big fat loser.  Wet blanket. Stick in the mud.  As my mother-in-law used to chant teasingly to any of her children in a bad mood, “Every party has a pooper – that’s why we invited YOU!”

Last night, I was having dinner with my husband and daughter. They’re both in my “inner circle.” Daughter is eight years clean after a horrific couple of years on heroin. Hubs understands very, VERY well that I was heading toward big trouble with alcohol.

So when I took a deep breath and said something about sobriety being boring and missing out on all the fun – there were two very stricken faces and four big brown eyes locked on mine.

My husband has told me before that he would do everything in his power to prevent me from drinking ever again. And I’m really grateful for that additional layer of insulation. Because I just feel……. blah.  Like a big fat martini sounds reallllly good.

And then my daughter chimed in. She said that quitting alcohol is way harder than getting clean for her was, inasmuch as she couldn’t imagine being surrounded by people snorting and shooting heroin all around her and resisting it.  She reminded me that booze is just about everywhere you go these days, and – what’s more – there’s a societal expectation that everyone joins in! Non-drinkers are truly the odd men out.

I’m fifteen months in – and I have no idea if what I’m going through normal or not.  It’s just what I feel.  Sometimes the thought of never joining in the ‘fun’ again makes me so, so sad.

But I know that feelings aren’t facts and that this too, shall pass.

I’m not going to drink.  And after a long, tough week at work and a long day yesterday full of chores, my instincts are telling me it’s time for some good, old-fashioned self care.  So that’s definitely on the docket for this week.

I’ll let you know how it goes….