Brand New Experience

This past summer I was super duper busy with my granddaughters, spending lots of quality time with my husband and family, deep cleaning my house, and just generally enjoying some time off work.

I kept meaning to share something with you but life seemed to get in the way: I was a guest on the Bubble Hour podcast! The Bubble Hour is a fantastic resource for anyone who’d like to get and stay sober. There have been a handful of hosts through the years, but the focus of the podcast has remained the same. There’s typically one guest who shares his or her addiction and recovery story.

The current host, Jean McCarthy, was warm and kind and welcoming. I was pretty nervous at first, but after a few minutes that wore off.  It felt like I was talking to a friend – she’s just a wonderful person. She writes the blog “UnPickled,” too, which is another excellent resource.

So, if you’d like to hear my story – and my glorious flaaaaaaat “a” Western New York aaaaaaaccent, have a listen!  Here’s the link:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2017/06/27/mary-of-life-without-vodka-rocks-blog

 

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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.

Three Years

On August 18th I marked three entire years of sobriety. I look back and see myself sitting in the exact same spot on the couch I’m sitting on as I write this. I wish I could reach through the veil of time and comfort that poor, lost woman. She had so much love in her life and had so much to be grateful for – but at her core, was so lost and felt so alone and so damn scared.

The one thing I wish that I’d known about sooner was the private Facebook group that I eventually learned about and joined.  It’s called the Booze Free Brigade and it’s chock full of the best people I’ve never met.  We all share a single goal: to live our very best lives without alcohol mucking everything up.  There are people in the BFB from all walks of life at every stage of the journey, and it’s a beautiful thing.  It’s a 24/7 support group. I’ve made a new friend who lives near me and connected with people from all over the world – there is absolutely nothing like talking to people who “get” you.

In the past three years, I’ve experienced just about every challenge you can think of. There have been births and deaths, my children have faced some major crises, work issues that have tested me, weddings, family and day-to-day stress,  and most recently – my 40th High School reunion.  Interestingly, the reunion was very, VERY difficult.  I graduated in a class of almost 1,000 – and did nothing of note during my three years there. I was incredibly uncomfortable for much of the evening – and didn’t want to drink so much as just pull an “I Dream of Jeannie” –  blink my eyes and disappear.  I felt uncomfortable and awkward and out of my element.  If my husband hadn’t encouraged me to walk around and talk to people, it would have been a complete waste of an evening.  I would have been far more comfortable in a room full of strangers than I was surrounded by people who, for the most part, I only had vague memories of.  Without the social lubricant of alcohol, I realized I have a definite social anxiety/shy streak.

I wish I had something new to say or some sparkling nugget of wisdom to pass on, but I don’t.  If you’ve just stumbled on my blog and/or you’re new to this journey, all I can encourage you to do is: anything but drink.  Read as many sobriety blogs as you can – some good ones are: Tired of Thinking About Drinking, Sober at Sixty, Mrs. D is Going Without, and UnPickled.  Listen to podcasts!  The Bubble Hour,  Since Right Now, and Hip Sobriety come to mind.  Eat ice cream, candy, popcorn with real butter – any damn thing you want.  Make things easy on yourself:  if the answer to any question isn’t a “Hell, yes!” – then it’s “Hell, NO!”  Cut back on any obligation that doesn’t make your soul sing. “No” is a complete sentence.  Try meditation.  Insight Timer is a great app – maybe costs two bucks – and is worth its weight in gold.  I use it every night. Try yoga – it works wonders for a million reasons.  There are tons of videos on YouTube. And when all else fails, go to bed.

And as for me, I plan to stay the course and make the most of whatever life throws my way. I’ll be posting less – but if you need me, I’m only an email away. (lifewithoutvodkarocks@gmail.com)

Take good care, friends!

 

 

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.