Five Years

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

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

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

Just. Don’t. Drink.

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

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What in the World….?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

You guys understand.

Thanks for listening.

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

A Few Thoughts….

I’ve mentioned before that I think our society is soaked in alcohol, especially as it pertains to women. It seems that every “Girls’ Night Out” event includes wine. Just last night, I saw a commercial sponsored by a local bakery. Here’s the concept: bring your girlfriends and the ubiquitous bottle of wine. And decorate cupcakes together. Ummmmm…… ok? Cupcakes and wine, together at last. Seriously, people.  Let’s see: what goes well with cupcakes……. Well, wine, of course!

And I think today’s women have been sold the shittiest bill of goods ever. We’ve been taught that every rough spot that life provides requires alcohol for lubrication.  Rough day at work? Have some wine! Fight with your husband? Well, wine’s the answer! Kids driving you nuts? Wine will help smooth out those rough edges (even at playgroup).

Not to mention that no celebration is complete without booze. Birthdays, holidays, special occasions – you HAVE to have a glass (A glass – yeah, right) of wine.

I’m not paranoid by nature; nor am I a conspiracy theorist. But if you step back and take a hard look at the bigger picture, how very convenient, in our society – which remains largely patriarchal – to keep women “medicated.” I kinda feel like booze today is the Valium of my mother’s generation.  There’s certainly no stigma attached to drinking – quite the opposite, actually.  If you DON’T drink, you’re the odd man (or woman, as the case may be) out.

In today’s society, the consumption of booze is endorsed, promoted, and encouraged in much the same way that smoking cigarettes was in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. There are already studies coming out showing an alarming increase in alcohol-related health issues for women.  Our bodies aren’t built to drink or process alcohol the way men’s do. Young women are binge-drinking at higher rates than young men.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and make a prediction: it may not happen in my lifetime, but I truly believe the tide will turn. I’m convinced (and fervently hope) that the medical community will force society to ultimately see alcohol for what it is – an addictive substance, not a necessity at every social event.

Don’t get me wrong: if you can drink safely and truly moderately, go for it! (But if you follow this blog, that probably doesn’t include you.)