Having declared myself for Dry January, I feel like I should pop in to say that it’s… working. I have had a terrible cold that I am struggling to shake so I can’t say I’m feeling great or even better than I did in December, but definitely clearer. I am more here – present, I guess – when I am not drinking. This is not always easy because I have realised I have a strong tendency to anxiety and that is amplified when I am not (self) medicating. (This by way of saying that I have raging anxiety at the moment but I know why – some of it is circumstantial and a lot is because drinking alcohol dulls the anxious churn and now it’s back and loud.) The thing is that the booze dulls everything else as well and as attractive as that has been I don’t think it’s worth it. I am grateful to be here.
If only to put a stake by the road. I did a bit of experimenting with drinking (and weed and medication, although not at the same time) in 2019. They all helped a little or a lot to still the noise and break up the relentless press of days, but on balance the price is high, and I can no longer ignore the insistent interior whisper that the peril is great indeed.
So, Dry January. It feels terribly prosaic and I am extremely self conscious posting in this quasi public forum in case I have screwed the pooch and can’t stick it – but of course that is why I am doing it.
Last year was, in many ways, awful, and much of what made it so rolls on into the new year and decade. My own compass continues to spin wildly in the aftermath of loss and its attendant upheavals – too many and too personal to catalogue – and the world burns. I don’t think sobriety will make this an easier year to navigate or bring wild improvements to what is, but this little foray into (insobriety?) has taught me to value and long for the clear eyes that can *really look* at all this, and hope and reach for joy anyway.
2020 here we go.
I am not at all sure why I am here, or even whether I can be here, but for the first time in four months I felt compelled to try so I am going to give it a go. Perhaps it is the lovely roundness of the milestone, but those things do not feel so shiny any more. I lost my dad, who I adored, this summer and it is has unmade me. It was a sudden, very unexpected death and although we have many reasons to be thankful, both for his extraordinary life and an end in which he (at least) did not suffer and would very likely have chosen over the indignity of infirmity that he so feared, the shock of loss and the bewildering nature of grief have left me disoriented and out of step with the world.
Shortly after I started writing this morning my brother called, and we spoke for a very long time, which is not our habit at all. I felt interrupted when the phone rang but it was a really good talk.This afternoon a close friend phoned for the first time in a couple of months (more perhaps another day on the unexpectedly devastating effect of bereavement and grief on friendships – a cruel insult added to a barbarous injury.) Again I felt interrupted, and I hesitated for a long moment before answering. I am finding talking to people terribly tiring, but I have also found the entire experience of grief desperately lonely. In fact, far from disrupting my day or wearing me out I found both conversations to be nourishing and comforting, and it made me reflect on how poor I am at seeking connection, although it is clearly something I need and crave.
There have been so many hard things that it feels a little absurd to focus on any of them: in the face of the utter desolation of my dad not being here any more everything else pales. And yet. A very hard thing, for me, has been having to show up empty handed. This has always been true and I think relates to my posts at the start of the year (although they feel like several lifetimes ago) about worthiness, but this time has thrown it into sharp relief. Not having ANYTHING to give, and having to show up anyway, has made me realise how hard I have always hustled to be worthy of friendship, kindness and community. I’m fumbling a bit for language, here, but I don’t think this will be a particularly foreign tale to anyone reading a sobriety blog. It has been really, really hard to take what I need from my community without being able to “pay” for it, even though I know that I would never expect that kind of payment from someone else in my current position. The result has been that I have not been able to reach out for support that I have really needed (and which would have been gladly given by many.) I think what I am actually talking about is grace: impossible to earn and thus terrifying to accept without also accepting inherent worthiness.
It is strange and somehow inevitable the way these things wind up being deeply connected. The decision to stop drinking was born of a wildfire blazing wholly out of my control, and threatening to overwhelm me and my family. Ultimately, I do not believe that my addiction was either a bad path that I chose or a punishment for some transgression or flaw, nor is my sobriety a product of my own decision (this smacks of determinism and is not exactly what I mean, but I sure didn’t do it by myself) or virtue. Equally, my dad didn’t die because he or we deserved it or didn’t cherish him and each other and life enough. As outrageously hard as it is to accept, the pain and suffering that is so much the stuff of life is unearned and unavoidable, and hustle will not see us through. All there is – all I have – is grace.
Certainly it is by grace that I had a year of sobriety before my dad died. I was able to show up for my mom and do unthinkably hard things in those first hours and days, and I have been able to face, however fearfully, the pain of this great grief. I am so grateful, and proud, to be here, and to have had the opportunity to talk a little with my dad about the road I am on.
I feel that I am ending this a little abruptly but I have to go to school to get the boys and it has been a helpful process.
Words and sentences were flooding through me a few minutes ago – would have been pouring out of me had I only had the means… or perhaps not. Now that I find myself comfortably situated, keyboard at hand, I am fumbling for that fleeting erudition. It is difficult not to attribute this at least in part to a sort of cowardice, given the intended stuff of this writing. I will carry on, regardless!
Thirty seven has recently seemed to me to be awfully young to have stopped drinking alcohol forever. I am actually 37 for the second time, rather splendidly, as I spent a whole year being 37 – knowing that it was so and writing in on forms and all the things – realising only as my birth month rolled around that the birthday most recently celebrated was in fact my 36th.
Still, I don’t think that is why I have been feeling too young for such drastic steps. Rather, I suspect, it is the insidious creep of time and with it the forgetting that breeds complacency.
I always meant to chronicle my “bottom” here as a means of holding myself accountable and inuring myself to this very phenomenon, but I never quite got around to it. It came to me not in one messy breakdown, although there was plenty of that, but instead by degrees. A series of little deaths and with each a whisper that was ever more insistent; a knowledge that was there as surely as I know the year of my birth and thus my age and which I persisted even so, in misremembering.*
In August I stopped breastfeeding my baby. I loved breastfeeding and knowing as I did that this would almost certainly be the last time I loved breastfeeding him intensely. It was not enough to put the brakes on my wine drinking, though and I knew that the short, greasy hours between my collapsing into bed and nursing him in the morning were too few to imagine that all or even “enough” of the alcohol had been metabolised. I knew then.
In September, barely functioning under the weight of another brutal hangover, I was trying to make a smoothie for my boys and inadvertently switched on the immersion blender while I was scooping it out with my finger. I had to rely on my then-7 year old to help me dress my finger, maneuver the baby into the carrier and shepherd the four of us to an urgent care so I could have it stitched. I knew then.
In October I writhed with embarrassment as I sat drinking a glass of wine on a busy bar patio midway through trick or treating with my boys. I hated the judgement I felt in strangers’ eyes and hated myself, but I couldn’t do without that drink. I knew then.
In November, watching the devastating election results come in I didn’t even try to stop myself. Having drunk the one bottle we had in (never buy more than you are ok with drinking) I went out and bought two more. I abandoned myself to the desire to obliterate everything, and set about it. Although they were exceptional circumstances I woke up sick and sad and very afraid that I had crossed a line or at least peered into the abyss. I announced that I had given up alcohol and lasted 12 days. There are always exceptional circumstances. I knew then.
In December, a few days before Christmas, I left the kids with my mom on Saturday afternoon to finish up the last of my shopping. When I got back my oldest asked me where I had been. I said something vague about errands. “I know what you did,” he replied in the matter of fact way of young children. “You went to [the wine shop] and you bought wine and then you drank it in the driveway and went and put the bottle in the recycling so no one would know.” I hadn’t had anything to drink that day, nor been to the wine store, and I never drank in secret or tried to hide the bottles and to this day I don’t know how or why he came up with such a detailed tale, but I knew then that he knew, and that was worst of all.
It took me five more months of trying and failing to not know, to “get things under control,” to drink less or to not drink every day or to not drink at home or to never drink alone, and reassuring myself that resisting the voice that told me some mornings that “a drink would surely take the edge off and it’s foolish to suffer like this all day just for the sake of waiting until 5,” was itself a victory and a sign that I was not that bad after all and there was still time; but I knew then, too.
Our 10th wedding anniversary is next week, and if you had told me on my wedding day (or to be honest on our 9th anniversary) that we would not be popping champagne to celebrate because I was also celebrating 10 (and a half!) months of sobriety, I would have been a little skeptical, if not a lot incredulous.
I am happy and proud to be sober today, but it would be disingenuous to say that I am not sad as well. It was such an easy, obvious way of celebrating, of letting loose and forgetting the ordinariness and the struggle of everyday life, and although more often than not I drank too much and was left with regrets after even the brightest celebration, I am very sad that we can’t share a bottle of champagne (or two) and listen to music from when we were dating and laugh and get a bit silly on our anniversary.
I think I have been feeling recently that I have ruined something good, putting a kibosh on something fun and lovely, but for better or worse (ha!) it had long since soured. I have only to look, a little fearlessly after all, at where I was and what I knew then, to see that my sobriety is a gift to be prized and protected. I am so grateful to be here, and to know for sure that I don’t have to go back to that dark and fearful place, ever again.
*Misremembered is claiming not to be a word but of course it must be, because it is just what I did and indeed have been doing again, recently.
The plan was to come and write a sort of re-centering post (I’m still here! I still rely way too heavily on coffee and sugar! Oy.) Anway, I have a new laptop and I switched browsers, so my drafts folder is in a different place and caught my eye; I went to see what I had left in there and found this. I don’t actually know how to feel about the fact that it is seven months old and totally on point for me today, but the title I was planning on using today was “Sitting with what is,” (which is totally aspirational, mind you) so I guess I’ll sit with this still being where I am at in many ways. I wandered away from gym again toward the end of last year (wandering away is definitely a theme. Parenthesis another…) but I am back and grateful to be. All promises below to the contrary I’m not going to edit. I never managed to finish this thought and I want to post it and then keep working through it.
I was awake for an unnecessarily long time last night, composing posts of vitriol and loathing in my head. It seems that this New Cup may be sloshing around some Old Anger for a while longer – righteous and petty, both inwardly and outwardly directed. Oh, yes: I’ve got it all going on! But it’s Friday morning, the sun is shining and I have had a useful (if daunting) little insight that I want to get down here in hopes of developing and eventually working through it.
This morning at the utterly ungodly hour of 5:41 my husband – for whom this is a regular rising time although he is not really a morning person either – shook me awake, turned on my bedside light and made me pick up my coffee so I wouldn’t go back to sleep. (He is much, much more virtuous than I am and for the most part very much better than I am at overcoming his baser nature, for which I am usually profoundly thankful but which also elicits occasional belligerent irritation. Can you be belligerently irritated? I was last night, anyway. Ha! It’s taking me a while to get to the point here – I may have to come back and do some heavy editing.) In fairness, this is what I had explicitly asked him to do, and he didn’t know that I’d been up half the night.
Fortunately for both of us he went straight off to gym, leaving me to glare into the middle distance through my first cup of coffee and decide how much of my morning’s ambitions could realistically be achieved. Inevitably the light woke our oldest (apartment living) who came and crawled into bed next to me, which woke our youngest (involuntary, on our part, co-sleeping.) My urgent, unwavering need for solitude and silence in the morning can only realistically be met by stoically ignoring everything and everyone until I am ready to face them – easier said than done. I have high hopes that “easier” mornings will be an eventual benefit of sobriety,* whether because I am able to wake up a bit earlier and more easily thus not disturbing the boys and giving me a bit of legitimate quiet time or because my need for same diminishes somewhat, but for the time being this is where we find ourselves. (*They absolutely have been! Still very much a work in progress as I go to bed too late and seem naturally to need more sleep than the average bear, but around about the 8-month mark I started, finally, to sleep all night, almost every night.)
Anyway, so at last to the point. A lot of editing, definitely. The reason I asked to be woken so early and… thoroughly is that I wanted to fit a gym class into an already full day. Since I stopped drinking my workouts have improved considerably, in large part because I make it into the gym more regularly than once a fortnight and I am bringing my whole self to each one. The classes are short – half an hour – but intense and I work hard. I revel in the strength and capacity of my body.
I am strong, and getting fitter, but I am definitely not where I would like to be. For as long as I can remember, really, I have suffered from pain in my right hip and shoulder, which varies in intensity from mild to virtually debilitating and refers all over my body. Finally, though, after almost 37 years of living in this body, I have stopped telling myself that the way to wholeness and health is to try (or wish) harder to be like everyone else.
Instead, in addition to the scheduled gym classes I have started going for somewhat regular massages and doing some one-on-one sessions with my coach to identify and address the specific issues at the root of my pain (musculoskeletally speaking, but there is a metaphor here…) These are nothing like the regular classes. We move slowly, trying different exercises in different positions. We talk a lot. We are trying to figure it out, combining my lived experience with his knowledge and expertise. I work hard, but there is no endorphin high.
Wonderfully, though, after each session there is a marked difference in my understanding of my own body, which I am able to bring to subsequent workouts and I am steadily better able to keep up with the group in intensity and proficiency. My first insight, as I jogged (staggered) home from the class this morning, spent and exhilarated, was that I need both – in life as in fitness. What works for everyone will work for me IF I do my own work on my own stuff.
The second insight is harder to swallow in some ways and is actually the reason that I am leaving my long-suffering husband to cope with the boys, who are literally climbing the seats of this mercifully empty train, so that I can get this down before it vanishes in the chaos of the day.
This is a superbly dramatic point to have stopped writing. Presumably the situation on the train escalated, although the specifics are mercifully lost to the swirling mists, etc.
I suppose mostly because of a lengthy exercise-free hiatus progress has been slow on the fitness front, but I am so happy to realize as I write this that I am actually not at all in the SAME place as when I wrote this post, although it speaks to things I have been thinking about a lot.
The second insight, which I never got to recording after all was actually the subject of the post (the title, anyway,) and what I grappled with on that day was how much unnecessary pain I had caused myself in refusing to address the root causes of my problems. I think I see now, though, that I did what I could until I was ready to do more, and if the pain I caused myself (and others) was the cost of surviving, then there is room there for grace. I am grateful to be here. I am stronger than I was, and learning – one day and sometimes one moment at a time – to use my body and my life fully and intentionally.
In thinking about my word of the year I have also had cause to consider some of the ‘dirty’ words I have come up against since beginning (officially) this journey last May. The ‘A’ word, obviously: am I? Aren’t I? What does it really mean? Then there are the others that I have also had to confront, reluctantly and full of fear; “depression” “medication,” and one that has been persistently and increasingly insistently demanding my attention: cross-addiction. (Is this one word or two? Is this even exactly the right word? Let it stand.)
A guest post by Veronica Valli on A hangover free life on Tuesday finally gave me a frame for really confronting the issue and I am here today (a bit like church! Ha) to try again to tackle it.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in sobriety is believing that drinking is the problem when it is a symptom of the problem.
Our real problem is how we think and how we feel. We have to develop new and better ways to deal with our feelings and emotions. Because when we feel differently, we act differently, says Veronica.
How much easier it would be to be normal. A “normal” drinker, thinker, feeler, processor of life and living. I wish I was, sometimes, but of course there is no way of knowing which bits of myself would be left and which lost if I could be cured once and for all of the darkness, and the compulsive consumption that I resort to so readily – sometimes in a conscious bid to vanquish the darkness and sometimes just… because. Boredom, possibly, or something more destructive.
In any case, I am not “normal” even to the extent that there is such a thing at all. Alcoholic or no there came a time when I understood that I was powerless over alcohol, and that no relationship with it could ever be healthy. I had to quit, once and for all. Cross addiction is proving thornier. I can’t – well I don’t want to – quit sugar and caffeine once and for all. What a prospect! But the truth is these are not innocuous comforts or harmless distractions for me.
While I will not go so far as to liken, truly, either of these (or for that matter Bejeweled and its time-sucking brain-numbing ilk) to alcohol, there are some distressing similarities at least in my life as I am living it at the moment.
I wake up eager for my first cup of coffee and if my husband, who rises first, has not yet made any I feel disgruntled and cross until it is ready and poured. Sometimes I will drink a whole pot and be left shaky and agitated. I know before the last cup is poured that I have had enough. I know from bitter experience that if I drink coffee too late in the day I will have a terrible night’s sleep, making the next day worse, but I regularly do it anyway. I have a hard time leaving coffee in the pot, and I spend too much on it when I am out.
As to sugar… I have seen it discussed often enough on these pages and elsewhere by people in recovery to know that I am not alone. I always know how much there is in the house and as often as not once I start on a bar of chocolate (or box of cookies or tray of brownies, I cannot stop until it is finished. I hide it from the rest of the family so I won’t have to share. I have been known to contrive grocery orders (a household can always use a colossal stash of extra toilet paper, right?) in order to have a fix delivered late in the afternoon, after being “good” all day and committing in all sincerity to a dessert-free evening. Sometimes, if I really go to town, the late-night load of sugar actually causes me to wake up at 3am, a low-key version of the wine-fuelled wakings of old and accompanied by milder but unlovely feelings of shame and regret.
The less said about Bejeweled the better.
These are not comforts, nor are they harmless. They are hurting me. I am hurting myself. I am impeding, delaying, preventing my recovery. I understand that, at least for now, moderation is not a good strategy for me. I have decided that my last cup of coffee must indeed have been my last, for a while at least and that sugar is off the table.
For today, it seems to me that the most important thing is really looking at the thing and I must admit that the act of writing all this down has been sobering. I hope that posting this here will give me some of the same sense of accountability that I got, especially in the early days, when I stopped drinking. Simply abstaining from one substance and replacing it with others is not going to be enough for me any more. I cannot truly be sober until I learn to live with and as myself. I am worthy of a full and healthful recovery, and that is surely a thing to be grateful for.
This is a bit of a random post but here goes. It occurred to me last week that I come over as a bit of a joyless fucker on here – a great deal of navel-gazing and not a heap of happy. (I know that joy and happy are not the same thing but for the sake of the flow of the sentence, let’s go with it.) I am and have ever been a terrible navel-gazer, but I’m not joyless and it is to my sorrow that this community especially should think I am. So here, a bit of ridiculous joy.
I made myself a desk! Indeed, a study. To give you some perspective, we live with our three boys in a two-bedroom apartment. We are very lucky to have as much space as we do in Manhattan, but our kitchen and living area are all one space, so there are no extra rooms. As soon as the lights through there are switched on in the morning, at least one of the boys wakes up and the household is in full swing shortly thereafter. This means that although I would dearly love to have some kind of morning practice (meditating/writing etc) I can’t unless I am prepared to do it in the dark.
At least that was the case until today… Last year we gave over the master bedroom to the kids after our youngest graduated from his crib, but I refused to give up the closet which is not colossal but is a walk-in. We put shelves in front of the closet door to kind of partition the room and so that we could access the closet (and the bathroom with the shower) without disturbing the boys if they were asleep – and, let’s be honest, as a way of marking the territory.
By now of course you know where this is going, but I will take my moment. I have moved my clothes into a chest of drawers in our bedroom and taken the bottom shelves out of the built-in unit in the closet, thus converting the middle shelf to a desk just wide enough to accommodate a laptop and a cup of coffee. I can shut the door and turn the light on, and in theory have a space and a moment all of my own while the rest of the family slumbers.
Admittedly I am hunkered down on the kids’ bathroom step-stool as the current arrangement is too low for a proper chair, and it remains to be seen whether the ever-vigilant crew will really let me get in here without waking up, but there are refinements I can make and this is already a massive improvement on the situation as it was a few short hours ago. I am quite delighted and excited!
I am so happy to be sober. In my drinking days I would never have contemplated intentionally waking up before everyone else, let alone actually getting out of bed (or for that matter actually risking time alone with my thoughts,) and look at me now: not just contemplating but taking actual steps toward the goal. Woo hoo!
That is going to be my word for the year; just quietly, for me (and the internet.) It is not what I expected – I have been trying on words like “health,” “well” and “better” – but I realised yesterday that I have more work to do in this area than perhaps any other. It’s a funny one because the way it comes to me is somewhat paradoxical.
**I have gone off on a total tangent below that has been really helpful so for now will say only of worthy that the paradox is that my intention for it is both to really embrace my worthiness as I am and to work on making choices and changes this year that are worthy of the life and purpose that I have been given by grace.**
Somewhat is one of my very favorite and possibly most overused words. It is such a useful qualifier and so indicative of my unwillingness to commit myself to a position; another paradox given my proclivity to extreme/absolute thinking.
This was supposed to be a footnote and morphs into a whole idea of its own. I definitely need to do this more! A change that sobriety (and therapy) seems to be effecting in me is a shift away from the very binary worldview that I only now see I had in so many areas – that is, good vs. bad people, feelings, beliefs; a sense that there is always a “right” way of doing things and being in the world (and mostly that was some other way than I was doing and being.) This resulted in a lot of harsh judgement of myself and others, and caused me to miss out on a lot of the nuance and ‘grey’ where so much that is true and beautiful lives.
As I write this I see that perhaps it is not a paradox at all. “I don’t know how to stand where my feet are!” is language that has come to me often over the past year or so. My unwillingness to commit , my reliance on “somewhat,” is born of a deeply-held fear or conviction that I am going to come down on the “wrong” side of whatever binary and I can’t be certain until I’ve kind of floated a possibility and received some sort of external validation or not of my position. (“I think I feel… But maybe not. I could be wrong?”) For instance I have the hardest time not asking my husband to read the most banal emails even after I have sent them to make sure I haven’t said the wrong thing.
(Of course there is more to this. There is something here about worth and worthiness, not to mention procrastination and avoidance, which, in all their destructive forms have seemed fundamental to… my very nature, almost, all my life and the reasons for that are likely to be more complicated than a binary worldview. See? Nuance and grey.)
I guess the point, though, is that my feet are very firmly (really a paradox – haha!) in the nuance and grey and as long as I keep looking for them in the solid, sure places I will not find them. I think this is what Pema Chodron talks about as “groundlessness,” which resonates so profoundly for me. The validation I am looking for will never come because although of course there are many wrong (and many ‘right’) ways to do and be there is no certainty – no absolute, ultimate ‘correct’ answer. There will be no check mark and the only way to stand where my feet are is to understand that there is truly no place to stand, finally, at all. This is groundlessness, I think. It is wonderful and terrifying all at once and definitely part of why I drank – something about averting my eyes from the abyss.
Banishing ‘somewhat’ from my lexicon is extreme and, let’s be honest, unlikely but I think this is a good jumping-off place for learning to make peace with the uncertainty of life and how I move through it. I will absolutely, definitely sometimes get it wrong but a lot of the time I won’t know for sure and will need to keep moving anyway. This is awfully long and I don’t know if it makes a lot of sense – I apologize if anyone else has read this far. I am practicing talking to myself! :p
January 2, and here I am – and back at the gym. I feel like a bit of a cliche, and that is a little disheartening, Do I really have this in me, I wonder? Haha! Even this effort was just almost derailed by a suspected mouse, but it turns out to have been the coffee machine. Perhaps a reasonable indication that I am beset less by the universe than my own thinking, such as it is.
I have felt such urgency to write over the past couple of days – less plan/intention than agitation and mental chatter – but it would be fair to say that the transition from Old Year to New did not go exactly to plan. My oldest son was struck with some unknown and unknowable ailment on Sunday and we ended up spending the day and most of the evening in the emergency room ruling out the direst possibilities. We got home a bit before 11 but by then I had neither the energy nor the inclination to reflect on the year past and discuss our hopes and plans for the year to come as has been our tradition, and we ended up sprawled in front of Black Mirror, pausing 8 minutes from the end of the episode to observe the change of the hour and year, and then shuffling off to bed no later than 12.09 (sober, though, and that is a thing to celebrate.)
Yesterday saw great improvement in the health of my oldest, (8) but the darkness and peril 6 has been navigating – and we along with him – came out in full force, and in the end we made the decision that my husband would take the other two out for the planned New Year’s day outing for lunch and a movie, and I would stay home with 6. ( I don’t love naming them by their ages but lack the inspiration for apt pseudonyms and this will suffice.) Having spent his fury and distress at being left behind, he fell into a deep, hours-long sleep, leaving me to my less-than-bright thoughts. Even a clinical recounting of the day’s events is making me quite tearful – there is a lot of stuff here. I am very afraid… actually it’s worse, really – I believe that a lot of 6’s anguish is my fault.
I have never had a problem bonding with my babies, and I adore my boys and marvel every (most) day anew at the privilege of watching them grow and become, but I have not been the mother I want to be or that they deserve. 6, particularly arrived at a time when my own life, interior and (exterior? environmental I guess) was in turmoil. On reflection it was not so much the case that I suffered from postpartum depression after he was born but really that the depression I experienced after 8’s birth never really abated. I see now that I was so very lost, and after 6 was born our lives were in such chaos in so many ways (in such a terribly first-world, privileged kind of a way – I make no excuses.)
This is not what I want to write about today. It speaks to my need for an outlet that I am babbling so. This kind of writing and thinking is not optional. I cannot expect to move forward if I don’t do the work. That gets me closer to what I was thinking about this morning.
By the time I really understood that I needed to stop drinking, around about November 2016 but it took fully seven months after that for me to finally put down the bottle, I was desperately lonely and isolated. I knew I was failing. I knew there was something wrong with me and I was breaking my life and my family, and I could not understand how other people held it all together. I couldn’t understand how even my drinking friends seemed able to know when they had had enough, and stop. I knew that even though we all posted the same Facebook memes and made the same jokes about mommy juice and wine o’ clock, we were not all walking the same road, at all. And I was afraid. I believed that I was all alone. Not quite an alcoholic – no vodka on my cornflakes which is pretty much the main criterion, right? – but not normal either. Not healthy.
I came across a book, “Sober Stick Figure” by Amber Tozer, totally, entirely by accident (the spine is brightly colored and it stood out in a photo someone posted on Twitter of something else on their desk – ridiculously random, and definitely not my subconscious crying out for rescue) and I devoured it. So it was that I came to the genre of alcoholic (sober?) memoirs and from there to the sober blogosphere. The relief and hope and sense of homecoming that I experienced changed and I think saved my life – certainly in a form worth saving. I think in my first post I wrote something about clutching at a hope – starting my blog as a lifeline. And it was. Without it, and without the amazing support – direct and indirect of this community, I doubt that I would have made it through.
And here, I think, the misstep. I was so lonely, and it was such a profound, soul-deep relief to find that I was not alone at all and that there were many other women walking this road that my desire for connection overwhelmed all other aspects of my writing and process. I have always understood that I don’t know how to write for myself – I have never had a diary for more than a few months, nor have I been able to use my writing as a means to grasp and enliven my ideas, but what I am just now comprehending is that I don’t know how to talk to myself. I don’t know how to think. I will never not be lonely until I learn how to be my own friend. I have to learn to write and think and accept those products for what they are. This is not to say that I don’t want to be a better writer and thinker; only that my thoughts and words are already worthy. They matter because this is where I am and that is the only place I can begin. I can, I think, be in and of this community as a person… Hm, I’m not totally sure what I mean by that but I will leave it I think. I will read this again (and again.) I need this to be a space where I figure things out, instead of a place where I share what I have already learned.
Well it has been a while! We came back from San Francisco and hit the new school year running. My oldest son has aged into the standardized tests (3rd grade) about which my feelings are strong and not very positive, and I found myself immediately much more involved with the boys’ schooling than has hitherto been my wont. Busy-ness is not really the reason that I wandered away from this space, though. Although I posted a few times early on about coming to terms with the reality that sobriety would not equal an end to all my problems I think I believed that it would put paid to the problems of being me. This language is extreme and not entirely accurate but I have only allowed myself 20 minutes here, otherwise I would have talked myself out of showing up at all, and I think that I have been depriving myself of the time and ‘head’ space to really reflect on the ways I have grown and changed over the past five plus months. It would be fair to say that my intention in posting today is mostly by way of reclaiming this space for myself and setting the intention to be present here at least somewhat regularly.
While I am not really missing drinking (no one is more surprised than I am) I am missing that surefire method to quiet the noise, if only temporarily, bitterly. My mental health is precarious and my emotional and spiritual wellbeing (and the peace and functioning of our household) seem entirely subject to the crests and valleys of my hormonal cycle, which I suppose I did not notice while I was drinking because the hamster wheel of drinking through the evenings and staggering through the days lent a certain – if wholly undesirable – levelness.
I don’t feel awful all the time. I am insanely grateful not to be drinking and to be beginning the work of learning to human sober, even as I am daunted to find that it is a much more arduous endeavor than I anticipated. I don’t think I would have had either the courage or the clarity to reflect on my feelings about education and privilege and my kids’ access to both of those in any meaningful way if I was still drowning out the noise instead of trying to organize it, and I am grateful for that as well. If the way forward is messy, at least I believe there is one. As to being at the whim of my hormones, I was a little blindsided by the discovery, but without seeing ourselves as we are I suppose there can be little hope for progress toward where we would like to be. My plan is to spend a couple of months tinkering with supplements and diet and if all else fails I will follow the suggestion of LG (the therapist I have been working with) and speak to my doctor about medication. Just being able to entertain that course of action is, in and of itself, progress.
My time is up! That went as quickly as I suppose I knew it would. I hope this isn’t wildly incoherent but it is at least a beginning. One brief reflection as it came to me when I thought about writing this post and made me feel such deep sympathy for the woman I was a year ago and a new surge of gratitude for the changes this year has seen. Last Halloween I took the boys trick or treating at the Winter Village in Bryant Park, planning to meet up with my husband, who works nearby, and then go on to our traditional neighborhood outing. Having completed the circuit of the stalls there we settled to watch the Peanuts Halloween special that was being screened at one of the outdoor restaurants. Of course I ordered a large glass of wine – I had earned it! The thing is, it was no reward. I passed the 20 minutes or whatever it was in paroxysms of paranoid discomfort, certain that all other patrons, passers-by and serving staff were judging me for drinking alone with my children and in the (late) afternoon, or for having my kids in a bar at all. They probably were, but who cares really: the truth is that I was judging myself. I knew that I was in trouble. I knew that not being able to get through a half hour of trick or treating without a drink was a problem, and that my choice was neither appropriate nor “fun!” (I was such fun. A real good-time girl. Ask my kids.) I doubt I even enjoyed the drink. We will go trick or treating tonight (although we will forgo the crowds at the Winter Village – this journey is also about learning my limits) and I will not “deserve” or “need” a drink afterwards. This is not to say that I am going to find the crowds and the boys wild over-excitement and the ridiculous surfeit of candy wearying and likely a little overwhelming, but it will be fun, too, and I am able to give them this without needing a reward* or anesthetic to endure it. That is certainly something to be grateful for.
*Well perhaps a little treat. Ah, sugar…