Day 98 in the City by the Bay

Day 98!! It is just gone 6am, and I am watching the sun begin to lighten the skies over a foggy San Francisco from the dining room in our gorgeous B&B. We seem to be the only guests and our hosts are away for the weekend, so I have had to crash about the kitchen coming to terms with their coffee machine on my own (why is it that the gauges on coffee makers never ever correspond to any useful kind of measurement?) I made tar, basically, which I suspect I have now diluted too much – although in fairness the first sip of tar has skewed my taste perception a little. Anyway, it’s hot and bitter and all the boys (husband included) are still asleep so let’s call it a win. SF is three hours behind NYC so I suppose this is jet lag; 6am not being an hour I am terribly fond of or familiar with. During my years of crappy sleep (and, let’s be honest, constant hangovers) the hours between 4 and 7am were regularly the best and sometimes only deep sleep that I got, and my husband (R) has graciously if not skippingly shouldered the burden of early mornings in our household. I am determined that the new school year will see a more equitable split of this ungodly work, so this is good practice! 

This is our second visit to San Francisco. We visited last spring, arriving on day 12 of a planned 30-day alcohol and sugar detox. Predictably, the first day of that trip was by turns a great adventure and insanely stressful as the boys were out of their comfort and time zones and pretty wild. By 5pm I had a serious case of the fuckits, and by 5.01 (or thereabouts) we had nabbed a table on the terrace of a seafood restaurant and I was getting stuck in in to my first glass of prosecco, thus setting the tone for the rest of the trip. We had fun. We did a lot of sightseeing and exploring and enjoyed spending time together as a family, but the black dog (which I now understand to have been the wine witch all along) was my constant companion. Hungover and nagged with shame in the mornings I took several opportunities for a lunchtime pick-me-up and urgently looked forward to my first drink with dinner around 5 or 6, after which I would rush through my part of the bedtime routine so I could sink onto the couch with a (deserved! Earned!) glass (bottle) of red.  The fact that our hosts on that trip were a couple of British-expat stoners mitigated the walk of shame a little, but our accumulated recycling at the end of the trip took some carrying out nonetheless. 

I must be honest and say that I am deeply uneasy at how disconnected I feel from the woman who visited San Francisco last year. Intellectually, I remember the cycle of drinking and recovering, the mad scrabble at the end of the day to make sure that we had enough booze for the evening (only one evening at a time or I’d end up blowing through more than my allocation and writing off the next day) and feeling like shit as I staggered through the first few hours of our day’s activities (with lots and lots of coffee – not everything has changed) but for the most part these first three months of sobriety have been free of overwhelming cravings or triggers and it is only with effort that I can summon the awful sensations that accompanied the cycle. I regret that I didn’t blog more during the early days when all of that was still fresh. I am afraid that it has been too easy, and that I will forget how precious and hard-won the clarity and wellness I now enjoy really is. I hope not. 

I suppose this post ends up being an effort to remind myself and stake my ground, or something. It’s not what I intended writing, actually. The reason I came upstairs to write was that I was completely blindsided by cravings (of exactly the intensity that I just described having been, for the most part, spared) on our first day here. There seems to be booze everywhere – craft beer and organic wine ON TAP in loads of the coffee shops (!!!) and everywhere around us people having such a lovely, relaxing time. Of course this is also my first sober holiday since I was a teenager, and the association of drinking with holiday mode runs strong and deep. The boys are just as wound up and unmanageable as they were last year, and maintaining a vestige of order has been challenging (tantrums and full-contact wrestling on public transport, etc, etc, ad infinitum – always a joy for us and all those around us) which is also a monster trigger for me. 

I am also plain old tired. We’re coming to the end of a hectic summer, and getting the five of us packed and across the country (two days after hosting the Middle’s 6th birthday party, mind you!) was no small endeavor. We’re walking miles every day and as every step is through largely unfamiliar territory it all takes a lot of mental energy as well. I’m a little surprised that tiredness should prove to be such a trigger but on reflection I suppose in the context of being on holiday it prompts memories of the buzz and the energizing high of the first drink or two and the fluttering anticipation thereof – something about dopamine. I am definitely a little dispirited not to be leaping out of bed with boundless energy to play and explore and be super mom (surely that is not too much to ask of 98 days of sobriety…..) and that traveling with small children has not miraculously transformed itself into an exercise in unfettered joy, but – and here we come at last to my intention for this post – I am ok. I am not drinking. I gazed on those happy revelers with sadness approaching grief and yes, I felt those feelings. 

Then, thanks entirely to this community of bloggers for sharing your own similar experiences and thus giving me the tools and the language, I played the tape to the end. One celebratory, decompressing, energizing drink would have led to another and another. The shame of falling so close to the 100-day milestone would have been crushing and I would have lost all that I have gained in clarity and self awareness and pride. Traveling with little kids would be no easier and I would  have cut my own legs out from under me as far as the fortitude (seriously) to do the hard parts, to empathize with their discomfort and parent them instead of trying to control them, and the headspace not to take their behavior so intensely personally (I still totally do this but it has gotten much, much better.) 

This is not the quick, pithy post that I had intended but it has been more therapeutic even than I hoped. Thanks for bearing with me! The day is well and truly begun, now, and though much of the view remains shrouded in fog I know that it will lift as the sun is shining brightly. I am looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful city and being present with my family as we make memories I will actually remember. I accept that moments of grumpiness and craziness are likely (from all of us) and that there may well be more cravings before this holiday is through, knowing absolutely that I am better equipped to face all of that because I am sober. I am so, very, utterly grateful to be here. 

Xx

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In the Weeds

Well! My sober summer (hashtag) is proceeding apace. This may not work out as a post that I can publish in the end, but I have been feeling extremely disconnected both from this community and my own interior life, as it were, so I thought I had better have a crack at it. As usual, I hoped to have a little more time, but just the act of creating this post has given me a measure of satisfaction. I’ll take it. 

My husband and I are having our first date night in some considerable time, and our first sober date night in longer still – possibly ever. I’m sitting in the bar area of the bistro where I am meeting him and enjoying a nonalcoholic cocktail while I wait. We are (so! More on this another time, perhaps) fortunate to live in New York City, where restaurants and bars are accustomed to accommodating all manner of needs and preferences, and it has been my experience this summer that “Something nonalcoholic and not too sweet,” is usually sufficient to produce a passable libation at the very least and, certainly as far as I have been aware, no particular surprise or censure. (Tonight’s effort is well beyond passable – yum!) 

On balance I am immensely thankful for the busy-ness that has kept me from the blog. As I have mentioned before, we made the decision to keep the boys out of any summer camp this year, and it has gone better than I dared hope. In particular I am grateful for the measure of peace and stability that sobriety has given me and so brought to my parenting and our home. Admittedly, these are relative attributes – the boys are… spirited and my noise tolerance is not what it could be. Blowups of one kind or another are not infrequent, but they are as passing squalls and on the whole we are all learning not to take them wildly personally. Between times we are having a lot of fun and I hope making memories we will all cherish. 

I started this on Friday and it is now Monday. Life continues to happen too fast for much meaningful reflection. To some extent I think that is just the season I am in (both summer and the stage of life I am at while my kids are still young and I am just getting the hang of sober living and parenting) but I am also very aware that my spirit/soul/interior life really needs attention and nurturing – that the lack of such has been both the cause of and caused by my drinking (which irony – paradox? – is almost too heavy to bear, really.) 

Our date night was good. We were definitely a bit self conscious with one another- one of the many things I regret about my habit of ending each day with a bottle of wine and oblivion has meant that my friendship with my husband has suffered terribly. We seem to have lost the art of connecting meaningfully with one another, and that is something that will take time and effort to restore, although I am hopeful. It seems to be something we both want, and perhaps that is half the battle. 

We spent the weekend with my parents and I think I have sort of outed myself, somewhat unintentionally, but I suppose I am relieved. We are very much a family who drinks together (which sounds less convivial than tawdry – it has been both in its time) and when I made the decision to stop drinking in May I told my parents that I was doing 100-day challenge – a “sober summer.” We have all expressed periodic discomfort with our own (and/or one another’s) relationships with alcohol so I knew that my 100 days would be accepted on its face and hopefully give me a bit of time to get my head straight. 

As I am now past the three-quarters mark (whoop!) and 100 days will more or less coincide with their 40th wedding anniversary I have been feeling a bit of pressure to move the goalposts, so to speak, and an opportunity presented itself while I was out jogging with my dad. He is dealing with a bit of a crisis at work and has decided to abstain until things have resolved so he can face it all clearheaded, and I mentioned that my stress seems to have become a lot more manageable since I stopped drinking. I told him that I have decided to extend the 100 days to a full year and then will reassess. I don’t know why I felt the need to do this: I have no intention of reassessing or drinking again, and I don’t think I am looking for a way out or anything like that. I almost feel like saying I’m done for good is too extreme to be taken seriously, if that makes any sense at all. Perhaps I am afraid of failing or being seen to fail, which is not really the same thing. That is actually probably the truth. 

As it happens, I may have been over thinking. It came up again this morning as one of my oldest and dearest friends and drinking buddies is coming to stay next weekend, and my mom mentioned that he was going to be disappointed that I wasn’t drinking. I actually told him a while ago that I have been worried about my drinking and was thinking of taking a substantial break, so I hope he is forewarned and will not make a big deal of it, but I took the opportunity to tell my mom that I’ve decided not to drink for a year. “Dad said,” she responded. “He thinks you have actually stopped drinking for good.” Hilariously (possibly. Sadly, maybe) I immediately felt myself becoming defensive, thoughts like  “Why?” And “Does he think I have a problem? Is he saying I’m an alcoholic??” flooding my mind. Shame is so powerful, and we want so badly to be seen to be okay, to be perfect and perfectly fine, it makes liars of us – well, me, at any rate. 

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I am NOT perfect, and that in fact I did (do) have a big problem, but also that I am strong and brave and doing hard things, and those are not things I need to be ashamed of at all. Every day is a choice and a victory. “Well,” I said, “I think I have.” Day 78 and I am so very grateful to be here. 

X