Dirty Words and Dark Secrets

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.


From My Desk!

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… 

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. 


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. 


What’s in a Name?

“You should start a blog,” said my well-meaning husband and friends, as with some regularity my interest would be seized by a question or subject and I would plunge deep into a rabbit hole, all the while eagerly regaling any who would listen with what I discovered. For years, I thought about doing so. I have actually started one or two and their inaugural posts drift through cyberspace in lonely isolation. 

There are many reasons that I was never able to get a blog or writing practice going, chief among them of course that what unclaimed time I had was given over to drinking wine or recovering from drinking wine (or cocktails sometimes because we moms deserve to kick our heels up, right?) When I did contemplate putting fingers to keyboard my thoughts and ideas seemed to scatter in dozens of different directions and I could neither marshal them nor pick a thread to follow. I had so many ideas, and so much I wanted to think and talk about, but I couldn’t find my voice and I didn’t have the discipline to look for it. 

My most-often cited stumbling block, though, was a title. “I don’t know what to call it,” I would lament, palms outspread. “It needs to be about something and it feels like it’s all been said before and better than I could anyway. All the good ideas are gone.” Who knew that what I was missing all along and in so many ways was sobriety. I have so much more time. I have (some, more) clarity. I have so much to say, and I see now that what I needed was not discipline* but hope.

When I started Storm in a New Cup 59 days ago I felt as though I was lost at sea. The waves seemed to be crashing down on me faster than I could catch my breath and it was all I could do to keep my head above water. I had no time for joy or even fun and I didn’t believe that it would ever get better, because I knew it was me. I was the sea and the waves and the storm and yet I had no control over any of it. Our home was chaotic (our home is still chaotic) and I was crushed by the feeling that I was responsible for everything and everyone. If my husband was tired or out of sorts or my kids were unhappy or fighting or acting out I felt on some level an absolute conviction that it was utterly and entirely my fault. 

In desperation I had stopped drinking five days earlier, not so much because I understood that the drinking was the problem, I see now, but because I felt I could not keep on riding the storm as I was – I was never going to figure out how to fix myself and my marriage and life itself unless I made the only change I could (finally) think of. (You have to be on top of your game to save the world, baby.) 

With the fledgling clarity of 64 days sober I am still at sea, and the waves still come (all the f**ng time,) but there is space between them, and better – so much, much better – than that, I know that I am not the storm. I am not in charge of the sea, and although waves and weather will come, they will also pass. I don’t know what the shore looks like, or whether I will ever even get there but finally, finally I feel like I can swim. 

All this by way of saying I have changed my blog’s name to better reflect what it is that I am doing here: no longer trying to be the weather or control the sea but learning to accept it and embrace it, and find my joy where I am. I am so looking forward to figuring out what I want to fill this beautiful, new sober life with. 

I am so proud of this blog. For the longest time I felt as though I wasn’t making anything but babies and dinner (which, while I am proud of those too, are not mine.) To be honest, I don’t know whether I have anything to say that hasn’t been said before, or if I can say it in way that will bring value to anyone but me, but at last I am making something of my own. It feels wonderful.

*Perhaps. This is a whole blog post – or blog – of its own.

Hot Cross… Me

I am tucked up in our air-conditioned bedroom on freshly washed sheets, after a sublime massage, and… I am pissed. Really full of anger. I can feel my mouth pouting and I am glaring and I am trying to laugh at how ridiculous it is, but I can’t even manage that. I’m mad that even as relaxed and tired as I was, I can’t fall asleep. I’m mad about a couple of family issues that I can’t solve or even particularly help and are threatening to cause disruption in our lives. I’m mad about the demented shit show that American political life seems to have devolved into. I’m mad that I have spent 59 days wrestling my bottle-of-red habit to the ground and now I have to do the same with my 58-day-old bar-of-Lindt habit and I am chubby and my clothes don’t fit me and I am SICK of my clothes not fitting me and I LOVE chocolate and giving things up feels so hard and tiring. 

Instead of lying here stewing about all of that I decided to write this, and particularly to identify some things to be grateful about. 

My head is clear enough to recognize what I am feeling and name it: anger. 

If I am not free from shame (who among us, right?) I am at least not buckling under the weight of it as I was 59 days ago, and I do not have to be ashamed of this anger. I don’t have to defend it, or justify it or vanquish it because it doesn’t mean that I am an awful or mean or weak person, and I can type that and really feel it to be true (mostly. Who… etc.). 

I didn’t use the stresses of today as an excuse to get drunk and belligerent – or emotional and sorry for myself – and so be overwhelmed by this emotion and potentially take some self-righteous ill-advised drunken action that would have made things worse, and made these not-my-problems my problems. 

I am tucked up in an air-conditioned bedroom in the middle of a heatwave, on clean sheets. 

This community and platform exists, and contrary to all of my expectations when I started it, I have created a “proper,” real live blog and been able to write this (possibly, hopefully) somewhat coherent post and one way or another it has helped me ride out this wave. I’m not even really pouting any more. 

I am grateful for the people who read and the people who comment and the people who write their blogs. You help in so many, many ways. 

Tomorrow will be the 59th morning that I have woken up without a hangover and even if I am underslept (and probably still a bit crabby) that is so much better than the way I woke up all the mornings before that.

A lot to be grateful for, it turns out! xx

A Bitter Bottom – Call It What You Will

SoberMummy’s new post was unexpectedly provoking for me. Quite shortly after I started this blog I wrote that I was wrestling with the concepts of alcoholic and alcoholism, but I did not really draw any conclusions then and, as my reaction to SM’s friend made clear this morning, I have not yet come to terms. I have been kind of mulling over another post following on from the first one about this, and this morning I was all fired up and ready to go. I realised, though, that I was not responding from a healthy place. 

I do believe that there is a lot of work to be done – for myself and in wider discussion – on this important and extremely complex subject, but one of the things that I have been thinking about today is how important it is to tread with care and kindness around matters of identity. How personal, and sacred, our identities are to us, yet they exist almost by definition in the collective. If I am to claim (or reject) alcoholic as part of my own identity, I necessarily enter a shared a space, about which many other people have deep feelings and beliefs.  

The second reason I realised I was not ready to weigh in here is my very personal and emotional response to the post. I believe that I was insanely lucky to come to sobriety when and how I did. By grace, my drinking has been without obvious or evidently irreparable consequences. No dui’s, no great physical harm to myself and none to my kids, and my marriage has survived despite my neglect and selfishness. Indeed, in these (still) early days of my new life and as I begin to reckon with my past, my husband’s love and steadfastness are gifts whose magnitude and generosity I can hardly bear to contemplate. 

Before I stopped drinking my thinking went along the lines of, “As long as I don’t get to the point of being an actual alcoholic, I won’t have to stop completely. Forever. How awful that must be.” Today I saw clearly how dangerous this is. On some secretsecretsecret level, I have been telling myself that I stopped in time. I stopped before I became an alcoholic. All these weeks of doing all this work of not drinking and I have been holding open a little escape hatch. I’ve been setting myself up to fail. 

What I am sitting with tonight is this. Whether or not I claim this identity, however complex and nuanced it is, it is not one of degree. I was bad enough. I was sad enough. I was sick enough. I was hurting myself and my family enough and enough was too, too much. 

I intended including the story of my “bottom” moment in this post (hence its title) as part of the process of really cementing for myself what my drinking was like and why this fragile sobriety is so precious and utterly essential to the life I want for myself and my family, but I have run out of day and steam. I need to do it, and I think I need to post it here as I don’t seem to have quite got the hang of being totally honest with myself, but it will keep for another day. Today is day 57, and I am so very grateful to be here.