Today was a good day. This is particularly delightful as it had all the makings of quite a crappy day – I woke up at 4 again (so over that!) and all the kids were home as the big boys’ school was closed, which I had forgotten about (hooray for chatty crossing guards or we may well have discovered the closure at the shuttered gates this morning; sobriety not doing anything for my diary management yet, apparently) and I had scheduled the little’s checkup not expecting to have the others with me. The thing is, even though I was really tired, and I am rubbish with no sleep – despite years and years of 3am practice – I am definitely… calmer. I read something today in “This Naked Mind” (Annie Grace) to the effect that although we don’t notice it, drinkers are basically in withdrawal all the time that we are not actually drinking, leading to feelings of restlessness and discomfort (I am seriously paraphrasing here) and as I read it I thought “OH! That’s it! That’s what I don’t have!” Just being in my skin feels so much easier and it is translating into a much more peaceful way of being and parenting. We got to the doctor in plenty of time, I had remembered water and snacks so we could head straight to the playground afterwards and then I was able to just be there for almost two hours – much longer than I had planned on staying. The amazing thing was that my being “present” and not distracted or crabby actually resulted in the boys needing me less. They just got on with being there and playing together, and it ended up being a really relaxing and lovely morning for me, rather than an unplanned disruption to be endured. I really needed this day (18!) and am so grateful for it.
PS Big thank you to the people visiting and reading and commenting on my posts. The last couple of weeks have been a LOT and I don’t really feel comfortable talking to any real-life people about it yet. My husband has been lovely but is also a little non-plussed as my epiphany and decision seemed to come about really suddenly (although in truth it has been coming for some time.) I so appreciate your companionship and encouragement and wisdom and experience – thank you!
7.20pm and I have pretty much skulked off to bed. I was more or less assaulted by wine lust in the playground this afternoon (I know right? Talk about inappropriate triggers!) No particular reason – I am a little anxious but that seems to be a fairly consistent theme in early recovery and the weather is lovely (a perfect occasion to… neck a bottle of wine and pass out, naturally) but I actually think it might just be my brain realizing, “We’re serious about this, are we?” and panicking. One day at a time indeed, and this is number 17.
So. Since I started this process, (yea all those 16 days (+/-) ago,) I’ve been wrestling with the concepts of “alcoholic” and “alcoholism.” I thought I was going to make my peace with them, but it turns out I haven’t. Yesterday my therapist asked me to define what I thought an alcoholic is, and my first impulse was to respond, not me. Now, I don’t have a second’s hesitation in saying that I have an addiction or that I am alcohol dependent, so I don’t think it’s denial, per se. I have an idea, though, which is a little unformed and I thought to try and hammer it out here.
The spark, I guess, came from Andrew Solomon’s powerful book on depression, “The Noonday Demon,’ which I have just started reading. He says, “There is no essential self that lies pure… under the chaos of experience and chemistry.” (Isn’t that great?) So I think what it has got me thinking about is how problematic the disease conception of alcoholism is. It’s not like chicken pox or something, where we’ve been infected by a virus and but for that we’d be clear-eyed and in control, and nor does it seem accurate or helpful to think of alcohol as the virus, and would that a cure could be found we’d be “healthy.” I feel like I am mangling this thought – the passage from idea to expression is as ever a challenge. I’m not proud of, or attached to my drinking identity, but I am pretty sure that I am not separate from it, either, and that freeing myself of the addiction is actually not going to “cure me” of myself – part of which is all the constellation of neuroses and quirks and proclivities – and passions and gifts that… facilitated my descent into alcoholic drinking.
I’m not defending it (my drinking) and I am not coming from a place of defensiveness; I just think I (and probably many of us) turned to alcohol to be able to cope with a world and a life that was in many ways overwhelming not so much because of my particular circumstances but because of how I’m wired. I don’t want to drink or otherwise numb myself to that overwhelm any more, and I don’t want to be defenseless in the face of the pain and darkness that I am, I suppose vulnerable to (keenly aware of?) but… I don’t want to be cured of who I am or how I see the world – actually the prospect of a cure in that sense sounds a lot like obliteration. But maybe that’s just my addiction talking. Perhaps this is insufferable navel gazing. I feel like there’s a lot of chatter about the stigma of alcoholism but I haven’t really read anything that gets to the nut of it, or at least of my discomfort with it. That’s all I have for now. I’d really value your insights if you’ve read this far and think there’s anything to this – I’m a little afraid that this makes no sense at all. (Is it too soon to joke that at least when I was drinking I was convicted in my ideas even when my logic was less than stellar?) Day 16…
Just checking in I guess. I was feeling a bit despondent this morning. I had been reading a few bloggers’ archives from their first few weeks of sobriety and… well, I’m a bit jealous. These past couple of weeks have been pretty grueling, emotionally and I’m still not sleeping and emphatically not losing weight. WHERE IS MY GODDESS, DAMMIT? I’ve given myself a pretty firm talking to before sitting down here tonight though and what I (grudgingly!) accept is that it is going to be different for everyone, and that my experience can only be what it is – somewhat of a tautology but I think I know what I mean. Hopefully anyone reading this will more or less understand. My sub-goddesshood notwithstanding, the profound relief I have felt about finally seeing, clearly, what a destructive force alcohol has been in my life has persisted. I am deeply, deeply grateful to be feeling these feelings and doing this work and for even the tiny changes that I am seeing in myself – particularly in the way I am present to my kids and able to react to the inevitable chaos of a household with three little boys – that is, not remotely goddess-like but materially less shouty.
Thanks so much to those of you reading and commenting, and writing about your journeys. I am so grateful, too, not to be doing this alone.
I have been thinking a lot about the difference between abstaining and sobriety. (Thanks to Barejane and her most recent post for the language. I had been struggling to frame it for myself.) I have had periods of abstention – sometimes several weeks at a time – but I have never really gotten sobriety or contemplated what that entails. I think what it means to me at this stage is the work of really LOOKING at my relationship with alcohol and how it has affected my other relationships and the way I have moved through my life; understanding (or beginning to) that my drinking has impacted and distorted my mental health and the way my personality has developed; and, wondrously, emerging hopes and ideas of what my sober life, relationships, mental health and identity will look like. Day 14, and I am glad to be here.
Wine o’ clock hit me very hard this afternoon, so I went for a run to beat the cravings, and had Many Thoughts. I started writing a post about it (it was taking ages! I wish there was some kind of thought-to-text function. My pithy eloquence seems to vanish when I am faced with a screen and keyboard.) but was called away for movie night. Instead, a vignette to remind my future self that my drinking was Not. Healthy. About a year ago, on another movie night, we took a family selfie – whole-family photos (and activities, if I am honest) being a little hard to come by. I thought to post it in the online journal I maintain to keep overseas rellies up to date with our growing boys and family news, but first… I spent an hour, easily, trying to edit my wineglass out of the picture. I don’t have any fancy editing software or the skill to use it so it was an exercise in futility in any case. The picture remains unposted, the moment uncelebrated and indeed a source of vague guilt and unease. Isn’t that ridiculous? Had you asked me then if I was ashamed of my drinking, or ever tried to hide it, I doubt I would have said yes.
Tonight, I was all there. We watched Angry Birds and actually it was such a pleasant way to spend a Saturday evening that I didn’t even think to try for a picture. Funny, that. Day 13 and this is a much nicer way to do movie night.
Today has been stressful. I had a small procedure done this morning which turned out to be more uncomfortable than I had anticipated, and I will have to wait a week for the results. Speaking as someone who will only have my hair cut if I can get an appointment for the SAME DAY (impulsive, much?) a week feels like a really long time. I should clarify that my doctor recommended the procedure to rule out anything serious, because she is thorough – not because she thinks there is anything seriously wrong. Still, I left her office uncomfortable and a bit emotional, and a little whisper snaked seductively into my thoughts: “Wine would help. It’s Friday.” Wine would not help, I resolved, but this felt less like a moral victory than a grave disappointment. (“If only I hadn’t started yet, or done all this reading,” is in fact what I thought. “If only I didn’t know.” How’s that for a bit of distorted logic.)
This afternoon my kindergartener had an epic tantrum (overtired) and as he writhed about he kicked me full in my still-tender belly. I reacted badly. I was so angry and upset with him, and then sorry for myself and then sorry for him – he is still just a baby, and life can be HARD – and it was all just a bit much. Less seductive than willfully destructive this time, I thought, “I could just drink and not deal with any of this shit.”
What I have been sitting with since is the uncomfortable truth that EVEN THOUGH I understand that the wine won’t fix anything – will in fact in all likelihood make all sorts of things worse – the promise of a short-term reprieve (in the form of wanton oblivion) is still very tempting. I think there is a jokey aphorism along the lines of, “Why face today what can be put off until tomorrow?” or something like that, and boy does it ever resonate with me. Somewhat related I guess is the germ of acceptance that if I am going to choose NOT to miss my life any more, but to be fully present in it, I am going to have to stick around and find my way through the crappy stuff too. Not earth shatteringly profound, I’ll grant, but it is what I am sitting with on this 12th day (second Friday!) of my new non-drinking life.
Or something like that. Day 11. It gets better, right?
Made it! Staggering. I don’t have the least interest in a drink (this is a victory) but I feel like I could sleep for a week. Onward…
I was going to blog about anxiety tonight. Day 9 and I am very tired and anxious. Worrrying over the damage I have done to my body with booze and lack of self care, and that awful “Are my pants on backwards? WHY IS EVERYONE LOOKING AT ME??” sensation. But:
We spent yesterday and today sorting through the boys’ 88 thousand puzzle pieces to see which puzzles are intact and which we have to let go. At first it looked like complete carnage – a jumble of disparate pieces and little hope that a single whole puzzle would be salvaged. Eventually, we had them more or less sorted into separate piles and then began the task of assembling each one, most without the box or picture to guide us. I repeatedly found myself sizing up a pile and thinking or even saying out loud, “Oh, no guys. This doesn’t look like nearly enough pieces.” Amazingly, though, a great many of them were all there, including some that I had long since written off and was just postponing chucking out for one last sort-out.
As well as affirming that quantity surveyance and its ilk are not realistic second-career options for me, I was also really struck by the lesson that the ONLY way to make sense of the chaos was to actually do the work of figuring out where all the pieces belonged and fitting them together. I have read a wealth of sobriety blogs and recovery memoirs and various other articles and things about alcohol dependence and addiction, most of which has been incredibly helpful and illuminating and encouraging, but I realised (and this is not at all uncharacteristic for me!) that I have kind of had a sense of having “read to the end” and being able to somehow think my way past all the grind of getting sober – I know how it goes, and I see what you all went through, so I can just skip those middle bits, right? Right? Of course that’s not how it works at all. I abused my body and lied to myself for YEARS, and it has been nine short days since I decided to remove alcohol from my life entirely. Of COURSE I am tired and anxious, and still chubby and not seeing even a whiff of a pink cloud, although I remain profoundly relieved if not elated at having finally made the decision. Now, I have to do the work. Again (and again and again) I am so deeply grateful to all of you who have gone before and written with such courage and honesty about your journeys. I may not have the boxes to my own puzzles but it helps more than I can begin to express to be able to take guidance and inspiration from your works in progress.