Knowing

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.

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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

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. 

Ah, Friday

Today is another milestone – 40 days since my last drink. This is the second-longest period of abstinence ever in my adult life, and by some margin the longest of intentional sobriety. (I was af for 87 days in 2015 as part of a paleo/whole30 lifestyle reset but that was all about getting fit and healthy and had nothing to do with my relationship with alcohol, which was clearly not a problem. At all. I just happened to count every single day that I didn’t drink, and then remember the count for two years because… Well, you know.)

So here I am! I feel pretty good. I am less anxious and my emotions are more stable. My thoughts (and my skin! Ha!) are much clearer and I have quite a bit more energy. My sleep issues have not resolved and I am beginning to accept that I may have to take further steps to improve things on that front. My therapist is fairly strongly of the opinion that I would benefit from a regimen of antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medication but I am reluctant. I am trying to think clearly and honestly about my reasons, and when I get a chance may try to hammer them out in a post: perhaps someone reading has thoughts/experience on the matter and would be willing to weigh in. I think at this stage my chief objection is that I have only just begun to feel that I am truly “at the wheel,” if that makes sense, and I am not ready to relinquish this newfound sense of control (also something I would like to come back to, as the control I have gained through surrender has been a profound and unexpected shift for which I am deeply grateful.) I recognize that there is place for nuance here, but I think I am only just beginning to reckon with how much of an impact alcohol had on my behavior and personality and emotional landscape and I don’t really want to introduce another mind-altering substance until I have a proper handle on who I am. In any case, although inadequate sleep is definitely impacting me, it’s not a new problem – the hideous 3am wake ups were one of the things that motivated me to make this change – and underslept beats the pants off underslept and hungover, it turns out.

I’m sitting in the car park of the railway station waiting for my husband’s train and I’ve run out of time. I’ll try to come back to this tonight. Leaving aside all of the other aspects of this journey I do not know how I found the time to drink the way I did.

**Saturday** Day 41 is begun! I should probably wrap this up anyway as it’s getting a bit long. On reflection, I found the time to drink because I was resigned to not achieving or creating anything beyond the minimum required to get three little boys and a household through the day. (Not nothing, I’ll grant, but a level of “rolling down the hill” is possible that doesn’t demand a lot of brainpower.)

I just want to share this one last thing because it was so affirming and perfectly timed. It will be a good moment to come back to and may hopefully even encourage someone else!

(*Tuesday* I have woken up in the middle of the night thinking about this post. There was a great, valuable lesson for me in what I had posted but it used details about other people’s drinking which, even in this anonymous setting, I do not feel good about. We’re all on our own journeys. I was around people drinking and I was jealous, and then I was beautifully reminded that it is not the elixir of relaxation and happiness it appears to be. I’m grateful for that.)

Saturday morning, and I am so happy and grateful not to be hungover or scheming and wondering how early we can start drinking again. Have a wonderful sober weekend! x

I Can’t Do This Alone

And I can’t do it all at once. I know that. Obviously. But. It feels as though it is all happening TO ME, and all at once. It is overwhelming. Day 26, and I do not feel wonderful or free. I feel terrified and as though my entire world, outer and inner, may come crashing down on me at any moment. I read something on In Others’ Words this morning* about getting sober feeling like reaching the top of Mount Olympus and then realizing it’s actually just emerging from Mordor, and perhaps that is where I am at. 

By grace or dark comedy we started seeing a therapist on the same day I stopped drinking, ostensibly to talk about some difficulties my middle son has been experiencing, but by the time I’d spent the first 15 minutes of the appointment weeping ugly crying it became fairly clear that the old “put on your own oxygen mask first” chestnut may apply. The result is that I have been dredging up a lot of very painful stuff during the past 26 days (Wrote weeks there and had to come back and correct it. That pretty much sums it up!) not all of which relates to my drinking except to the extent that eventually everything relates to our drinking, whether it is caused by it or what we are using it to try and run from. 

I think on its own, the realization – which felt like a bolt from the blue although I know it cannot truly have been – that I have a “proper” drinking problem would have been a lot. This… has been a really lot. I am mindful that my continued, worsening (incredibly) insomnia is also making things feel more catastrophic and making it more challenging for me to deal with what I am experiencing, but that is nonetheless where I find myself today and understanding that lack of sleep is part of what is hurting doesn’t make it go away, sadly. 

Conversely, thanks to the many warriors who have come before me and written about their journeys so beautifully and bravely I have the framework (is that the right word?) to make sense of a lot of it, at least intellectually – especially the very fact of the noise level of all of the feelings and thoughts and fears and whatever else that I was drinking to drown out. (“Yes it is loud in here, honey. Drinking didn’t make that stop, it just meant you couldn’t hear it you could pretend to ignore it.)

This is a bit of a rambly and self-serving post, but I have to run to fetch the boys and my straggly drafts folder (already!) tells me if I don’t post this now, odds are, I won’t. I want to be able to come back to these days because I believe (mostly; I am trying to believe) that it will get better, even for me, and I don’t want to forget. I am WORKING ON BEING grateful to be here. 

x

*I spent the morning binge reading the first few months of her archives so I can’t say with certainty where from, but possibly her most recent post. Today is her two-year soberversary and it is a beautiful post. It is a beautiful blog. Thank you Prim for the link.)

Edited to add: Holy cow! 26 days!!! 26 mornings without a hangover. I am! I am SO GRATEFUL TO BE HERE. 

Peace in Small Doses

Thinking of renaming this blog “I have Deep Thoughts but Oh Lordy I’m Too Tired to Write About Them.” (Maybe they’re not even that deep!) I am sleeping way better but still seem to wake up around 5.30 and by the time the kids are in bed I pretty much need to be too. Also it turns out I have a LOT of kids and when I am not hungover and distracted they talk to me allll the time. Writing very much at all is going to have to wait until my brain is able to function after 8pm, especially as the summer holidays are almost upon us. 

Something funny and wonderful happened yesterday. My doctor rang with some test results and to prescribe a course of strong antibiotics, and I immediately and reflexively thought, “Ack! Not antibiotics! Not 10 days!” I have rarely been on antibiotics as an adult, but enough that my subconscious is fully briefed on the “no-alcohol” stipulation that accompanies every prescription and reacted with instant, abject dismay. Still on the phone to the doctor I recognized the panic and was flooded with relief as I realized, I don’t drink. I can start this course tonight and I am already doing possibly the most important thing my body needs me to to start healing itself. How cool is that? Day 23 and I am so grateful to be here!

Another Friday! (Day 19!)

Writing here is really helping me. I am grateful for the sense of community and am also finding that planning/figuring out what to write is giving me a focal point (or something) for reflection on how I am feeling and what I am learning or worrying about – even about things I haven’t ended up writing about yet. I am starting to feel a lot clearer and healthier, which is wonderful and will hopefully help with the coming days and weeks as the novelty wears off and I begin to encounter the inevitable social occasions and times of stress (etc etc). I know it is super early days but I am going to let myself off the hook on posting here every day, although I plan to try journaling offline and hopefully keep posting pretty regularly. I’m still sleeping badly and pretty tired by the end of the day but hopefully that will continue to improve and with it my ability to sustain a train of thought and write meaningfully about it! (On rereading there are an awful lot of “hopefully”s in this post. Speaks to my state of mind I guess!)

Wishing you all a very happy sober Friday and a lovely, peaceful weekend.

x

Some Days Will Go This Way

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. 

Day 15

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.

x

Two Weeks!

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. 

x