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.

Advertisements

Engaging the Right Muscles

The plan was to come and write a sort of re-centering post (I’m still here! I still rely way too heavily on coffee and sugar! Oy.) Anway, I have a new laptop and I switched browsers, so my drafts folder is in a different place and caught my eye; I went to see what I had left in there and found this. I don’t actually know how to feel about the fact that it is seven months old and totally on point for me today, but the title I was planning on using today was “Sitting with what is,” (which is totally aspirational, mind you) so I guess I’ll sit with this still being where I am at in many ways. I wandered away from gym again toward the end of last year (wandering away is definitely a theme. Parenthesis another…) but I am back and grateful to be. All promises below to the contrary I’m not going to edit. I never managed to finish this thought and I want to post it and then keep working through it. 

I was awake for an unnecessarily long time last night, composing posts of vitriol and loathing in my head. It seems that this New Cup may be sloshing around some Old Anger for a while longer – righteous and petty, both inwardly and outwardly directed. Oh, yes: I’ve got it all going on! But it’s Friday morning, the sun is shining and I have had a useful (if daunting) little insight that I want to get down here in hopes of developing and eventually working through it.

This morning at the utterly ungodly hour of 5:41 my husband – for whom this is a regular rising time although he is not really a morning person either – shook me awake, turned on my bedside light and made me pick up my coffee so I wouldn’t go back to sleep. (He is much, much more virtuous than I am and for the most part very much better than I am at overcoming his baser nature, for which I am usually profoundly thankful but which also elicits occasional belligerent irritation. Can you be belligerently irritated? I was last night, anyway. Ha! It’s taking me a while to get to the point here – I may have to come back and do some heavy editing.) In fairness, this is what I had explicitly asked him to do, and he didn’t know that I’d been up half the night.

Fortunately for both of us he went straight off to gym, leaving me to glare into the middle distance through my first cup of coffee and decide how much of my morning’s ambitions could realistically be achieved. Inevitably the light woke our oldest (apartment living) who came and crawled into bed next to me, which woke our youngest (involuntary, on our part, co-sleeping.) My urgent, unwavering need for solitude and silence in the morning can only realistically be met by stoically ignoring everything and everyone until I am ready to face them – easier said than done. I have high hopes that “easier” mornings will be an eventual benefit of sobriety,* whether because I am able to wake up a bit earlier and more easily thus not disturbing the boys and giving me a bit of legitimate quiet time or because my need for same diminishes somewhat, but for the time being this is where we find ourselves. (*They absolutely have been! Still very much a work in progress as I go to bed too late and seem naturally to need more sleep than the average bear, but around about the 8-month mark I started, finally, to sleep all night, almost every night.)

Anyway, so at last to the point. A lot of editing, definitely. The reason I asked to be woken so early and… thoroughly is that I wanted to fit a gym class into an already full day. Since I stopped drinking my workouts have improved considerably, in large part because I make it into the gym more regularly than once a fortnight and I am bringing my whole self to each one. The classes are short – half an hour – but intense and I work hard. I revel in the strength and capacity of my body.

I am strong, and getting fitter, but I am definitely not where I would like to be. For as long as I can remember, really, I have suffered from pain in my right hip and shoulder, which varies in intensity from mild to virtually debilitating and refers all over my body. Finally, though, after almost 37 years of living in this body, I have stopped telling myself that the way to wholeness and health is to try (or wish) harder to be like everyone else.

Instead, in addition to the scheduled gym classes I have started going for somewhat regular massages and doing some one-on-one sessions with my coach to identify and address the specific issues at the root of my pain (musculoskeletally speaking, but there is a metaphor here…) These are nothing like the regular classes. We move slowly, trying different exercises in different positions. We talk a lot. We are trying to figure it out, combining my lived experience with his knowledge and expertise. I work hard, but there is no endorphin high.

Wonderfully, though, after each session there is a marked difference in my understanding of my own body, which I am able to bring to subsequent workouts and I am steadily better able to keep up with the group in intensity and proficiency. My first insight, as I jogged (staggered) home from the class this morning, spent and exhilarated, was that I need both – in life as in fitness. What works for everyone will work for me IF I do my own work on my own stuff.

The second insight is harder to swallow in some ways and is actually the reason that I am leaving my long-suffering husband to cope with the boys, who are literally climbing the seats of this mercifully empty train, so that I can get this down before it vanishes in the chaos of the day.

***

This is a superbly dramatic point to have stopped writing. Presumably the situation on the train escalated, although the specifics are mercifully lost to the swirling mists, etc.

I suppose mostly because of a lengthy exercise-free hiatus progress has been slow on the fitness front, but I am so happy to realize as I write this that I am actually not at all in the SAME place as when I wrote this post, although it speaks to things I have been thinking about a lot.

The second insight, which I never got to recording after all was actually the subject of the post (the title, anyway,) and what I grappled with on that day was how much unnecessary pain I had caused myself in refusing to address the root causes of my problems. I think I see now, though, that I did what I could until I was ready to do more, and if the pain I caused myself (and others) was the cost of surviving, then there is room there for grace. I am grateful to be here. I am stronger than I was, and learning – one day and sometimes one moment at a time – to use my body and my life fully and intentionally.

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.

Reflecting

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. 

Xx

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

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.

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. 

Truckin’

Day 52 – still here! I started feeling a bit of… guilt, I guess, or maybe embarrassment, that I am not blogging more frequently or abounding with the insights and energy that others seem to be at this stage of early sobriety, but then I realized that is a bit ridiculous. It doesn’t matter what my sobriety looks like for now, as long as I keep doing it – that is, not drinking – and so far that is going just fine. I am working hard to prioritize my sleep (at this stage my need for sleep!) and, as we decided not to put the kids in any kind of summer camp this year I am also full (FULL!)-time parenting three very energetic little boys. I am struggling with a bit of brain fog, which I hoped would have lifted more by now but under the circumstances perhaps just a function of not having enough time and head space to really organize my thoughts. If I am honest (and isn’t that why we are here?!) I have been giving my sugar dragon its head for too long and with too much abandon, and that is probably also taking a toll on my energy levels, mental health and waistline (ffs!). Onward…

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