Hungry but happy post

I have exciting news! Two newses! No three! Well one is not exciting and that’s that I’m doing south beach diet to battle my sugar addiction. It’s not very fun so far. I can’t have any fruit or carbs of any kind for 11 more days. Not that I’m counting. Eggs are making me feel a bit pukey already, but I can also have nuts and low fat dairy and most vegetables and all the lean protein a girl could want. So I’ll keep you posted and let you know how the sugar cravings are once the dust settles. I don’t really miss sweet stuff at the moment. And it hasn’t made me terribly hungry, probably because I know the things I can eat are not terribly interesting. Although it turns out cashews are more delicious than cheesecake, especially when you can’t have cheesecake.

Okay, but two good things in my life. 1) I hit 9 months sober one week ago. 2) I spoke in front of two groups in the last week and I only wanted to die, like, 2 times.

My sponsor asked me to do the first one, which was Sunday night in front of a large group I had never been to before. I only recognized a couple faces in the crowd, which was probably good. I read a page from As Bill Sees It on the freedom to choose and how it increases the more we work on our sobriety. I read and then spoke for a bit on how I came into the program with basically no choice at all, unless getting backed into a corner and chewing your arm off is some kind of choice. Which, I know, makes no sense since gnawing off your own limb would be stupid defense if a dangerous creature backed you into a corner. But my point is that I had a choice between getting help or drinking more and more until I lost the many wonderful things in my life. And so it wasn’t much of a choice, but then again it was everything.

Then I spoke for a bit about how my choices have gradually increased over time, mainly because I grew spiritually and started recognizing the next right thing to do and actually did it. Sometimes. Of course I have a long way to go, which I wouldn’t have any other way because it’s always fun to learn and grow and it keeps me engaged in recovery.

Last night I spoke at my home group and told my newcomer’s story. For some reason I didn’t get nervous about this until I showed up at the meeting. This is very unlike me because I am one of those sissies who fears public speaking more than death. Maybe the lack of fear came from knowing I couldn’t really fuck up my own story. I lived it and I knew it and there was really no way to prepare.

Although I did prepare. Before I started, I told everyone I was nervous and said it was my first time saying my story out loud, but that’s not entirely true because I practiced what I was going to say in my car a few times. You know that scene in Magnolia where John C. Reilly’s character drives around in his patrol car and he talks to himself like he’s on an episode of Cops? It was like that only angsty-sadder and I hope I don’t ever piss off my car because it has a lot of dirt on me.

Different John C. Reilly vehicle, but a good reminder why I don't drink anymore.

Once I started talking, my story flowed from me like syrup from a brand new bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s on a stack of piping hot, buttery pancakes (dear god I am more hungry than I realized) and the whole experience felt downright magical. I only swore once and afterwards a lot of newcomers shared experiences that touched me and…geez, it was just a really beautiful night, y’all. A real gift.

So how are you doing? I know. This is a very self-absorbed post. But I’m happy now and I hope to convey to anyone not quite feeling the cozy love of early sobriety that it does get better and easier and more beautiful with a little time and work. If you were my car, you would know all about it.

Seeking a new level

I have a little googling problem, but that’s hardly news. I love my internet as much as I used to love my drink and still love my sugar. But if I wasn’t online so much, I wouldn’t have found so much information and support in recovery. It’s all about finding balance.

Yesterday I looked up (googled) foods to avoid during phase 1 of the South Beach Diet, which I stumbled across while researching (googling) ways to reduce insane sugar cravings, which I read (googled) might be from quitting the booze. I  found a blog filled with recipes and great information on the south beach plan. The woman behind the blog wrote that she’d lost a ton of weight on south beach back in 2005 and had kept it off for years. Then, about five years into her weight loss, she noticed some of it creeping back. She had grown lax in her diet and ate more junk and, no big shock, gained some weight back. Maybe she thought she had a handle on her new habits and could afford to cheat a little here and there and it got out of hand. Maybe her brain or body grew restless with the unnatural state of deprivation. She’s still blogging and recommitting efforts to get back on track, so hers is an encouraging story.

Some part of me always thinks a person who lost a bunch of weight or kicked addiction will eventually revert back to their old self. The self-destructive voice in my head worries I can’t stay sober or thinner (but not thin) over time. I feel like I can do both right now because  the rewards of sobriety and having a healthy weight outweigh the discomforts. But what about over time? Even if I do my best to stay vigilant, is there some built-in homing device in my brain that needs to take me back? In other words, do people ever really change?

For now I need to do everything I can to stay interested and engaged in recovery or I have a good chance of growing complacent and slipping. Likewise, I need to continue to exercise and change my eating habits and focus on how good those things feel or I will grow fat and unhappy. Still, I’m reminded of streams of water rushing downill after a storm. Water seeks its own level. Balance is not a normal state in humans, so instead I fear I’m naturally inclined to return to excess and flaw because that force is really strong. I worry I don’t have a lifetime of fight in me.

My hope is that I can change the level my brain associates with comfort and happiness and peace. This is where my belief in a higher power comes in because I have no idea how to do this beyond today. It’s baby steps or one day at a time or however you want to put it, but still it’s just enough out of my control that I take a step back and find hope and comfort there.

St Patrick’s Day

Last night my husband joked “maybe tonight wasn’t the best night to go out to dinner.” But it was Parents Night Out at our local gym, which comes along only once a month. Standing in line to drop off our kid, I noticed the wobbly blonde in front of me dolled up in green dress and 3-inch black heels. Even as a kid, I hated wearing green on St. Patty’s Day. It made me feel conspicuous…like a phony.

Yesterday I felt relief not trying to cram all that fun into one measly night. The only real memory I have of St. Patrick’s Day is that time in college I kept throwing up and telling anyone who would listen “It’s green just like the beer!” And that wasn’t a memory so much as something that was told to me the next morning.

I left the blonde in green to her 3-hour reprieve while my husband and I drove into town and had the best tandoori chicken and iced chai tea we’ve had in our entire lives. I will say the drunks steer clear of Indian BYOBs.

The drunks were everywhere else, though. Walking from our car to the restaurant felt like a video game where you have to weave through patches of zombies without getting bit. The girl zombies wore green shamrock beads around their necks and even heads as festive headbands. Some had sparkly shamrocks on each cheek. The male zombies talked too loud and walked too fast and left trails of cologne and anger in their wake. Crossing the street at a stop sign, my husband and I were nearly hit by a driver who held up a beer bottle in apologetic salute.

The overall scene bothered me, but it sure didn’t make me miss drinking. I’m still amazed how drinking until you can’t walk or talk is done so openly in some circles. I never noticed this while drinking. Last night I looked around and saw a 50/50 split of drunk zombies and those trying to dodge their path.

This morning I did go to a meeting. I know it happens from time to time, but the connection wasn’t there. I had a lovely conversation with an older woman sitting next to me, but I saw a guy I met at one of my first meetings and didn’t stay behind to see how he’s doing. I just wasn’t feeling it, but I feel fine otherwise. It’s hard to explain. I have a feeling of peace and hope, and I will keep my commitment to my home group, but I don’t think I’m going to hit a weekend meeting just to hit a weekend meeting. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s where I’m at right now, and it feels right.

Oh boy

Last week I googled ism alcoholism and found myself in several oddly hostile sites hellbent on denouncing AA. Maybe it’s the God angle that ruffles so many feathers. Maybe the naysayers went to a handful of meetings with a chip on their shoulder. Maybe they didn’t go to any meetings at all. Maybe, like the above angry-looking fella, they’re pitching an option that costs money and doesn’t give it away like AA.

There will always be detractors, but somehow it shocked me that people would go so far as to set up web sites and cite puzzling examples of the wily, underhanded ways AA undermines and steals from its members.

If you told me you stay sober by standing on your head for only five minutes a day, I would think you odd but keep it to myself. If you told me you tried AA and it didn’t sit well so you read some books and developed a personal program that kept you from drinking, I’d say swell…terrific and genuinely mean it.

The same detractors that call AA a controlling cult are, not surprisingly, close-minded that it actually works beautifully for some.

Thanks for all the fish

Last Friday I went to a truly depressing recovery meeting. Usually it’s like happy hour without all the slurring. Last Friday, though, one guy raised his hand when the speaker asked “Did anyone want to drink today?” and shared how he’d been in and out of the program for the last 17 years. He’d known the speaker from their early days in recovery, but sadly only one of them had maintained 17 years of continuous sobriety.

Another member raised his hand to share how he’d been struggling with thoughts of suicide. Memories of riding home from the psych ward one year prior triggered these feelings of hopelessness, which he shared with the group because he likely had no other system of seemingly unconditional support. He also had 17 years of sobriety, but he did not have the coveted serenity.

I sat next to my sponsor at the meeting, and afterwards she told me stuff like that is never helpful to share at meetings. “How does that help a newcomer to hear someone’s been sober 17 years and still struggling?” she said. I’m not really a newcomer anymore, but it just seemed to me that the first guy was a chronic relapser and the second was mentally ill. It wasn’t an uplifting meeting, but it felt real and didn’t make me want to drink.

I’m feeling a rift right now. It feels too black and white in these instances. On the rare occasion when I do share at a meeting, I think carefully about what I’m going to say and keep my message vague but positive. But I have no issue with those who don’t and who seek support or possibly just attention at meetings. Meetings, afterall, are a sampling of personalities and problems. We can’t all be in a state of sober bliss.

I’m struggling with this now because I’m coming up on nine months and I don’t know if I see a future in the program. I’ve been asked to read a passage and share briefly at a meeting later this month. I’ve also been asked to share my story as a newcomer at another meeting. I’m nervous as hell about both because I fear public speaking more than death, but I am also honored. I will keep my message positive and focus on how the program helped me. Because, honestly? I do not believe I would still be sober without it.

Meetings showed me that I was not alone in the maddening inability to drink moderately. People who had been around awhile gave me hope that my life too would get better, which it already has in relatively short time. At meetings, I closed my eyes and took in the church-like smell of the room and felt completely safe and free from shame. I couldn’t have found this peace on my own anywhere near as powerfully. It was a gift I truly am grateful for.

But I never thought I’d have to go to meetings forever. Lots of people share they thought they could go to a handful of meetings and learn how to drink normally. I never thought or wanted that, but I sure didn’t know I’d be expected to to go meetings forever in order to stay sober. I stopped drinking and then got to a meeting because I thought “I need help to stay this way.” And I did get help. And now I think “meetings until I die? really?

I don’t ever see myself as a meeting-a-day person. I’m tired of hearing “meeting makers make it” because I happen to know they don’t all make it. I also know some people drop out of meetings and stay sober without them. And some drop out and go back to drinking. There are no guarantees, though statistically I probably have a better chance staying sober if I go to meetings. But how do I reconcile the disdain for grey in a program that seems to only have room for black and white? I hate black and white.

I don’t have any plans to stop going to meetings, by the way. I’ll go to one this weekend and I’ll hit my home group meeting as usual next week. Two meetings a week is easy to make. And maybe posting this is reckless and I should have just kept my feelings to myself because I do not think this would be helpful to a newcomer. I do have some responsibility to pay it back, as it was given freely to me in a time when I needed it. But I’ll never be a good poster child for the 12-step way. I’ll always question why a person needs to go forever. I don’t believe my first priority in life is my sobriety because that implies that meetings are more important than family or work or even leisure time. I need to stay sober to be able to do all those things, but what about those of us that take a base and build on it outside of meetings? Isn’t God everywhere?

There haven’t been reliable studies on attrition rates for those who get sober in traditional 12-step recovery meetings. I happened to start going to meetings when the program was conducting a survey. I filled in the little circle marking that I’d been going to meetings for less than a month, but I haven’t seen a survey like that since. Even if they tracked such data monthly, it wouldn’t be a fair measure since quite a few who go to meetings aren’t going willingly. A big component of success in any program of change is willingness. Critics say that only 5% remain sober after a year, but that sounds insultingly low. This implies that 95% of those who go to one meeting are back to drinking their faces off within a year, but I think it’s more likely that those who want help get what they need and take off.

This begs the final question of why I’m so afraid to stick around. If the cut and dry and black and white irritates me, can I not handle that? Am I afraid of being brainwashed so that one day I find myself stifling others so they don’t scare off newcomers? Am I so fragile or full of ego that I can’t stick around long enough to help someone else? Because if I leave the program, I won’t be there for a newcomer. It’s also true that if every newcomer kept going to meetings for the rest of their lives, there wouldn’t be any free seats for newcomers!

Just something I’m struggling with at the moment. I share here because I can’t bring this up at a meeting or to my sponsor. And that bothers me.

Rollercoaster

In my first month of sobriety a woman shared at a meeting that she felt like she had to grow up in front of everyone. I thought this sounded overly dramatic and I really had no idea what she was talking about. In early sobriety, I also saw a therapist who warned me I would start feeling emotions like I never had while I was drinking.

I still don’t understand how alcohol continued to affect my brain hours and days after my last drink. Sure, I get the calming effects a pint of beer or shot of booze has on the brain. But how on earth was it still making me numb 12 hours after my last drink? And why did it take six months for me to start feeling the full range of my emotions again? And I mean really feeling them.

I was a sensitive soul as a kid. I want to say that I felt things more deeply than most people, but of course that’s crap. It is true that emotions were discouraged in my family. I was taught through example and sometimes punishment that I shouldn’t cry or show anger. Happiness was an okay emotion, but even then my family expressed it coolly. I’ve carried this into adulthood. If I knew how the hell to play poker, I might be pretty good at not betraying my hand. Or maybe not so much anymore.

When I drank, I didn’t just drink to cover bad emotions. I drank after a long Monday, I drank to thank God it was Friday, I drank when it was sunny, I drank when it wasn’t. I drank every day that ended with y because I liked being transported out of my own head and possibly my own heart. I wasn’t comfortable with anxiety and pain, but even the happiness wasn’t enough. I wanted to be happier, and beer always did that for me. (Until it didn’t, but why else would I be here?)

Now that I’ve been sober a little while, I’ve started noticing how I still do this. All the time. This morning I woke up salivating for that first cup of coffee and caffeine buzz. Right now I’m really looking forward to going for a run this afternoon because I know I’ll feel almost buzzed afterwards. I’m looking forward to my meeting tonight because I really feel like I need it this week.

I don’t think there’s anything unhealthy or unnatural about looking forward to things. I do think it speaks to a certain restlessness and inability to live in the moment that will hopefully come easier with time. Right now I feel super tuned into every feeling and like I’m just trying to avoid the bad ones.

There’s good reason for this too. Yesterday I had a meltdown complete with tears over, well, nothing really. It came out of nowhere, though I admit I was tired from a busy (fun!) weekend and daylight savings time (the fucker!). But the sudden appearance and intensity of these negative emotions scared me. I haven’t felt that way in some time, and I actually went online to see if it was a full moon and counted days to see if I was PMSing. It wasn’t either. I did read about post-acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which has the most adorable acronym of PAWS, but I don’t know why I wouldn’t have started feeling this way until about 6 months into recovery. Shouldn’t that have happened within the first 3 months? Do the dizzying highs of the pink cloud prevent one from feeling the crashing lows?

I now buy the idea that my brain is still healing after decades of alcohol abuse. It’s making connections it didn’t before, for whatever biochemical reason I don’t begin to understand. I realize now that the feelings I had while drinking were muted variations of what I feel now. Maybe they feel harder now because I can’t escape them. They do ebb and flow and no uncomfortable state lasts longer than I can bear, but there is something really hard about just sitting with a feeling. I do feel like I’m growing up in front of everyone. So I run or I read or I eat or I do anything but take a drink because that’s the worst possible escape for me.

Book review: Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife

I don’t think I’ve ever devoured a book so quickly yet been completely unsure if I loved or hated it. I have no idea how to rate Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife on Goodreads. At the very least I’d give it 2 stars, but feel it’s worth 3 for entertainment value alone. But entertaining doesn’t mean substantive when it comes to recovery memoirs.

Talk about throwing people under the bus! Brenda Wilhemson published her diary from her first year of recovery, and no one is spared. I used to keep a journal years ago, but stopped when I realized I was using it primarily to bitch about other people. Maybe it vented built-up resentment, but I felt embarrassed cataloging every slight from my coworkers and spouse. Brenda bitches in excruciating detail about her friends, her parents, her husband…even her fellow AA members.

This is the part that blew my mind. It’s one thing to write an anonymous blog detailing how a “friend” relapsed and peed his pants while catering the lavish 40th birthday party she threw for herself, but she puts her name right on the cover. If she still goes to meetings, I can’t imagine the backlash she felt. It makes for fascinating reading, but she comes across as a self-aggrandizing asshole.

Still, I may not have liked her, but I could relate to her. One reviewer on amazon criticized her for not doing 90 meetings in 90 days and for being around alcohol so much in early sobriety. I didn’t do 90 in 90 either, so this hit a nerve. I wasn’t being obstinate – I work full time, have two young kids and my husband’s work schedule limits which meetings I can go to. In the first 90 days, I made 2-3 meetings a week and that worked for me. As for the alcohol, I was around it daily at home and I didn’t drink. I’m not saying it was ideal, but I think it taught me that alcohol is still going to be out there, and it was up to me to keep making meetings and remembering why I stopped drinking in the first place.

The thing I loved about Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife was her brutal honesty. The thing I hated about it was her brutal honesty. Go figure, another paradox in recovery.

Serenity now

Excitement and anxiety are so closely related in my head that they get tangled up. A coworker’s kid says strangle instead of tangle, and this feels right. I get really excited about the little things in life, but then I strangle any joy by worrying how they’ll turn out. If I could turn my brain off, I would probably feel calmer and less tortured. But I also wouldn’t have as much fun doing things like going to Trader Joe’s with the family on a Saturday morning.

Normally my husband or I do grocery shopping solo. It’s a solemn, utilitarian task. But it’s those little things that keep me happy these days, so we decided to try something new. (13 year-old me would have probably run off and joined the circus if she had seen how it would all turn out.) Before we left, I worried the kids would be bored and unruly and that my husband and I snippy and miserable. I worried we would spend too much and still not get everything we needed.

Instead we got everything we needed and everyone behaved, including the grocery bill. We even went to the pet store afterwards and almost came home with three kittens but instead settled for a new volcano for the fish tank.

Still, something about that morning made me miss beer. On the drive home, we passed a brewery I used to love and I said “I really miss beer…I’m having a real hard time with it right now.” I can’t conjure up the feeling now, but at the time it hit sharply.

Yesterday I called my sponsor and told her I’ve been missing beer and not really feeling meetings lately, even though I’m doing well overall. She said it was all normal and we spoke about getting more involved with service to get outside my own head. She also said prayer and meditation help her with cravings. I laughed and told her I went to Chuck E. Cheese instead.

Once I remember smuggling in red wine to get through an evening at Chuck E. Cheese. This Saturday, however, the heavens aligned and the crowd was light and the volume low and my nerves not as frayed. My youngest still threw a fit when it was time to leave her friend’s birthday party, but I left not wanting to drink.

That’s the serenity I’ve been getting glimpses of here and there. Yesterday I met two people from home group at a noon meeting in town. When I walked in, they were in mid-conversation about page 417 of the Big Book, which is about serenity and its direct proportion to acceptance. Across from me on the wall a huge, handpainted sign promised We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will know serenity and peace.

Talk about a sign.

As soon as I let go and stop trying to control the world around me, a funny thing happens. Things turn out just fine. In fact, they often turn out better than I planned because I did not plan it. Plus, and this is huge, I get to enjoy myself more because my head’s not all jammed up with worry.

This is why I keep going to meetings, by the way. I hit these spots where I get tired of the rituals and the hardliners and the paradox. And then I go to a random meeting and suddenly a sign on the wall I’ve been staring at for eight months brings tears to my eyes because suddenly I see it. In these moments, the world feels big and small and absolutely perfect.

Sugar

When I gave up drinking, I took up sugar and exercise. I traded one addiction for two, though to say I didn’t have a sweet tooth before would be a lie. I just didn’t abuse sugar as hard before. At one of my first recovery meetings, I stood outside smoking and talking to a woman who said she used to carry a bag of Starburst in early recovery. “But you gotta be careful with that,” she said and I nodded, already knowing I was in trouble.

I was one of those oddballs who didn’t lose a single pound when I stopped drinking. And I drank mostly beer, and not light beer either but high alcohol, high calorie IPAs and porters. But when I look at my eating habits since I stopped drinking, I’m not surprised I didn’t lose weight.  I traded booze for Mike and Ikes, jelly beans, cookies, ice cream. I once dipped cookies in caramel and I share that with you because if someone finds me comatose this would be helpful to know. Maybe I need a medical alert bracelet that says ‘sugar freak’ or ‘fatty fatso’ though honestly I’m not fat. That’s where the exercise comes in.

When I run, I feel good. Well, to be more precise, I feel better after I run. When I run, sometimes I feel like I’m going to die and I imagine wolves chasing me so I don’t stop. Then a funny thing happens and I feel really fucking good. That endorphin rush or whatever it is stays with me hours afterwards. It improves my mood and I feel it throughout my body like a low-grade hum. Eating three large handfuls of jelly beans has nothing on a 30 minute walk/run. I don’t even know what I get from sugar except shame.

I quit smoking several months back and sugar is next on the chopping block. It’s going to be a heluva lot harder. The other day I googled sugar addiction which led me to low blood sugar which led me to hypoglyemic diet which led me to south beach diet. It’s kind of nice to know I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This weekend I’ll go to the library for some cookbooks and see how they look.

The only way to get rid of alcohol cravings is to give up alcohol. The same goes for sugar, which is no shock since alcohol is sugar. Did I drink so much because I’m a sugar junkie or do I eat so much sugar because I’m an alcoholic? Who knows, but once again I find myself unable to imagine a life without sugar. It sounds impossible and decidedly unfun.

But then I think about dunking a fucking cookie in fucking caramel and doing so privately and shamefully and it reminds me so much of my final days of drinking that I find myself thinking maybe I can do it afterall.

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