All over the place

Had a few “so this is it, huh?” moments this weekend. Not gonna lie. Holiday weekend tweets and instagrams were heavy on the “hey look at me, I’m enjoying this beer on a boat” theme, which is not my favorite theme anymore.

I also had a powerful spiritual moment as I was walking my usual route at 7:30am Saturday morning where I had to blink back tears because I was so grateful to be sober. It’s the kind of moment I’d be hard-pressed to recreate and it was so emotional I would have blamed PMS or pregnancy if I hadn’t been absolutely certain it was neither.

Since weaning off of one antidepressant that zapped me of all negative emotion but padded my stomach and ass with 15-pounds, I started on another that helped me quit smoking and lose 15-pounds but left me with an endless supply of feelings and I’ve had it up to here with those things. My moods have leveled out a lot in the last 6 months, but the roller-coaster lows still creep up on me.

Last night I went off on my husband for leaving a thimble’s worth of his manhattan in a frosted martini glass by the sink for me to wash. The other night he put his glass of beer (in my favorite ex-beer glass) down right next to my keys just before I headed out to pick up our daughter. I thought we were past this stage. All last summer, I begged him – nicely and not – to stop leaving his drinks around me in the kitchen. My previously pickled brain couldn’t register his beer from the fact that I had stopped drinking. By the time I realized it was not my beer, the disappointment that followed was topped only by resentment. Sometimes I see his carelessness as a lack of respect, though honestly I think it’s more that he’s pleasantly buzzed and forgets how hard it still is for me to be around alcohol all the time.

What burns me up is not about him but the hold alcohol still has on me. I left those few drops of manhattan – which I never even liked when I was a drinker –  until last as I rinsed the other dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I thought to myself “I could finish what’s left in there and it would count as a relapse”. This now reminds me of the drinking dream I had a couple weeks ago where my husband gave me a quarter bottle of whiskey and I drank it and only then remembered I wasn’t drinking anymore and hated whiskey anyway.

I saved his dirty glass until the very end. I’m not sure whether I did this because I was dreading having to face the smell or whether I harbored some notion that I could still drink it so long as it was still in the glass. As soon as the hot water hit the glass, the smell of booze wafted up and I thought “I really shouldn’t have to put up with this shit. I stopped drinking.”

What could I have done differently? 1) I could have married a non-drinker, but it’s a little late for that. His habits have not changed. Mine have. Rational, calm me knows and accepts this. 2) I could have saved the glass for him to wash. 3) I could have washed it without thinking about drinking it and moved the fuck on. I hope 3) will get easier over time. It kind of has to.

Sometimes I think “is this what the rest of my life is going to look like?” This is dangerous thinking, so I’m going to a meeting tonight. I need some message of hope or strength to take with me, and I hope to find it there. It’s not that I’ve forgotten why I stopped drinking or that I think I’m cured and can finally drink without fear of a neverending series of crippling hangovers and reckless behavior. It’s just that I need to step out of self-pity and find a way to appreciate what I do have, and I’m not reliably doing this on my own.

Maybe it’s just that holiday weekends are hard. A friend who follows this blog and who has been a great listener overall once said to me “it might be something you always kind of struggle with.” She said this in the same matter-of-fact way someone might say “it might rain in the next month or so.”  Because yeah, it might be something I always struggle with, but I haven’t struggled with it continuously or excessively or in any way like I struggled with my own drinking.

Once a guy with a lot of sobriety told me “not drinking doesn’t guarantee me a life without pain; it just means I won’t hurt from my own drinking.” This is the kind of harsh wisdom that comforts me in these in-between days where I’m not in early sobriety anymore, but still struggling on a fairly regular basis. I need to step back sometimes and remind myself that it’s okay to be where I am and have faith that I’m on the right path.

I also need to finish up work on step 4. I’ll call my sponsor to see if she can meet with me in the next week or so. Writing here helps a lot in that I didn’t even think of doing that last part until I was laying out all my gripes. And, uh, if the same old, same old isn’t working, maybe I should try something else.

11 months

Two things I would get if I were a different sort of person: pink hair and a tattoo sleeve on at least one arm. But I’m not even a pink-streak sort of person, though I do have one small tattoo on my left hip of a winking sun that was loosely based on the Kellogg’s Raisin Bran sun because that’s actually the sort of person I am.

Last night I went to my first meeting in two weeks and the speaker had not one but two tattoo sleeves. His lack of eye contact and nervous gestures made him instantly likable, though he still looked like a tough biker, so I didn’t think I would relate much to what he shared. And I was wrong. He  talked about fear and how drinking squashed fear but turned him into the sort of man a divey motel owner had to chase off with a big stick, shouting “get outta here you drunken bum!” and still this hurt his feelings.

He was a guy with long periods of sobriety who got longer time in between meetings until he resented the hell out of the weirdos in them. Meetings do seem really weird once you stop going to them. Then one day he poured some of his mother-in-law’s vodka over a large tumbler of  ice and drank it quickly and didn’t feel shame or remorse and within a few weeks had his own bottle stashed in the garage.  Something about the way he described this made me realize I could do this too if I get too cocky or cavalier. Relapsing is my worst fear right after public speaking.

Last night I shared for the first time in two months. I hadn’t spoken at a meeting since the time I shared my newcomer’s story. This time I ignored my racing heart and how the others who shared before me said more or less the same thing I was planning to say, and I got some things off my chest and it felt right. I still worried what I said wasn’t helpful or was helpful but not entirely honest, but fuck me if I’ll ever know the right thing to say anywhere.

I also got my 11 month coin last night. I was a bit disappointed because several months ago our home group switched to bronze coins, but I got one of the leftover aluminum coins. It’s hollow and garish red and reminds me of the coins in my daughter’s play cash register. Next month I’ll get a bronze coin, assuming I make it to 12 months. I wonder how many people relapse in between their eleventh and twelfth month of sobriety. I’m guessing not many. For the last month or so, I felt like I was coasting towards a finish line I couldn’t quite see but knew was just around the corner. Now I can see the finish line, but I know I could still twist my ankle and go down if I don’t keep my shit together. A little fear is good for me.

What happens if I reach one year? Will it feel any more special than any of my other anniversaries? Will there be fireworks or cake or at least a sappy blog entry? Probably. I will probably palm my bronze coin for longer, but eventually it will join the aluminum coins in a coin purse I keep in the bottom of my jewelry box along with a cat broach I’ve never worn and a class ring I hated but wore because it cost so much and I paid for it with my own money. The real reward in sobriety is the time and attention I have for my children and the hope I feel for my marriage and my job and I guess life in general. Some days I lose sight of this because I am human and life is not always wonderful. But the improvements and hope are definitely there and they came from not drinking and trying to be a better person. I am grateful for a million and one things, but not having a drink in the last 11 months (and 2 days) is right up at the top.

Tension

I was googling “signs of relapse” the other day because lately I’ve felt restless and discontent, and meetings don’t seem to help. So I don’t really go to them, and when I do go, I feel bothered more than soothed. And this is just where I am. I know that now, but I didn’t last week when I was googling what relapse looks like. I remember that my therapist told me when I first got sober that relapse doesn’t start when you pick up a drink. It starts well before you even realize it’s starting.

Googling landed me here, and I read about post-acute withdrawal symptoms like low-energy and irritability and how they are completely normal in the first two years of recovery. I guess what sets them apart from real warning signs is that the bad feelings pass after a few days. This line in particular got me:

If you’re up for the challenge you can get though this. But if you think that post-acute withdrawal will only last for a few months, then you’ll get caught off guard, and when you’re disappointed you’re more likely to relapse.

And maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it, and surely I felt restless and hopeless here and there when I was still drinking and I didn’t call it anything. But I was able to drink it away then, and so I never suffered through any feelings for long. Now I can’t drink, and in certain moments the bad feelings seem permanent, somehow. In those moments, I miss drinking.

Last weekend my family and I took a trip to New York City, and we had a wonderful time overall. I qualify with overall because I am not a city person. There are too many people and many of them seem to be crazy. There are so many things to look at and hear, and sometimes I have no idea what I’m seeing or hearing. There were heavily accented men in dirty Elmo costumes asking us for money. Once we passed a woman with one hand up her shirt, massaging a giant boob. My brain is like a child’s sieve and New York is like a dumptruck filled with sand and weird rocks and maybe a body or two. I enjoyed our visit very much for the happy memories, but all the stimulation made me tense and I didn’t know how to relax.

And so I thought about alcohol for pretty much the whole first day of our trip. I thought back to our trip last year and recalled beers in the park and felt sad. I watched my husband run off to meet a friend for drinks and felt mad. In an attempt to relax, I laid on the bed in our hotel room and uploaded photos from our trip to the zoo while the kids bounced on the other bed and thought “this sucks.” I knew I was cranky because I couldn’t have a drink, and I knew why I couldn’t have one. I knew I was fucked, but it didn’t make the feeling go away. So I just waited it out and went to dinner and walked through Times Square and saw the Naked Cowboy (meh) and sure enough that feeling of missing a drink went away. I will never regret not having a drink.

At the same site I linked to above, I read the reasons we drink are to escape, relax and reward ourselves…in other words, to reduce tension. And I don’t know about you, but I consider myself pretty tightly wound. It’s not all bad because as much as I worry, I get equally excited over the good stuff. It’s something for me to work on, but for now I have to accept that I’m a naturally tense person. Finding ways to relax almost feels like another thing to worry about, but I’ve started to see how exercise reduces tension and rewards me with alone time. Writing is huge because it helps me process feelings, plus I love doing it. Eventually I want to take up meditation, but I still have this vision of me in Lotus pose thinking about old Dukes of Hazzard episodes because I am so distractible. So not sure about that one.

As for the NYC trip and the rut I was in, I feel like I hit a wall but it wasn’t as hard as I was expecting and it barely hurt. I feel kind of silly with how hard I braced for the impact, but I’m sure it takes time to really get the idea that the bad times pass. They always do if I just wait it out.

50% alcoholic

Also I’d say she is only 50% alcoholic so if you are looking to read about someone’s absolute mess rock bottom, this isn’t going to satisfy your craving.

I should know better than to read the comments section of a book review, or anywhere really, because reading anonymous comments on the internet is like going to the grocery store and suddenly being able to hear all the inane and offensive thoughts of strangers around you. If this happened in real life, you would probably stop going to the grocery store and would have to buy all your food online, which would just give you more time to read comments on the internet, so fortunately this is all hypothetical.

Except for the above comment, which was heartbreakingly real and written by some lady in response to a review of Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife, which I did not even particularly like, which makes this all even harder. The idea that someone can be “only 50% alcoholic” is almost as offensive as the idea that social drinkers are reading books about sobriety in hopes of catching a glimpse of someone’s “absolute mess rock bottom”.

Seriously, I hate the internet sometimes. Hate. It.

But here I am writing on the internet about why I hate the internet so I should probably illustrate why the notion of someone being “only 50% alcoholic” is offensive and upsetting.

The chart below is how alcoholic I might have seemed to a random non-alcoholic on the internet throughout my long and illustrious drinking career.

In 1986 I had Peppermint Schnapps at a slumber party and really that tells you all you need to about me and my drinking and how we were doomed from the start.

In 1991, I graduated from high school and blackout drinking and moved on to beer but had also already done a lot of dumb, dangerous things that I never would have done sober.

In 1996, I lived with my then-boyfriend, now-husband and started to realize that my drinking was not normal. Well, I knew this back in 1991, but living with someone else forced me to look at my drinking and hangovers instead of sweeping it all under the rug.

You might notice that 2001-2006 shows a lower rate of alcoholism than 1996. This was because I was able to pull myself together just enough that I no longer needed to lay in a fetal position in my car in the parking lot of the grocery store and work up the nerve to go in and buy milk and eggs because I was so hungover I felt like I was going to die. Because my hangovers got better during this time, I felt less alcoholic.

I should still note that I was about 50% too alcoholic to be a good mom and wife and employee. But 50% alcoholic was apparently bearable because I kept drinking until I peaked (hopefully, dear God) at 80% in 2011. Because yes, I could still get to 100% alcoholic if I kept at it, but I think all you get is cirrhosis and a loss of everything near and dear to you and I’m good right now, thanks.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking because the above line graph shows an upward trend, when in actuality becoming more alcoholic is not really a good thing. But I’m going to keep it this way because the whole idea that an alcoholic can be halfway alcoholic is pretty ridiculous. It implies we can pull out and reverse our alcoholism so long as we don’t reach 100%. And if we could do that, we could still drink. And the very fact that we’re not drinking anymore tells you we cannot do this, though not for lack of trying.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It never gets better over time, only worse. I know this in and out, through and through. I wish I knew so well never to read anonymous comments on the internet.

Drunk dreams

Last night I had a drunk dream, the first in probably six months. In it, my husband and I had bought some sort of rundown Shoney’s or gas station or maybe a dilapidated version of the Howard Johnsons with the orange sherbet in a recent episode of Madmen. Whatever the setting was supposed to be, my husband pulled out an old bottle of whiskey from underneath the counter and offered it to me and I drank it. I never liked whiskey, yet in the dream I was disappointed when I realized the bottle was only a quarter full and that I would not be getting any more. Then I thought “well a little bit is better than none at all” which is where my dream self and awake self part ways, for sure.

Why did I have a drunk dream after so many months without, and why did I actually drink in this one? When I had them in the early days of sobriety, I would order a wine at some chaotic reception but then invariably remember “oh yeah, I don’t drink anymore” and put it back untouched. In this dream, I drank the whiskey and only afterwards realized I had just ruined a nice stretch of sobriety.

The only trigger I can think of is that I’m going with my family tonight to eat at a brewpub in town. I’ve been to this place a few times since I quit drinking, but not in months. Even in my drinking days, I liked this place better for its food than its beer because they do more experimental brews, such as beer aged in whiskey barrels. Which is probably where the whiskey dream came from. My subconscious is embarrassingly transparent.

Of course it’s okay for me to have dinner at a brewpub with my family. It wouldn’t feel right if I went by myself or if I went all the time, but I have to work the new non-drinking me back into the old routines. It’s not all about me. This flexibility feels important for growth.

Last night I wondered out loud when I was going to get to exercise today because of our dinner plans and my husband said “why don’t you work out in the morning?” First I thought of all the reasons why that idea sucked because I wasn’t the one to come up with it, but then I realized it made a lot of sense. So this morning I got up early and wrote for a half hour at the kitchen table and then ran for a half hour in the mist and fog, and now I feel fantastic.

Getting exercise has been important to me for roughly the last six years, save for the time I was pregnant with my youngest and incidentally got as big as a house. But I have never done it the same way for any length of time. Sometimes I do it at night, sometimes in the morning, sometimes right after work. I’ve done the elliptical, the treadmill, I’ve walked, I’ve run…the point is I have to be flexible or I won’t find the time to exercise. I have to change up how I exercise or I’ll get burnt out and I won’t want to do it anymore.

Sobriety feels like that too. I don’t mean that I have to eat at brewpubs to stay sober. I just mean I have to rediscover things that are fun and I can’t live my life based on fear. If I keep the end goal the same but stay flexible in how I get there, maybe sobriety will continue to be as rewarding as it is today.

Step 4 is turning out to be a real dick

Last night I went to a meeting and wriggled in my seat every time someone swore the only way to stay sober is by attending meetings or getting down on bended knees every morning and night to thank God. The only time I felt engaged was talking to someone with four months who shared that his life feels so bad right now he thinks it might actually feel easier if he drinks. I told him I vividly remember how hard four months felt, though for me it was more like five months when the novelty of sobriety wore off and the feelings came back. I told him it absolutely gets better, though of course I don’t know that. I do know drinking wouldn’t make life easier in the long run. He knows this, but I told him because he wanted to hear it. That’s why we go to meetings.

A familiar-looking woman in fleece-lined mules stood with us and nodded in agreement and told him to keep working the steps because they would provide him peace. I thought “time might give you the same peace so long as you don’t drink” but I did not say this. Afterwards, I walked out to the parking lot with this woman and the way she asked “and how are you doing?” made me feel like she wanted to know. I said “oh ok. I’m not really feeling meetings right now and I’ve sort of stalled at step 4.” She didn’t say anything at first and then simply offered “you know, it’s called a 12 step program for a reason.” Touché, familiar-looking woman in seasonally inappropriate footwear.

Last night I came home feeling out of sorts and ill at ease with both meetings and my decision to scale back. Because here’s the source of my resentment: I never signed up for a lifetime commitment to attend meetings when I decided to get sober. My sponsor told me that she had started going to meetings because she wanted to get a handle on drinking like a normal person. I started going to meetings because I wanted to get a handle on not drinking. It never occurred to me that I was supposed to keep coming back until I die. The root of this resentment is that I fear the warnings are right: that if I stop going to meetings, I will drink again.

Despite or in spite of this conflict, I woke up this morning and did some work on Step 4. I started it about a month ago and wrote quite a bit in an email (to myself) that I inadvertently wound up deleting. I’m not upset by this because I never intended to keep it around. One of my character defects is arrogance because I am quite certain I’m able to see the role I play in every resentment I hold. It takes almost no time to identify that the reason my grandmother’s negativity and lack of filter bothers me is because I am overly sensitive and underly caring. And underly is so a word. Stubborness and inappropriate use of humor as deflection are two more character defects. If deflection is not a word, I don’t want to know because avoidance is another.

I wrote a bunch of stuff out this morning and I’ll keep working on it until I feel finished or when I find myself listing resentments towards my first grade teacher, whose only slight I can remember was telling the class she was 100 years old, which I totally believed because she had grey hair and granny glasses. I hope I’ll know when to stop. Actually, I kind of feel done now, but I’ll at least get through what the packet suggests I do.

I don’t think I’m going to do a Step 5 because that would mean confessing all my sins and that feels like a potentially dangerous form of humiliation designed to break me down and anyway, I’m hoping I’ve told enough people a handful of my wrongs that it might collectively count as a Step 5.

Trying not to get too far ahead. Baby steps. I’ll take that step when I come to it or I won’t take it. I’m not there right now so there’s no use worrying about it.

Random stuffs

I’ve decided in the back of my head that once I hit one year of sobriety, I might stop going to meetings. I’ve thought this for a little over a month now, and I’m honestly not sure what my motivation is. I don’t want to drink again. I think I’m just afraid to get more involved and the group mentality is starting to turn me off. I technically should keep my one-year secretary commitment, and I probably will. I’d also like to stick around through August because my home group will celebrate its 20th anniversary and there will probably be cake (more on that in a bit). It’s a small group, really. We meet at a church about a mile from where I live. The first spring we lived in our house, we bought an oversized novelty wine glass at this same church when they were having a rummage sale. The irony of this escaped me until just now.

My kid’s birthday party went just fine and the clown did a fantastic job painting faces and twisting elaborate balloon creatures to life that popped a lot less than I was expecting in the bitter cold the day turned out to be. The clown showed up without makeup because she confused me with another client who specifically requested she come that way so the younger kids (and parents?) wouldn’t get scared. She looked like a nice, normal woman in a ponytail, dangly earrings and black pair of those athletic shoes that are supposed to give you a nice butt. I was equally disappointed and happy that she came looking less like a clown and more like someone’s mom. She made some really wonderful things with balloons. The kids seemed to have a great time and kept asking to take their jackets off because they were too warm. My grandmother kept complaining about the cold and how far away we live.  The party was a mixed bag.

After the party was over, I failed to feel the flood of relief that it was over. I sat on the couch that night watching a dumb movie and waiting for the relief to wash over me. In the movie, the main characters kept meeting at a bar and the camera kept showing them take thirsty gulps of beer. This bothered me almost as much as my inability to feel relief. I can best describe it as feeling restless. I’ve always been irritated when people say “life’s about the journey, not the destination” but I have this phrase stuck in my head. There is a lesson in all of this that I am just starting to make out beyond blurred edges.

Since mid-March I’ve lost 11 pounds through a combination of eating and running. Not at the same time, though that would be pretty awesome. I am about 5 pounds from my goal weight so naturally I celebrated by eating a bunch of cake this weekend. It strikes me that the way I binge on sugar is like how I used to drink. Something about wanting something and indulging with no thought to consequences is so seductive. It’s a I want what I want when I want it kind of thing. With cake, I can not eat cake the next day and get on the treadmill and sweat away a serving of cake, which, eww, sounds gross, sorry. But I can’t treat alcohol as casually. It is absolutely true that my relationship with alcohol over time always got worse, never better. The verdict is still out on cake, but I am sure I will keep testing my limits there. The only thing I have left after that is porn and nail polish, and I will be holding fast to those.

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