Waiting for Kirstie Alley

The last weekend of my drinking, my husband and I dropped the kids off at babysitting and went to a driving range. It was a clear early summer night and we had planned to hit a bucket of balls and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards. This was his plan, though. The driving range had a small snack shop with wrinkly hot dogs and ice cream bars and soda pop. It did not sell beer. I did not really want to be there.

It turned out we didn’t stay long. All the loaner clubs were out or broken. My husband and I sat outside on a bench for awhile and watched strangers hit balls into the expansive green. I was just waiting for him to ask “you ready to go?” because I knew he would. My head and guts were starting to crawl in that panicky way when you go too long in between drinks.

I don’t remember which one of us suggested the cowboy bar, but it was still light outside and the parking lot was mostly empty. We call it the cowboy bar because the neon sign out front is a cowboy hat that lights up at night.  The place looks deceptively small from the outside, but inside it’s dark and cavernous and the floor looks like bathroom tile and suggests they once saw the kind of crowd that made it easier to just hose the place down in the morning. The cowboy bar has honky tonk bands on weekends and a full page of Dolly Parton songs for karaoke night and surprisingly good beer on tap. By good beer, I mean boozy beer.

We hoisted up on plastic swivel stools and chatted with the bartender, who told us Kirstie Alley had just been by. She betrayed her offhand tone by whipping out a phone to show us a picture of  her and Kirstie – arms entwined – smiling, fast friends. Kirstie was in town to hawk her magic weight loss formula on a certain well-known home shopping network.

The bartender and handful of patrons at the bar were alight with hope that Kirstie would be back later.  The guy to my right dug into a plate of cheese fries with a fork. I’d swear now he’s someone I know, a chronic relapser with less than 90 days who once strung together three years. Three years. But again, I can’t very well ask him “say, was that you eating cheese fries with a fork at the cowboy bar two summers ago, waiting for Kirstie Alley to return? And did she?”

I was drinking faster than my husband that night. I was trying to hold it together, but I don’t think I was holding anything to begin with. We had to leave and pick up our children and then the night went fuzzy. I have a vague memory of hanging onto the door jamb of our back porch and saying  “Listen, I’m going to stop drinking after this weekend and I just want you to leave me alone until then.”  

When I think back to that last weekend of drinking, I can tell you I’d had enough. There was never enough to drink, but the dive bar scene didn’t fit anymore. Maybe I’d once had fantasies of winding up in a Bukowski story, but the reality of being a suburban mom drunk in a dive bar is having a conversation with a slurring irish house painter you swear keeps saying his name is Blob (Bob. His name is Bob.) and who keeps spraying spittle in your face at random intervals. It’s possibly getting roofied at a biker bar but not being entirely sure because you drank enough that you might have roofied yourself. I’ll read about this world, but I don’t want fights in the parking lot and burning cigarette holes in the car upholstery and falling into screen doors and hoping my kids don’t notice I’m just a drunk.

That night at the cowboy bar was an anticlimactic gift of sorts because I said what I said about not drinking anymore and I stuck with it. (Sort of. I actually quit on a Tuesday, as I had to do a weaning detox on Monday.) When that moment comes along where you know you’ve had as much fun as you’re gonna have and that drinking is more or less sucking the life out of you, sometimes you just have to take that gift and figure out what to do with it later. You will.

Sometimes I get bored

I’ve yet to buy a single item for my fall wardrobe, but I felt like a change so switched themes on this here blog, which is the equivalent of getting a magenta bob with really short bangs and expecting people to still recognize you. But it’s still me. Byebyebeer. The name I can never change even though it sounds like I came up with it while I was still drinking. (I wasn’t.)

I also added my picture back to gravatar. I had one up awhile back, but then I changed email addresses for the blog and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to reattach a picture. Then I figured it out, but I uploaded an arty picture of a swimming pool instead. I can be very mysterious.

Then I decided feck it, this is who I am and I’ve done far worse things in life than not drinking. In fact, I did many of those worse things while drinking.

So that’s my explanation for the extreme blog makeover. Carry on.

Signal to Noise

At 5:30 this morning, I was on the phone with my bank trying to stop a duplicate payment to my credit card company. The call got dropped twice, which means I had to suffer through an automated menu three times. I wish there was a recorded collection of people yelling at automated menus. Operator! OPERATOR! Cocksucker! I think it would be hilarious to listen to, all that misdirected anger.

I made the duplicate payment after I got a mistaken ‘payment past due’ email Sunday night from a billpay site I signed up for to simplify my life. I reacted emotionally instead of waiting to look at it with a clear eye the next morning.  The dropped calls were because we dropped our landline a year ago to simplify our lives. This only makes sense when your cell phone works in your house.

I am starting to understand that less is more. Sometimes not doing anything at all is the right thing to do. Or not do. Whatever.

I am starting to see my role in mistakes because I don’t feel threatened like I once did. Now I catch myself doing things like overreacting or taking on too much and it’s like I’m watching myself from a curiously detached place that’s more comfortable than uncomfortable. It’s like those instructional videos where you’re watching a catastrophic scene unfold and the narrator suddenly shouts STOP! and the scene freezes in time. I have the freedom to stop messing up whenever I choose to.

This morning a friend sent this to me an email, apropos of nothing:

“It’s not the awareness of our defects that causes us the most agony – it’s the defects themselves.”

My defects aren’t me. They’re defense mechanisms or bad habits I developed over the years while I was busy avoiding uncomfortable feelings. And hey, life is hard unfiltered. The only way I’ve found any peace lately is by letting go of drama and noise (this applies to people as well as things). I deleted my account from that billpay site yesterday. Felt great. I’m trying to clean house in other areas of my life so I can be the kind of person I’d want to spend time with. Progress is slow, but it’s there and I believe it will continue if I keep trying. Sobriety has taught me that more than anything.


Note to self for August 31, 2013: LOOKOUT

You know those tall, pretty, golden flowers you see growing along roadsides and field edges this time of year? Well, it’s ragweed and it causes things like sneezing fits and runny noses and itchy pallettes, which sounds kind of adorable until you have them all at once. Ragweed releases its evil seedpods for about two weeks starting at the tail end of summer and every time it happens I get really sick and think “boy, this cold sure is terrible” because apparently I can’t remember when ragweed season starts. Once I even went to a doctor, who injected a tiny amount of ragweed poison into the delicate skin of my forearm and watched it swell and clucked “yes, you are definitely allergic to ragweed.” I don’t know why I needed medical confirmation for what I already knew: for those two weeks where it’s not quite summer and not quite fall, I am a miserable SOB. 

What causes this amnesia? Is it the same Darwinistic force that renders me incapable of idenitifying poison ivy, even though I’ve had it so bad on my face that I needed cortisone injections and oversized sunglasses? Is it just that I’m a dingus? Probably both, but I’m having the same amnesia right now about how the change from summer to fall always gets me down. I believe that’s why I’ve felt so restless and fragile since late August. It’s the change of seasons!

While I finally started to noodle this through on my own last night, proper credit goes to Furtheron, who commented after my last post that during summer he tends to feel good and then slips into a bit of melancholy at the start of fall. I’m pretty sure he told me this last year too, but I forgot. Maybe seeing halloween candy in the grocery stores while I’m wearing flip flops is a subconscious reminder that winter is next up. Maybe I’m still processing the sudden loss of summer. I have no regrets, I just don’t know where it went and I miss it.

Fall is personally hard for me in sobriety because of Oktoberfest. Although booze was what ultimately got me in trouble, beer was always my drink of choice (boy it took a lot more in the end to do the trick). Every year we drove an hour north to spend the day at a brewery with strong beer, wonderful food and a good old-fashioned parade of roast pig around an authentic beer hall. We even went last October, when I was newly sober. I could still eat food and appreciate a dead-pig parade, afterall. But it wasn’t the same, and it made me a little sad.

This year, without me saying a word, my husband said “I think we should skip oktoberfest this year and try something new.” He’s like that a lot…tuned into the same wave length as my spooky thoughts…I love that. I am more than a little relieved to skip it this year. He suggested we have our own oktoberfest feast at home, which is something I can really get behind. I love to cook. There is something about planning and preparing and enjoying a meal with others that feels curative.

After last weekend’s nasty outbreak of self-pity and resentment over not being able to drink like everybody else – because, no, I really can’t drink like everybody else – I am more aware that I need to embrace new routines now. Last year it felt fine to hold onto certain rituals from when I was a drinker. The thought don’t rock the boat comes to mind for how I got through the first year. Now, I need new things to look forward to. They don’t even necessarily have to be new…I’m going apple picking again…I want to make a new fall wreath for the front door that maybe has tiny witches in it. Apparently my sobriety looks like Martha Stewart’s regular life, minus prison and perfection.

Here and there, but mostly here

Woke up to memories of vivid dreams not quite nightmares but close enough, probably brought on by the sound of heavy rain on the roof or the bedroom door rattling in its frame from the wind outside. It’s counter-intuitive to love a dismal, wet day, but it puts me closer to a memory I have of picking up my kid from the bus stop – both of us in rainboots, stomping across wet leaves – and taking her home for hot soup. I think I got this memory from a soup commercial because it never really happened, but it’s comforting, so I hold onto it.

One of the dreams I remember was hearing the doorbell ring while I wasn’t fully dressed, and opening the door just the same. At breakfast this morning, my littlest said she dreamt of a strange boy in blue and white striped pajamas standing quiet and still in our hallway. I think I like my dream better.

Yesterday when I asked this same little girl what she wants to be when she grows up as part of a take-home preschool project, she told me “I want to have vanilla hair.” Hmm.

I rephrased the question. “What job do you want to do when you get big?”

“Um…a door holder,” she said.

I fell into one of those deep, hard laughs where you can’t breathe but make strange honking noises instead and tears spill down your cheeks and other people start to look concerned. Between that and the endorphins humming in my brain from an early morning run, I felt normal for the first time in days. Truth is, I’ve been struggling lately, and I don’t really know why.

I can accept that my brain chemistry is wonky, either from years of drinking or because it was screwy enough to self-medicate with drink in the first place. It doesn’t really matter which came first because the solution is the same: don’t drink. This weekend I really struggled with the black-and-whiteness of this cure.

Friday I came downstairs and the way the late afternoon light hit my husband’s pint glass of beer was wicked cruel. I had that by now familiar thought “yes, please” that frustrates me immensely because I feel like my brain should know better now. I am trying to keep my side of the street clean, but his leaves keep blowing over and I am tired of sweeping. I hate being on the opposite side of the street from him, especially when his side feels more happy-go-lucky and mine more get-off-my-lawn-cranky. (aside: He just sent me the above someecard, which is so perfect for this post.)

That splendid vision of beer on the countertop touched off a weekend of feeling out of sorts. I’m so fragile these days. We went to a restaurant festival and I saw a woman with a mostly-full plastic cup of beer, her head thrown back in laughter, and I kinda sorta of wanted to yank her by the ponytail for being in that special place I can’t get to anymore.

And yet I had an excellent weekend. I took my girls to see Finding Nemo (just keep swimming, indeed, Dory) and teared up at all the right moments, plus I ate my weight at the restaurant festival. This life I have is beautiful. I don’t know why I should look for pain in a life I don’t even have.

I am on a roller coaster lately, and it seems odd because I haven’t felt this way since late fall of last year. When I ride roller coasters in real life, I do so with a smile on my face and my eyes tightly shut. I know this because we just went to Disney and they’re constantly taking pictures of you on roller coasters that you only want to buy so you can burn them. I think maybe what I’m doing now is opening my eyes a little and taking it all in, exactly as it is. It’s new and sometimes scary, but I haven’t felt this alive in ages.

Laughing with


I’ve always been able to laugh at myself, which is fortunate because often I bumble through life feeling one part Lucy, two parts Fred.

The other night I excused myself from dinner at a steakhouse to find the ladies room, and then simply couldn’t. I wandered through a well-lit doorway and into a hotel lobby and knew I’d gone too far, but pride pushed me forward and ultimately onto an escalator. I thought how funny it might seem to my dinner companions if they looked through the doorway at that moment. “Oh look, there’s Kristen trying to find the ladies room and taking an escalator ride instead.” It wouldn’t surprise anyone. I am distractible and prone to over-complicating things, only occasionally to comedic effect.

While this is not new, I am able to laugh at myself in a different way lately. I’ve always been self-deprecating, but in a way that rang harshly at times. Now I am kinder to myself.

I am no longer doing things to regret or bury, so maybe I just like myself more. Or maybe this is yet another side-effect of being more comfortable in my own skin, which I’ve heard sober people talk up since Day 1. I feel kinder and gentler and more accepting, not just with others but finally with myself.

Eventually I found a ladies room, though it took so long the waiter had time to refold my napkin and place it on the chair like a tiny teepee. Later I learned I was not alone because two other people from my table had gone on escalator rides too! Another had found the restrooms right around the corner on his first try. “Either that or I did something horrible in the broom closet,” he said and we laughed and laughed.

Good morning, Baltimore

Yesterday was a booze-filled day, though none of it my own. The male guests I’m with started the day dreadfully hungover. “Your way is the best way,” one said. Duh. I felt their pain and panic of having to get through that long part of the day where you’re not supposed to drink. Of course I would have just drank.

It’s been over a year since my last drink, but still I got that panicky feeling at dinner when they were pouring wine and I wasn’t sure what to do with my glass. Turn it upside down? Cover it with my hand? Throw it on the floor and stomp with an empathetic no way, mother fucker? These are the times I feel like the only non-drinker in the world. A misfit, an outcast.

One of my dinner companions commented that I did nothing to help them kill two bottles of wine (amateurs). Because he seemed genuinely interested, I expanded on my usual I don’t drink and said I once loved drinking, but then it turned bad for me. Sometimes I miss it, I admitted, but I’m much better off without. Then we bellied up to the bar where I had a seltzer and then went to bed because fuckit, seltzer isn’t beer.

This morning I ran along the inner harbor of Baltimore. The air was cool and crisp and hinted at autumn. I had been nervous about running in a strange city, but I needn’t have been. The path was wide and open and if I’d felt like trying 6 miles, I could have done a loop around Fort McHenry and its replica of the giant flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Oh well. Next year.

I wanted to take a picture of the harbor or even how my funny shadow made it look like I was running on stilts, but I never run with my phone. This is what Baltimore looks like from safely inside a hotel. Still pretty pretty.


Sweetest ride

Sometimes when you let go and go with the flow, the rewards are pretty awesome.

We were on a road trip tonight and the kids were all “we want to stop now” and “how come you never feed us?” My brain told me to keep driving to stay ahead of traffic but my gut told me to stop. So we stopped. As I was eating a curly fry, this rolled by…a sign from above…my just reward for going with the flow.


May your weekend be filled with unexpected ease and happiness.

too cool for school

I have a distinct memory of standing in my dad’s boat, which was parked on the street in front of our house, defending my love of fall to the boy who would one day break my heart. I was 10 years-old and wearing a pink t-shirt with an Ewok on it. My face was peeling from a summer at the beach. And yes, I was playing in a parked boat in front of my house. The boy who would one day break my heart was walking his beagle down the street and you’d think I could remember who struck up the conversation about fall, but storing useless information is funny this way.

“Eww, why do you like fall?” the boy said. “That’s when we have to go back to school.”

His point made me feel even nerdier than you’d think possible for someone wearing an Ewok shirt, though it was flawed because we don’t go back to school in fall. It’s still summer for a good two weeks past Labor Day.

I still love fall. I love them all, but fall is best of all. The other night when my preschooler melted down at the mall and I thought my world was ending (melodramatic much?), I helped my older kid pick out jeggings and shirts from stores that all carry the same clothes yet are painfully spread out. The mall could easily be condensed to 10 stores and then maybe preschooler crises could be avoided (ha).

My older kid was getting ready to start middle school and she was nervous as hell about it, which was unusual for her. She’d say “What if I have a lot of homework?” and I’d remember creepy Mr. Shorko who taught math and flirted with all the 6th grade girls. She’d say “What if I can’t open my locker?” and I’d remember that time I spent 20 minutes trying to open a locker that wasn’t even mine. She’d say “What if I can’t find my bus at the end of the day?” and I’d remember the time I kissed Danny on the bus in 7th grade and was afraid I’d get a hickey because clearly I had no idea what hickeys were. Instead of sharing all these horrible things with my daughter, I bought her new jeggings and overpriced shirts and told her it would all be fine and that middle school will soon feel as familiar as elementary school did.

When I went to parent orientation last spring, the guidance counselor asked how many of us loved middle school and only a few hands shot up. When she asked how many hated it, many more shot up. “Good,” she said. “Keep it to yourself. Your kids are not you.”

Our kids are not us. Our past is not our future. Fall is a fun time to reinvent yourself. Buy some new clothes and a Trapper Keeper and then get your life back on track because you spent all summer playing in a boat that wasn’t even in the water and didn’t accomplish anything of note. I love fall for the fresh start it offers and I’m not ashamed to say it.

These demons, they come and go

My favorite book from childhood was about a little girl who wakes up one night to the sounds of scratching from underneath her bed. It turns out to be a mischievous demon only she can see. He kicks her out of her own bed, eats all her sugar cookies and slurps all her milk, and gets her in trouble by hanging a turkey from the dining room chandelier. The story was great, but the illustrations were really what got me.

He was so darn cute that I very much wanted my own demon or at least a cat or dog that looked like a demon. In the story, the demon gets attached to an oddly shaped glass bottle, a rubber snake, and those sugar cookies. Eventually the girl comes to love the demon, which is his cue to split, so he climbs into the night sky with all his favorites except for the oddly shaped bottle because it’s too cumbersome to carry.

“These demons, that’s how they are,” soothes the girl’s grandmother. “They come and go, come and go.” The girl is so heartbroken, she cries herself to sleep.

I liked to think the demon might come back to her one day, if only for more milk and cookies. From what I know about demons now, they don’t ever really leave us.

Recently I started to think of myself as a non-drinker. It felt important somehow to identify with others who choose not to drink. There are such fortunates – those who just don’t like the taste or get nauseated or headachey from one glass of wine. There are also startling differences between me and someone who simply prefers a glass of lemonade over a bottomless gin and tonic. I will never be that kind of person.

On Friday I had a rough night. Part of it was pms (sorry guys), part of it was that moon, part of it was just my 4 year-old showing us she has the self-will of her mother and father combined (god help us all). She threw the temper tantrum of all temper tantrums at the mall and then in the car and then in the garage and finally in the foyer, where she also grabbed the cat and sobbed into his damp fur because she felt so rotten and I was so mad I could barely look at her. Mother of the year.

On the very loud, very terrible drive home a single thought had popped in my head. I want a cigarette and a drink and I want to get the fuck out of here. These demons, they come and go, come and go. I wanted to punish my family as much as I wanted to disappear from the pain. This was not my finest moment, but I didn’t drink over it. I did go home and put the child to bed after giving her a hug and telling her I love her. Then I went in my room and had a good cry. It lingered with me the rest of the night, that ugliness.

The next morning I woke up and the ugliness was mostly gone. The day’s fun swept away any remaining gloom and gave me perspective. It was just another temper tantrum. She’ll outgrow them. I could have handled it better. I will next time.

Lately the little things have cut me more deeply than they should. My nerves are too exposed, too raw, and if I keep feeling life like this, I will drink again. I plan to get back to a more regular meeting schedule this fall and share more. I plan to bake apple pies (thanks to dear, sweet RunningOnSober). I plan to do everything under the sun and falling leaves but not drink.

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