When mama ain’t happy

The other day I saw two empty pints of Smirnoff tossed by the side of the road and the sight of them made me feel nauseated. Granted, I was running and had just tackled a few hills I haven’t had to face on the treadmill this winter, but still it stood out. Generally I have an iron stomach, and I’ve never had this reaction to the sight of alcohol in sobriety.

Then I recalled the big jug of what I’m pretty sure would have been smirnoff in my parent’s brown lacquered liquor cabinet. When I was a freshman in high school, I used to sneak some into an old nail polish remover bottle I had rinsed out first. WTF. In case you ever run out of clean To-Go cups, let me tell you that rinsed nail polish remover bottles retain a surprising amount of their nail polish remover flavor. I remember standing outside a boy’s house late at night, swigging from a bottle of Cutex and screwing up the courage to go inside. It was liquid courage, but I might as well have been drinking gasoline. Still I drank it. And got sick. I think I still went inside.

Oh so grateful for these blessedly short snippets from an ugly past. They remind me how sick I got on rot gut and top shelf and everything in between. It was like poison that sometimes tasted good and sometimes just tasted like poison.

This weekend I’m solo parenting and trying to arrange plans in a loose enough way to allow flexibility for life while keeping myself on track. I am the queen of procrastination and getting sucked into mindless vortexes, but I figured something out the other day. Proscrastinating makes me bitchy. Just kidding, I’ve known that for ages, as have my children. Maybe what I figured out is that procrastinating my procrastination allows me to do things at a non-rushed/freakout pace, plus then I still get to goof off. And you know the old saying When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. The reverse is probably just as true.

My husband took this picture last weekend (we were all happy).
My husband took this picture of me and my girls last weekend (you can’t tell but we were all happy).

Speaking of happiness, I had some dessert this week. The thing is, it didn’t make me happy, though it wasn’t terrible either. I’d gone a month-and-a-half more or less sugar-free and I’d planned to have some birthday cake. I had the cake and also part of a rice krispie treat and some brownie and also a cupcake. This was all over the course of a week, mind you. And I realized pretty much while I was doing it that I needed to go back to not eating dessert, at least for now. And so I did. I’m a lot happier eating better, so the motivation is there. Food affects my mood more than I realized. Maybe it’s more accurate to say how I eat affects how I feel about myself.

I’m surrounded by examples of why I should do the right thing.  When I do, I feel better about myself. And I don’t need to miss out on anything. If I get my work done, I get to play very important bubble popping and candy matching games on my phone. If I don’t inhale cookies daily, maybe I can have one now and again. Maybe this is no big deal.

Moderation outside of drinking is a new concept to me. Because I associated it with continued failed attempts at moderate drinking, moderation smelled like failure to me. As long as I remember I can’t have any of this good stuff if I drink, maybe there’s more wiggle room than I realized.

Happy Valentimes

Last night I woke up around midnight to give the baby a kiss on her fat cheek because she was stirring from a bad dream. She’s not really a baby, but she still has fat cheeks like a baby and when I lean in to kiss them and tuck her spider-man blanket in just so, her hair smells sweet like a baby’s. These small comforts settled her down so that I was able to sink back into the delicious comfort of my own bed and realize what a gift sobriety has been to me as a mother.

It’s not that I was terrible mom before, any more than I am a perfect mom now. I still feel the urge to hurl myself out of a moving car over incessant snack-related whining. I still love bedtime (theirs) as much as I did when I was drinking, though I like to think I use it more wisely now (reading books/crap tv) than before (reading twitter/crap tv). Last night when I went to my older daughter’s parent-teacher conference, I did not have to chew gum to hide the fact that I’d had pre-conference drinks. The changes are subtle until they bubble up in unexpected ways that show just how much spirits were really a spirit blocker for me.

I’m not trying to shortchange the real work behind recovery, though what that looks like varies by person anyway. I’m just saying that I stopped drinking and many months later realize I’m a better parent and person than I knew I could be. This realization is like the best Valentines’ present ever, even better than the set of pots and pans my husband and I agreed would be our gift to each other this year. I dragged my youngest to Macy’s on a Sunday afternoon and stared at pots and pans for so long she laid on the floor until I asked her to move so people wouldn’t step on her or think she was dead. Like I said, I’m no perfect parent. But in the quiet moments when I am fully present to them because I can be now, well, the rewards are overpowering and awesome.


What if I don’t see it coming?

The other night I had a really vivid relapse dream. I was sitting at the dining room table across from my long-dead grandmother and great-aunt, who were bickering about something. They were sisters prone to bickering in real life, so what they were bickering about is probably not important. To my right at the table, my own two daughters were bickering about something unclear and, again, probably not important. In the dream, my dad poured me a glass of pink wine and I gulped nearly all of it and then had the thought “no wonder I drank so much…it’s so sweet” before realizing I had just blown my sobriety. I was of course heartbroken and the dream so vivid I felt relief like I’ve never felt upon waking from a nightmare.

The reason I had this dream was probably because of a recent conversation about why we may never fully be able to call ourselves recovered. This, to me anyway, implies that we’re cured, and getting too far removed from the pain of drinking seems to be why many people relapse. This isn’t why everyone slips though, and yesterday I came across a reason I can more easily understand.

Every once in awhile I like to google famous people I know were sober to see if they’re still sober. I don’t know if it’s morbid curiosity or if I’m looking for affirmation that doesn’t mean much anyway since we’re all on our own journey. I read a touching piece on relapse by an author I remember reading in early sobriety.

Her relapse was not with alcohol, but with pills, and it read to me like something heavy and complicated. She had her heart broken, and damn, I guess we all know what that feels like. You don’t think it’s going to hit you that hard, but it does. This is the relapse threat that scares me most of all…these devastating, if inevitable losses in life.

What I found interesting in her article was that she’d previously listed with her sponsor all of the things she thought might make her drink. Her list was not surprising…the death of a child, terminal illness, loss of a parent or loved one. The idea of  planning ahead wasn’t surprising either, though I admit I was taken aback at the idea of having a mental escape clause, a free pass if life got too rough to handle sober.

My drinking got out of control when I used it to cope with hardship. It took about two years for me to realize I had dug a hole that looked suspiciously like my own grave, but I can easily trace it back to that time in my life when I drank to dull the pain. Let me be perfectly clear that a Stresssful Life Event did not lead to my alcoholism. If it hadn’t been one thing, it surely would have been another. In typical Polyanna fashion, I am in fact extremely grateful for this pain for allowing me the chance to bottom out sooner than I might have otherwise. I learned that drinking may dull the pain, but it brings fresh layers of hurt that I can only blame myself for.

There is no reason bad (or good) enough for me to want to drink. I can’t afford to give that idea a millimeter of room in my head, though I suppose it helps to know firsthand that it doesn’t work anyway. One day this idea will be tested. Something bad will happen at some point in the future, of this I am sure. Today I choose to believe that success is the best revenge. If life hurts me, I hope to do my best to keep moving forward.

Today is the day I could grab one of those double chocolate donuts that have been giving me the stink eye for the last few days because they’re pretty sure I think I’m too good for them. It’s not that, donuts. It’s a lot more complicated.

January is over, which means I am no longer under contractual obligation to drink my coffee black or skip dessert or drink almond milk instead of what is disturbingly referred to as “dairy milk” on a carton of almond milk. How does one milk an almond anyway? Are they all stoic like a cow or do they squirm around a lot or even scream?

About midway through January I had the saddest epiphany in some time, which is that my 30 day sugar quit mirrors January 2011, when I quit drinking for 30 days to “reset my tolerance”. If you’re in recovery, you no doubt lol’d a little because you know it doesn’t work. I couldn’t undo a biochemical, emotional addiction two decades in the making in 30 days.  In fact, I never could because within months I was drinking so much I hit my lowest bottom (not to be confused with the worst thing I did), which involves a sad story about the worst road trip of my life and having what must have been a panic attack while driving me and my kids across this really long bridge after I had inadvertently started to detox.

Fortunately, this bottom was the beginning of the end for me, and I made the decision to abstain from alcohol within several months.

This January, I realized I probably need to take a similar line with sugar, though as I said to the donuts, it’s complicated.

If I give up sugar indefinitely, that means no birthday cake or ice cream cones or pumpkin pie that normal people eat when they get together. The difference, of course, being that normal people don’t eat all the Christmas cupcakes in the span of several days, savoring and/or devouring each one in a way that just ain’t natural.

Honestly, I’m somewhere in between deciding to abstain from dessert permanently and allowing myself a cheat day once a week (month?) where I’d get to have one thing from the forbidden list. I know deep in my heart that I am not ready for a cheat day, though I may make an exception and have a small piece of cake for my daughter’s birthday this month.

On to the good stuff though. Scaling back sugar intake was the best thing I’ve done for myself in some time. It really wasn’t a true quit because I still had plenty of sugar in my diet from fresh fruit. After awhile, grapes seemed a perfectly fine substitute for those tiny peanut butter cups that are sitting in my pantry right now, the adorable fuckers.

(Thanks for this, Christy!)
Stick with it, Cookie. You’ll come around. (Thanks for this, Christy!)

In the last month I saw the cravings overall decline, though they still hit regularly and sharply. I lost weight. My energy levels returned after about three weeks and yesterday I had the best run I’ve had in months…possibly ever. I felt stronger and lighter and like my body was running on good fuel.

I even came around on almond milk, though I will probably bump the self-imposed sugar gram limit to 12g in processed foods and welcome “dairy milk” back into my life. If a recipe calls for a small amount of sugar, I will use the real thing instead of an artificial sweetener. I may bring agave nectar back into my morning coffee. I still miss it.

So that’s that. My journey into no-sugar ended the same way as my 30 day abstain from alcohol two years ago. I did it – I pretty much knew I would from the start because my monkey brain knew it was just temporary. The difference between then and now is now I accept that I have a problem with sugar and I know firsthand from sobriety that abstinence brings its own rewards.

Once a month I’ll plan to check in and report how I’m doing with sugar. Blogging helped me feel accountable, and that was really helpful. I’m pretty sure I’ll have that piece of birthday cake later on this month. I’m pretty sure it’s not normal to be afraid of birthday cake, but that’s where I am right now: less relieved that I survived January and more afraid of how I’m going to navigate the murkier future where I can have the cake if I really want it. But I also know that life without sugar is still life. It’s no less sweet.

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