Catboy and upcakes

Thank you very much to those who knew I celebrated two years of sobriety last week and left comments. It meant a lot and helped to make the occasion very special. I said I was going to close out my two years with a post about the many gifts of sobriety, but then the time came and I couldn’t. I lost my dear sweet cat of 18 1/2 years a few weeks ago and, I don’t know, life happened and I just couldn’t bring myself to feel, let alone write about gratitude.

The cat was very, very old. The above picture, taken days before we had him put down, doesn’t show that he’d shrunk to 5 pounds and how his hip bones jutted out like matted fur and he was so wobbly he could barely stand. His death wasn’t a surprise and, in fact, we’d joked for years that we would have him stuffed when he died because he’d seemed such a permanent fixture in our lives. Instead we had him cremated and now he sits on our mantle in a small wooden box with his name on it. I guess we became those people.

And by those people, I guess I mean people doing normal life things, ready or not. In the week following the cat’s death, I was mostly fine but then I’d be putting laundry away and notice the giant hole in my heart. Honestly, I was mourning the loss of a life I haven’t known in years as much I was missing my sweet catboy. What I noticed was how much grief over one thing stirred up grief and fear and even resentment over other, seemingly unrelated things. Nothing new had happened in my life other than the cat dying, but here I was trapped in old patterns of feeling afraid and hopeless.

I have to keep an eye on this kind of feeling because I’ve been depressed before and taken medication for it. I’m trying not to right now, though I am taking supplements and definitely exercise. I’m trying to be kinder to my monkey mind (thanks, Christy) and so I just sit with it and listen to the chatter and occasionally feed it cupcakes, like the one I had at lunch the day I hit 2 years sober.

Not my photo because I ate mine before I thought to take one.

I met my sober friend Lisa for lunch. She is behind me in sobriety by not quite a month, and marking the occasion with her felt right. The place we went to has these things called upcakes, which are basically upside down cupcakes with the top cut off and icing all over. The description doesn’t do justice to how amazing these things taste. It must be the homemade icing.

For awhile there, I worried I might have to ditch dessert…again. I was hitting sugar hard and had picked up a few pounds and was feeling pretty miserable about it. This was even before my cat died and work got more stressful and old issues flared up. Then I sort of prayed on it in a half-assed, totally non-religious way — more like a “I don’t think I can do this anymore” whine thrown into the ether. And it seemed to work and I am grateful because it means I get to keep occasional upcakes and Rita’s gelatis, which are usually followed by 3 mile runs the next morning because I’m not fucking magical.

It’s ego and vanity, but running makes me feel good about myself. I’ve lost weight and so far kept it off and I can run longer and faster and it’s hard to explain how good that feels and how that keeps me going during the tougher moments. Oh, I also think I’m going to hit a meeting in the near future. I have no intention of attending regularly again, but I miss that sameness and feeling of comfort that comes from sitting in a room with a bunch of stranger-drunks.

We also plan to adopt two new kitties. The kids have never known a pet that sees children as anything other than a threat or competition, so I think this will be good for all of us.

I guess I did get around, in a round about way, to writing about the gifts of sobriety. I had the loss and felt it and didn’t run from it and cause it to mutate and multiply. Life isn’t easy sober, but it’s easier than I ever made it out to be.

Looking back, I like to think I always knew I would one day have to stop drinking. I don’t know this is true, but it would explain why I drank hungrily, greedily from the time I was 13 until I was 37. Maybe I feared for that inevitable moment when I knew I’d have to cut myself off. More likely I was born with faulty wiring and that’s just how I drink. I don’t have much alcoholism in my family, but one close relative drank himself to death in his 50s. We make the choices, but our genes and environment limit a lot of the choices we have to make.

One weekend night two summers ago I said to my husband, “I’m going to quit drinking on Monday and I want you to leave me alone until then.” I wanted to drink without concerned looks or disapproving words, which is probably every alcoholic’s favorite dream.

Why was that weekend different from a thousand before? What was the proverbial straw that broke me? I wish I knew but I kind of like that I don’t. It feels like divine intervention and I do believe there is something larger at play in all of us. Maybe I just said that to get my husband off my back and it stuck. Who knows.

I wrote about Saturday night of that last (lost?) weekend here, and I don’t remember much about Sunday, but Monday came and I was not physically ready to quit. I woke up with that familiar nausea and shakiness. The antidote to the poison was a little more poison, slowly administered through sips like an IV drip. The point wasn’t to get drunk again but to feel a little less like I might die. I remember the days when I woke up after a night of heavy drinking and the thought of drinking more made me feel worse. Those days were long gone.

The Monday I was supposed to quit drinking but did not was a strange day. That morning I passed a main road that was blocked off by a police car with flashing lights. Then I read a story online that Ryan Dunn had driven off that road and exploded his Porsche into a tree, killing himself and a passenger. His tumblr account showed a picture of himself with friends at a local bar just before the crash. He was holding a beer and some silly drunk pose that no one would have thought much of if the night hadn’t ended in death. Second-hand reports poured in of just how much he’d had to drink. A test showed his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

This crash and death of people I didn’t know isn’t why I quit drinking. It happened to be a powerful backdrop on the day I weaned myself off of alcohol* so I could quit for good.  I thought “Drinking did that and it can never be undone.” The crash drove home that my own drinking was headed to some dark point of no return.

I didn’t have any car wrecks or outward consequences from my drinking, but I was something of a hot mess at the end anyway. Because it was important I save face, I drank secretively. I gulped drinks in private so I could drink at a more normal pace in front of others. I’d say I did this on and off for about the last six months to a year of my drinking. I avoided eye contact and even talking if I’d had too much to drink. I was not a blackout or reckless, wild drinker. I just drank more and more and earlier and earlier and kept on drinking until I “went to sleep”. Some nights I even read in bed (with one eye open and never remembering what I read, but still).

The first drink of the day had become more medicinal than recreational. I waited for it to kick in and the shame and guilt to leave. The normal I was seeking then was a lot like how I feel every day now without alcohol. I just wanted to escape feeling bad about myself. It wasn’t always that way, but it helps to know we all wind up in approximately the same spot if we’re alcoholics and we continue to drink. Some of us get their faster or more spectacularly, but none of us are spared.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It only gets worse over time, never better.

I think if and when we make the decision to stop boils down to how much we are disturbed by our own drinking. I could lie to myself and hide in the safety of comparing myself to other heavy drinkers, but never convincingly. My drinking always bothered me. The way I obsessed and worried over when and how much. The way I hid the amounts and how slurry it made me. I even had to hide the hangover the next morning because who gets a hangover from the two glasses of wine I was supposedly drinking? And oh the stupid things I did when I was drinking!

I drive by the Ryan Dunn crash site so often I usually don’t notice it. For awhile fans came in steady streams and left makeshift memorials with handwritten signs and teddy bears and once a bottle of bourbon that was probably later taken by another fan. But almost two years have  passed, and people have moved on. The other day I was driving past the point in the road that still shows where he missed an exit and skid into the woods. It was a disturbing moment because I felt how it might have felt for him to lose control.  One night of drinking and errors in judgement, never to be undone. I was able to shift back into my happy little world with my kids in the backseat and a life I’m grateful to wake up to every morning. I am so very grateful for all of this.

*I was only beginning to show signs of physical dependence, but no one should attempt to wean themselves off of alcohol without medical supervision. Talk to your doctor if you want to stop. Seriously. They aren’t going to throw you in rehab without your consent (my fear, apparently). 

I’m trying to remember when life consistently got easier in sobriety, as in Mrs. D’s point-on description:

Living sober means having an overall underlying state of calm.. interrupted by phases of emotion that are annoying but manageable.

Living sober means realising that phases of negative, tricky or uncomfortable emotion come along and are annoying.. but that they pass…they come.. and they go..

Since I hit 2 years sober later this month, I thought I’d write about the following each week until I get there.

  1. The overall process of the last 2 years
  2. Why I stopped drinking in the first place
  3. The many gifts of sobriety

This post is #1.

Months 1- 5

Meetings and vietnamese iced coffee

I remember going to a lot of meetings my first sober summer, though in reality it was only 2-3 a week. Each night I went, I slid into a metal  folding chair, still dressed in work clothes, and inhaled the smell of floor polish and stale books and felt like I’d come home. Mostly I just sat and listened to the stories of other people’s lives – their abuse and recovery, their promises. My real home had people who would never let me stare into space for an hour without demanding snacks or a story or some decision, so this is where I caught the pink cloud and coasted for about 5 months on pure relief plus also smoking too much and iced coffees with heaping tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk, aka crack.


Months 5-12

Unleashing the kraken and realizing he only looked 50 times bigger than a pink elephant

Most people report the first 90 days of sobriety are the hardest, but did I mention I’d been on a beautifully numbing antidepressant during that time? Maybe that’s considered cheating, but hey, it worked for me. Around 5 months sober, I decided to switch to another because frankly it was making me fat and killing my sex drive. I remember the doctor asking “Are you sure you want to switch right before the holidays?” I did it anyway.

The antidepressant I stopped taking is well known for its SSRI discontinuation syndrome and the new one I started taking was not at all numbing. I got those pesky feelings back and got angry over everything and cried in my car a lot. Overall this was a tough time for me, but still it was nothing compared to the overwhelming feelings of isolation and hopelessness I’d had at the end of my drinking.

There were many good days in here. I started eating way too much sugar in the absence of any real coping skills, but I also took up running. I lost weight. I quit smoking. I started making better decisions. Baby steps to progress, but slowly life started to feel more manageable.

Months 12-16 

The clouds part for longer than 5 minutes at a time

My least favorite kind of beach day is the kind where you can tell the sun wants to poke through the clouds, but it can’t seem to for any longer than a few seconds at a time. To add insult to injury, these tend to be the days where the biting flies are out and you can still get a sunburn.

Some time around the transition from summer to fall of 2012, the clouds parted and I experienced a real breakthrough.

I remember a facebook post that made light of binge drinking and I remember feeling really sorry for myself that I couldn’t drink anymore and that no one seemed to know how hard that was. I told my husband how crazy annoyed that made me and he said something like “why do you care what other people do?” Although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s strange to connect and harder to explain, but that time of longing and self-pity was immediately followed by the removal of my obsession with drinking. The realization that I didn’t need to worry what others thought about drinking or not drinking was very liberating.

Months 16-23 

The second act

People warned me that the second year sober is hard, but in a different way than the first. The good news is the second half of my second year got a lot easier! By now, I’ve learned that the rough spots still come, but they pass quickly if I do what I know works to get through them (see above, re: Mrs. D). Sometimes that means eating ice cream and going to bed early. Still not convinced there’s anything wrong with this approach, though long term this does not seem a sustainable coping mechanism.

My moods leveled out more in this time. I went off the second antidepressant. I kept running, literally, but not as much figuratively. I started journaling and writing more. I gave up sugar and then went back on sugar and now I’m cutting back again. Sugar is a little fucker!

I don’t know that my process is anything like others’. I think I’m a late bloomer in many respects, so I probably hit my rough patch later than most. Just want to stress again that even during the hard times, everything about being sober is better than anything while I was still drinking.

I’m just as grateful to be off the sauce as I was at Day 2 because let’s face it, Day 1 I was pretty sure I was going to die. I’ll write a little about that next week.

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