the best nightmare ever

I just woke from the most realistic drinking dream I’ve had in a long time. I’d ordered and drunk most of a glass of an old favorite beer and then stressed and fretted about telling people I knew would be deeply disappointed in me, including you. This all went on for what felt like an hour but was probably only a nanosecond because dreams are weird like that.

The first clue it was only a dream should have been that I was eating chicken wings and muffins and getting ready to go to a high school party. Then there were the two sober bloggers helping me fix a bicycle that doesn’t really exist. (which is totally something Josie and Christy would do because they’re the best!)

Drinking dreams have been a completely normal, if occasionally terrifying, part of the sober experience for me. I haven’t had one in a good long while and this one was particularly vivid, but so was the immense relief upon waking. It’s the opposite feeling of waking from a dream where you’re rich or reunited with a lost loved one or, as was the case in a dream last week, of giant sea otters the size of King Kong, only more playful and less murderous.

Sleep has to be the single most curative remedy I still look forward to on a hard or disappointing day. I love the simple act of putting myself to bed once the kids are tucked in. I used to watch Gilligan’s Island, but I guess you can only watch a group of people unwittingly blow their rescue so many times before what should be a simple pleasure feels like the stress I’m trying to escape. Usually I settle in with a good book and read until I feel sleepy. Sweet, sweet sleep…the real nectar of the gods.

I recently read a fascinating post on Greenland which touched on its abnormally high rate of suicide and alcoholism. I have no idea if it’s all fact, but it makes sense that a country which is partly bathed in sunlight 24 hours a day from late May to July might battle serious insomnia and related mood issues. The dog-wolves and landscape sound lovely, but sleep deprivation is hell.

The morning after a night of insomnia reminds me so much of a hangover. I find myself fidgety and restless, stricken with a low grade, pervasive sense of fatigue and doom. All day long, I obsess over sleep and when I can have more without raising eyebrows. I don’t have to look far for reminders of what life used to be like when I drank.

In the drinking dream last night, I won’t lie and tell you I didn’t enjoy the beer. It’s odd how the brain can still conjure tastes it hasn’t had in more than three years, but I can also remember lima beans and it’s been much longer. Enjoying the dream beer doesn’t surprise me because it’s not like I stopped drinking because I didn’t like the way it tasted or how it felt. I stopped because of increasing tolerance and obsession, not only with drinking but also the fearful way of life I saw as inevitable, if not exactly normal.

In my dream, I had already decided to stop at just the one. I was fretting over how to admit my lapse in judgement and how to get people to trust me again. Sober blogging does help me stay sober, though I am pleased to reveal the real reason I still don’t drink is because my life feels so much fucking better now.

If you struggled or still struggle with alcohol issues, I wish a lifetime of periodic, terrifying drinking dreams so that you too will know the flood of relief upon waking. I didn’t give up my precious, beautiful sobriety. I’m celebrating with a trip back to bed.

why church

I’ve found myself back at church, though I hadn’t gone in decades. The last time I remember going, I’d ditched out of youth group in search of some party with boys and booze. I imagine Jesus looking downwards, dejected, as my friends and I peeled off into the night.

I was raised in a non-religious household, though my parents introduced us to church and even went themselves for awhile. The one church was too Fire and Brimstone for one, the other too Hippy Dippy for the other. I liked the Hippy Dippy one best. We watched The Yellow Submarine and ate graham crackers heavy with cinnamon sugar. The crackers at the Fire and Brimstone church were plain, possibly saltines.

At the fun church, we got to draw all over a plain white belted robe with magic markers. While captivated wholly by the tale of poor Jacob stripped of his trippy robe and thrown into a pit by his own brothers, which I could easily imagine because I had an older brother, I was mostly thrilled to somehow win this robe as a take-home prize. I kept it folded neatly in the dress up box underneath my bed and wore it occasionally during solemn events, such as the front garden funeral for Sundance the hermit crab and, later, his brother Spicoli.

I don’t know why then that I wound up back at the Fire and Brimstone church a year or so later, alone and voluntarily to my recollection, though we all know how memories are holey and not to be trusted. I remember sitting around a table and closing my eyes tight when the sunday school teacher told us to ask Jesus to enter our hearts and feeling nothing but embarrassment for all of us.

And how on earth did I wind up back at church at the ripe age of 40, or is it that exactly? Is this what people do in middle age, like taking up exercise and paying bills on time and giving up booze and cigarettes? Let’s hedge our bets, play it safe where we can. No one lives forever, you know.

I’m pretty sure that giving up the drink led me to church in a roundabout way. Alcohol was a real spirit blocker and the god talk in early recovery never really bothered me because I picked up right where I left off. I don’t still have Jacob’s trippy robe, but I feel power and comfort in something bigger beyond my own little world. I feel tapped in to other people doing better by themselves and their families and the world at large. It’s intoxicating, ironically or maybe not.

I wound up back at church to give my kids a hopefully well-rounded base for their own spirituality and for my own selfish reasons, though I don’t fully know what those are. A sense of community, maybe, or the feeling of connecting and giving back. The decision to try church again reminds me of when I quit drinking. It feels sudden yet a long time coming, with some purpose beyond grasp but instinctively accepted. It feels like the right place to be, though not without causing conflict in our household.

My husband married someone who didn’t go to church because Sundays were Hangover Days. We drove to Target in the late morning and joked it was our church, with Elvis belting out hymns on the radio. Many years later, his wife is this strange teetotaler who puts on work clothes voluntarily on a Sunday morning and drives the kids to church and isn’t around to paint the hallway or help out with yard work, though to be fair that may be for the best. It’s one more change to adapt to, and I have a hard time explaining to him or anyone why church? so I guess I am just attempting to do that here.

No dealbreakers here

Occasionally I get emails from people who are thinking of getting sober but aren’t quite there yet. I love getting these emails, but they scare me a little too because I want to tell them it’s fine here in Soberland – better than fine, even peachy keen most days – but I remember that jumping off point and how little I thought about it before making the leap. My counselor at the time told me to get to AA and I blindly did that and it just so happened to work for me in those early days. I went to meetings and I soaked in the stories and feeling of support and hope, and sobriety just kind of blossomed from there.

But what about those people who don’t believe AA will work for them? I know numerous people who got and stayed sober without setting foot in a meeting because it didn’t appeal or sometimes didn’t occur to them. They took up blogging or yoga or painting or running or chocolate – sometimes all of the above – to fill that god-sized hole that people at meetings talk about all the time, but of course they don’t know that because they’ve never set foot in one. Is their approach any more doomed or less-than compared to a 12-step recovery program? They certainly don’t seem to think so.

And what about someone who already went the AA route and doesn’t want to go it again but fears there is no easier, softer way? This isn’t a deal breaker. I believe there are as many ways to get sober as there are to go about your day. You can wake up and drink and lose most of it in blurriness and blackout regret or you can choose not to drink and read a sober book or blog or email a sober stranger instead and start to build your sober support network. And not drink. That last part is the only thing you absolutely must do if you want to stop drinking.

In the meanwhile, if you’re thinking of not drinking and aren’t quite there yet or you just want to read a poem about how to climb out of hell, Christy at Running on Sober cranked this out in a bout of sober insomnia. I’ve been up since 3:30 and all I wrote was an essay about carrying a metal Holly Hobbie lunchbox to school  and fighting over a tire swing for my daughter’s first grade class (my daughter just asked who’s Holly Hobbie?). Some of us make beautiful music, some of us clank around pots and pans. It’s still sober, and sober is pretty awesome, let us be the first to tell you.

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Yellow

The past few Septembers felt rocky and unsteady as I struggled with this idea that, hey, I’m not in charge of everything. It’s a time of transition and change and ragweed, all of which I’ve written about before in a kind of can you believe this? tone that even I am sick of. 

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This year I don’t feel so fooled into thinking I am in charge or need to be. This year I keep noticing how yellow everything looks, like the green is leaching out of our landscape in preparation for the brilliance of fall. This year, for some reason, I keep traveling back to September of my freshman year of high school. 

That was the September I tried out for cheerleading and made it, not because I was good but because there were only two more girls than spots and the coach showed mercy and let us all on, though true mercy would have been to point me in the direction of recycling club, which was a real thing because I joined it the next year and littered the hallways with preachy posters made on non-recycled paper. 

Cheerleading and I just weren’t a good fit. I was the cheerleader who always seemed half stoned, and only occasionally because I actually was. I only did it for that one excruciatingly painful fall into winter and tried to laugh about it later to people who didn’t know me then and who would say “hm, I can’t really picture you as a cheerleader.”

That was the September I tried on a completely different me that wouldn’t fit and in fact would have to be returned, but in that glorious month I drank rolling rocks and made out with older boys in backseats of now classic cars and accepted the life I was sure I was meant to have. Once the rolling rocks wore off and the older boys avoided eye contact in the halls, I wrote terrible short stories about a cheerleader who fell from the tippy-top of a pyramid and haunted the school. No shit. Man, I love that period of my life now. I’m so freaking glad it happened. That might not make sense or maybe it does. 

Fall is still one of my favorite seasons. It used to be the undisputed favorite but got put on probation after I got sober. It’s taken the completion of three falls to not equate this time of year with Oktoberfest merrymaking, ie Beer. I think this makes perfect sense. I drank for so many falls…more than 20. Would my brain suddenly forget just because that would be more convenient for me? I think it takes a long time to break some of these associations, these strongholds in the warmest, fuzziest (bald-faced lying) recesses of our memories. 

This September fits. It’s the only way I can describe it. I’m not happy about some things and I feel kind of stagnant, but I’m mostly okay with not being happy and this makes me feel less stagnant. This year I want to take in the yellow of September because it’s only here for a little bit and it’s really quite beautiful.  

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Bison! I’ve been looking for these guys all summer and here they finally are.

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