What a difference 2,192 days makes

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52,608 little hours. 3,156,480 minutes. 189,388,800 seconds. Did I spend them all well? Certainly not. But I spent them all sober, and that has made all the difference.

I never thought I’d get to 6 years sober and think boy, that went fast. A good part of me wasn’t convinced I’d get to 6 years at all. I’d heard the cautionary tales of relapse and how vigilant one needed to remain at all times and that made it seem harder than I was capable of.  A future without summer beers or celebratory cocktails wasn’t one I could easily imagine, nor did I want to. But I stuck to each day which turned into months and then somehow six years. Time is funny how it slips past and takes care of everything, including us.

Somewhere between years 3 and 5, I noticed a shift from feeling like I’d made a real sacrifice in giving up alcohol, which invokes all sorts of fearful, complicated responses in sobers and drinkers alike, and realizing I never needed it in the first place.

Alcohol was a filter I used to mindlessly slip on when I wanted to feel more of something or less or occasionally nothing at all. I rarely wanted to feel what I was already feeling, which now strikes me as odd and sad. Once I removed the filter and kept it off awhile, I saw everything more clearly. It was a blessing and curse because the view was raw and sharp, not unlike getting glasses for the first time and taking a good long look in the mirror. Every imperfection was there for examination. Sunsets and kittens were equally clear, so it wasn’t all bad, not at all.

The other thing about removing the filter was I got to feel again which, as you know, is a mixed bag. Sometimes I love my family so much I’m sure my heart will explode into confetti. Sometimes I care about people or issues I am in no way obligated to care about, which is both reassuring and baffling.

Anxiety doesn’t go away. I wish I could say it did, but I’m 99% sure that’s why I took so well to drinking in the first place. Why would it leave when I’ve fed it my whole life? These days I notice it and think “I feel anxious” or else lonely or bored or weary. I put a name to it and realize it often has nothing to do with current circumstances but triggered by an old memory or not eating or sleeping well or mysterious moon cycles. I don’t own a mood any more than I own the weather. This too shall pass, they say, and goddamn it they’re right.

I can still go out to dinner and make small talk at a party and fall asleep and have sex (not in that order) and go on vacation and get through a stressful day or the holidays. I can handle being happy or excited or bored or worried or angry or sad. None of these things make me think of a drink anymore. (But oh, they used to.) Sober is mostly easy and second nature and sometimes fantastic and finally okay when it’s not. 

There are still a number of ways to numb out, and I’m intimately aware of most. A cupcake may not be a keg, but I can’t really seem to be able to handle myself around either. This disappoints me. I figured by 5 years sober I would have shown my sweet tooth (precious, adorable) to the door with a chuck of the chin and knowing smile. Same with the perpetual two-minute smartphone circuit, which my dexterous fingertips train hard for even though it never awards much. This year I’ve experimented with letting things go and I can tell you it feels different than the fifteen dozen times I’ve done it before.

Sober isn’t a cure all but I think it’s better than that. We are not meant to numb our spirit to the point of dysfunction, and there is deep and meaningful reward once we stop doing this to ourselves. We get to feel alive again, which is something drinking used to do before it stopped working. This time it’s real.

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Will you be at She Recovers NYC?

In a month, I’ll be headed to NYC to attend She Recovers, the first women’s recovery event of its kind in the US. I don’t get out much on my own these days, and can’t think of a better cause to get behind. Will any of you be there? If so, drop me a line at byebyebeer at gmail or leave a comment. I’d love to put faces to names.

With keynote speakers like Glennon Doyle Melton, Gabby Bernstein, Elizabeth Vargas and Marianne Williamson, it’s bound to be pretty amazing. Here’s an article I wrote about it (click image below to read more) and another will follow the event. As always, thanks for reading!

Enough hats for everyone – revisiting 52 days sober and my old blog

Two years before I started this blog, I had another one called Enough Hats for Everyone. The name came from an overheard phrase at the beach. A frazzled mom hollered it at her ten kabillion children, who were all clamoring for boogie boards and attention and, it would seem, hats, which admittedly doesn’t sound like any kids I know. But my husband was there and he remembers it too. We were in our early to mid 20s and I remember being brutally hungover that afternoon. My hangovers were legendary, if only in my own mind because I kept them to myself as much as I could. Hey, those hangovers were a big part of why I quit and saved me a lot of future suffering, so I’m eternally grateful. 

Anyway, I stopped posting on the old blog in April of 2012 and took it down a few years ago but never deleted it. I thought it would be fun to post something I wrote when I was less than two months sober. It was the first mention I could find about not drinking. It was interesting to read the numbered list of things I’d learned so early in sobriety. Number 1 and 5 are still totally true. Number 3 is fortunately not an issue except for the rare occasion when I miss drinking. Number 4 surprised me because I don’t quite remember it that way, but maybe I was just pleasantly surprised sober sex was possible. 

There are all kinds of things I could write about anonymously or with my name attached if I were a different sort of person. Maybe I will one day, maybe not. I recall the reason I started this blog is because most of the 30 or so readers of my old blog were not sober and I worried they would think less of me if they knew I had to stop drinking. I felt the need to separate what felt like two separate identities. And now, on this blog, I know I’m posting more than before and I know I’m all over the place in terms of sobriety and non-sobriety content, and I’m not sure what that’s all about. I know it’s hard to keep up with, and the frequency is likely just a phase (so bear with me or whatever, I won’t take it personally). I just know I love to write. I’ve always told other people to write about whatever they want to write about. If it moves you – if it’s in your heart – write about it. 

I never deleted my old blog because it meant a lot to me. I think I wrote some pretty funny stuff back then. I remember starting that blog because I was going through some personal stuff and while I wasn’t dealing directly with it in what I wrote about, it gave me a spark I didn’t know was there. And that is why a lot of us write and keep writing. 

 August 9, 2011

I haven’t had a drink since June 20, 2011. There’s no significance to this date, though it just struck me that I’ve been sober all summer. I’m incredibly relieved to tell you it’s been a really good summer so far. For those who know me socially, the not drinking thing may come as a surprise. Or maybe not.

I had my first drink in seventh grade at a sleepover. It was peppermint schnapps and it was only like two sips, but the way its slow burn crept up from my throat to my head felt like coming home. I had my first drunk in ninth grade and started one of those sobby, sad affairs until I discovered that beer was kinder than liquor. But two decades later, beer stopped being kind.

Here’s a tip: don’t drink when your life becomes stressful. Ha. That’s a good one, I know. Anyway, it’s hard to know which was the chicken and which was the egg.

Speaking of eggs, I can’t ignore genetics and my grandfather George, who drank himself to death in his 50s. The one time I met him he reeked of body odor and booze. The only thing I remember about him is his smell and how he pushed a set of closing elevator doors back open with both arms while exclaiming “I AM STRONG AS AN OX.” But they were the kind of elevator doors that would have opened for anyone – even me, an eight-year old kid.

George, in better days

Here are some things I learned, so far, in my summer of not drinking:

1.) I am much happier sober.

2.) It’s generally easy not to drink when I take it one day at a time.

 3.) But damn, seeing condensation on a pint glass triggers something in me, and probably always will.

4.) Sober sex is even better than drunk sex. (go on, try it some time)

5.) I feel just as creative and have as much fun as I did when I was drinking every day. This is the biggest relief of all. Ok, maybe #4 is.

I hope to be able to tell you what a sober fall is like too. I don’t take for granted that this is a gift I’ve been given, but that I have to work at it. Yes, I do AA meetings. The fellowship and support is an indescribable gift. If that sounds a little culty, so be it. Live and let live.

I’m happier and my kids have their mom 95% back and I’m much easier to live with now that I’m not struggling with crippling hangovers and an obsession the likes of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

And hey, this isn’t a preachy post. I know lots of fine people who enjoy fine beers and other fermented and distilled beverages. I wish I could be like them sometimes, but I recognize that I am different.

The sweetest 5 years

Summer tumbled in a little bit like how I literally tumbled out of bed this morning. Our bed had an extra guest (no more ghost hunting shows before bedtime) along with her patented sideways-sleeping method, and in my effort to not disturb anyone, I woke everyone with a clamor and made the cat flee in a panic of terror, which was easily the best part. On my way down to the floor, I had enough time to wonder how I might explain this in an ER room. No, I wasn’t drinking, I’d say. I haven’t had a drink in over five years, though I’m still hitting the cupcakes pretty hard. 

Write about what you know, they say. Recently I had two pieces featured elsewhere. The first is about my love-hate relationship with sugar in sobriety on Ruby Pipes. Ruby is a very talented writer and I hope to see more from her in the year ahead.

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Side note: I wrote it back in January, and the “very bad day” I referred to was this one.

I also celebrated 5 years sober this week and wrote about it for AfterPartyMagazine. I’m not saying the last 1,825 days has been a cake walk – unless that means there was cake every day because clearly there was – but time flew by. I am reporting from the other side to anyone new to sobriety and saying life just keeps getting better or feeling better (who am I to question it?) the longer I’m sober. I know this won’t keep happening to the same degree, but life is good and I’m grateful. I’m going to disable comments here and hope you’ll go read. Thank you so very much for being here.

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From Addict to Entrepeneur, A Guest Post by Andy

The other day, I got an email from a reader named Andy who asked if I would share his personal story of recovery. I found it compelling and empowering and think you will too.

As I close in on five years sober later this month, the last part of his story rings especially true. I initially stopped drinking for myself because I couldn’t stand the hangovers and personal pain anymore. Now I see pretty clearly how much better my life is without alcohol, but it’s truly exciting to feel the ripple effect of sobriety. It extends well beyond myself. Anyway, he explains it much better so please read and leave a comment for him, if you please.


From Addict/Alcoholic to Workaholic to Entrepreneur, A Guest Post by Andy

“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”- Zig Ziglar

I would have to say that this quote by Zig Ziglar is pretty accurate, but he forgot to mention that the stairs are not straight and they do not always go up. The stairway to recovery success is a topsy-turvy one that has no actual end. It just sort of straightens up and levels out a little. Regardless, you are always going to be taking it a step at a time. In this post I’m going to take you through my personal sobriety journey.

The Addict/Alcoholic

I was only four years old when my parents decided to move from Colombia to California in 1986. I had a really good childhood and my parents worked hard to always provide for me and my siblings.

If you have Latino friends or family, you know how we party, let alone Colombians. Alcohol is a MUST at a Colombian party. The alcoholic drink of choice by most Colombians is an anise-flavored drink called Aguardiente. Not that all Latinos are drunks, it’s just simply something they enjoy once in a while, when there’s a good excuse to celebrate.

I remember the first time I got drunk. I was nine years old and it was at a family friend’s house party. The adults were all passing around a bottle of Aguardiente and taking shots. I was curious and asked if I could have a shot. Of course I was stopped cold in my tracks and scolded. After a few hours when the adults were tipsy enough to be distracted by the loud music and conversation amongst themselves, I stole a sip from a bottle. I hated it, but it was like a game to have a sip without being caught, so I had another one, then another.

All of my fears and insecurities magically disappeared. I felt confident and capable of anything. I danced salsa with my sister and cousins all night long. I wasn’t shy anymore. That’s how I learned that alcohol made me feel better and more confident, therefore I drank whenever I got the chance.

A few years later, at the age of 15, I was introduced to marijuana. I was a little afraid at the beginning, but all of the cool older kids were doing it, so I had to give it a shot. I fell in love and never looked back. At 19, I was introduced to meth at a party and so began the downward spiral. At 23 I was incarcerated in Idaho on drug related charges for two years.

What happened? Why did I jump over the juiciest parts of my story? Well, I’m not here to recount war stories. You and I both know where that may lead. Reminiscing doesn’t interest me at all and for many it can be a trigger. So let’s just move on to the important part of THIS story.

AA and NA

The first time I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous I was in jail. At first it was something I would do just to spend some time out of my cell. It was better to hear what I thought was bullshit, than to be in my shoe box. I had zero interest in the meetings and I would never contribute or assume any responsibilities.

After attending for months, some of the stories started to resonate. One of them was really special because it made me reflect on my own life. A fellow inmate told the story of how he hit rock bottom. He had been off abusing alcohol and drugs and one day he came back home and got into a very heated argument with his wife, took off, and bulldozed through a wall. The next day he woke up in jail. He shared that he was a psychologist by profession, but an alcoholic by nature. He told us that he also had an anger management issue and concluded that “rage spawns from anger, anger spawns from hurt, hurt spawns from getting your feelings hurt.”

I had convinced myself that I didn’t have a problem; that I was in control; that everyone else had a problem not me. I was so self-absorbed that I could not even look an inch under my current situation to understand that I had a drinking problem, a drug problem, a personality problem…a life problem.

The Workaholic

AA and NA helped me a lot during my incarceration, yet my life after prison was everything but easy. I struggled a lot to find a job, and even though I was attending AA and NA meetings on a regular basis, I had a few relapses. I lost my job and life seemed unbearable and that is why I checked into a rehab center in Idaho.

After I was released, I felt great and thought I was ready to take life on sober, but I was mistaken and I relapsed after a few months. Again I was broke, unemployed, alone and feeling like life made no sense at all. I had no other choice but to focus my energy on something else to avoid going back to drugs or alcohol.

I moved back to California where I landed a job selling knock-off cologne. I would go out at 5am to gas stations, shopping center parking lots, flea markets, etc. to sell perfume out of the trunk of my car. I learned how to approach strangers, to get their attention and make a successful sale. Making some money really helped with my confidence, so I was feeling positive, focusing on becoming a better salesman.

Next thing I know I was training other people on how to sell the products and a few months later and 10 pounds lighter (still sober), I had my own office and was pushing quite a bit of perfume per day. I had become obsessed with the business and had let every other aspect of my life deteriorate including my physique. Like byebyebeer said in a blog post, “The thing about addicts is we’re always addicted to something.” I had traded drugs and alcohol for work.

In 2007 I was introduced to a book that helped change my life, Jeffery Combs’ Psychologically Unemployable (Jeffery is also a recovering addict). One of the most important things he said in his book is that you should never confuse obsession with passion. A workaholic and a passionate entrepreneur are very different things. That’s when I realized my addictive personality was ruling my life again, but this time with work. After a few months I sold the business and decided to spend some time at my parent’s house in southern California.

The Entrepreneur

Moving in with my parents was a very good decision at the beginning because they gave me the support I needed and that helped me get over my rut. After a month I found a job at Target, a job for which I had no passion. It was just a way to help pay the bills. I also found an AA/NA community close by, and I acquired a really good sponsor.

What happened while I was working with him on my personal issues is something I will always be grateful for. He told me he would only keep working with me if I took a class at the local community college.

I was not interested at all in doing that because I felt at that point in my life it did not make sense. I just needed to stay sober, go to work and do my job so I could make money to pay the bills. I forced myself to go to the nearest community college campus and enroll in the only class that really caught my eye. It was a course called Introduction to Website Development (HTML). I liked computers and websites, so I thought why not give it a shot?

It took me just three months to fill my bedroom at my parents’ house with books related to HTML and website design. I found myself at the computer for hours, coding, creating, and learning. Finally, one day I thought to myself that it would be great if I could make a business out of my newly acquired skill.

To not make a long story even longer…today, after nine years of hard work, I co-own a successful digital marketing agency. I have a great team that feels like family and, in fact, my brother is part of it. We are based in Medellin, Colombia, which means my life has taken a 180 degree turn. 30 years ago my parents left Colombia to give my siblings and I a better life, and now I am back with that better life.

Although I’ve been sober for eight years, I still go to meetings. Being sober becomes something you get used to; it’s part of your life and with time it gets easier. Regarding my business, I didn’t let myself get lost while pursuing success. The entire point of being successful is to be who you are and love what you do without getting buried under a ton of work. I went out and found something I was passionate about, put my skills and knowledge to work and built a business. Sobriety, just like building a business, does not happen overnight, and one has to commit to it and work hard.

It’s Not All About You

When you are in the process of recovering, every single thing you do to maintain sobriety seems like it’s about you. Every one of the 12 steps you complete, every single task or piece of homework your sponsor gives you, every book or article you read is all about you and your recovery.

But after months or even years of working on your sobriety, you start to realize that there is a bigger reason for it, a reason beyond yourself. It might be to be a great provider for your family and to watch your children grow; working at a job that you love that becomes your career; helping your aging parents during retirement; or like me, building a business and helping people around you grow. It may not seem clear right now, but every action and step you take in this process brings you closer to your personal success.

Good luck and thank you for reading my story.

-Andy

The Class Ring

In the spirit of free-write Fridays (aka baby, you don’t need to wash your hair today because you already smell real nice), I’m sharing a post I wrote for Chris at KLĒN + SŌBR.

Chris is in his 18th year of abstinent recovery from alcohol and other drugs and is the founder of the KLĒN + SŌBR Project, including the Since Right Now Pod, which is breathing new life into my daily commute.

At first I was going to write about reconnecting with spirituality in recovery, but that story’s barely started. Besides, it was fun to go back to the time before I discovered high school parties and my new god, beer.

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To read the story, say abracadabra and click the above image to find yourself magically transported to a much spiffier site.

Or here’s the link if you too are distrustful of magics:  http://www.sincerightnow.com/insights/2015/2/9/the-class-ring

The fine print:

All the names in my story were changed, mainly to protect the innocent, but also because who would believe the ladykiller I called Glenn was really named Dirk?

Truth > Fiction.

Here’s the poem Class Ring, which I heard in the mid 80s. In the early 90s, it was co-opted and changed to deliver an anti-drunk driving message, which the original author seems cool with. As with middle school poems and many things I read on the internet, this warms the cockles of my heart.

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