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.
I used to pour over map books the way one might over a really good book. I loved using the key and then snaking two fingers along the page until they met at the exactly right part of the grid.
Knowing how to get places was a matter of necessity in my line of work as a volunteer coordinator for a hospice in metropolitan DC. Sometimes hospice is an actual building where people go to die in peace, smaller and less clinical than a hospital. But usually hospice refers to services provided in a dying person’s home, which can be anywhere. I had to be able to explain to volunteers how to get there and often delivered medical supplies or sat with patients myself. The internet was around then but I didn’t have it. Portable, affordable phones with instant directions in a soothing female voice would have sounded like some serious Jetsons witchcraft. I kept a well worn ADC map book in my work bag and then picked up another for the county where we lived and kept doing this each time we moved until Jetsons witchcraft came true.
I miss those ADC map books. The last one I bought was eleven years ago at a Wawa up the road while we were looking for a place to live. It was kind of pricey but I knew we would use the hell out of it. That very first day I opened to the master map and saw that red star next to the name of one of my favorite breweries. It turned out they had a brewpub down the road from one house my husband I both liked. It wasn’t our dream home or anything. The kitchen had and still has faux butcher block countertops exactly like the ones from my childhood home. The carpet in the living room still smells faintly of cat piss when it rains. The back yard was a blank slate then, no landscaping whatsoever beyond a handful of mature maples scattered around. But the view, oh the view. Beyond the neighbor’s lot, we could see a skyline of trees, layered like a painting with hints of soft color at the spring to come. My husband and I both saw it and said the same thing: we could live here.
Before we made an offer, we decided it would be prudent to come back one more time and see the house again with fresh eyes. We lived hours away at the time and planned the trip around a visit to see family. I opened the map book and saw that red star next to the name of my favorite beer and said to my husband let’s check it out afterwards. This passed for high adventure in my mind and his too, I think.
If not for that ADC map book, we may have lived there years before finding that brewpub. It was buried in the middle of an industrial park, housed in an old Pepperidge Farm bakery. By the looks of it, not much had been done before moving in. The walls were bare except for a few beer banners and old black and white photographs of stout women in hair nets from its bakery days. There were long oak tables and farmhouse chairs and the wait staff was casual and friendly. They welcomed us for lunch even though we’d walked into some kind of staff chili cook-off. It felt as much like coming home as any new place can feel.
We made an offer on the house and came back to visit the brewpub many more times. The chili cook-off became an annual tradition, though I stopped going when I quit drinking. And also, I don’t really love chili. I mean, I make it a few times a year, but I never really get excited about eating it. Now, you give me a cupcake cook-off, I don’t think I would have missed a single year. This brewpub isn’t known for desserts but it does make a mean soft pretzel and their home-brewed root beer is also pretty great. But it took a long time sober to fully appreciate these other gifts.
Today I’m headed back for the first time in many years for another chili cook-off. A lot happened in the last eleven years. Although I no longer drink beer, a lot of people still do and business was so good they completely renovated the old bakery to the point where you have to close your eyes to imagine stout ladies in hair nets. They had enough left over to build two brand new brewpubs. The chili cook-off will be at one of those.
It’s not my favorite place to go because it smells like beer. They brew it there and that smell was pretty triggery in my early days of not-drinking. I smelled it and remembered bellying up to the bar by myself a few Friday afternoons to get the growler filled. I remember meeting my husband there a few times without the kids and feeling like we were getting away with something or the time I took my oldest kid on a Saturday afternoon and kept putting quarters in the claw machine until we won a stuffed purple gorilla in a bowler hat. None of these memories are particularly pleasant now and I don’t think they were then, either. I don’t want to discount everything that happened pre-sobriety, lumping it all together like one big mistake, but I was not at my best then. Some days I was a crackly shell of a woman.
I read two things so far this morning about facing triggers in sobriety. (They are not blogs, so I can’t link to them.) A friend wrote about knocking off early on a workday and, instead of heading to the bar, he went home and performed a delicate mechanical task he would have previously saved for Saturday and a delicately hungover state. This would have led to frustration and ultimately failure. The second thing I read was about someone reclaiming camping and late-night porch-sitting in sobriety. Both were examples of sober people going back to things they used to love while drinking but hid from for awhile. They figured they had to bury those old loves like we do when we’re newly sober. Since we’ve never lived a sober life before, we don’t know what it will be like. What we start to be able to imagine after a month or three or nine sober isn’t always great either. We don’t want constant reminders of what we’ve given up so sometimes we hide from things for awhile (and that’s okay).
A great things happens when we stick to the path we were meant for. It levels out and the brush clears and while the climb might still feel steep here and there, the views are spectacular. We find and take new paths and revisit old ones only to discover new joys. Some we put behind us forever. It’s important to listen and know when to do this, but also remember there are so many other paths. I kind of wish I’d kept my old ADC map book to snap a picture of how battered it got, the edges curled and worn from riding side saddle in the car all those years. Each memory is like a page, and I see how little I knew then and still now.
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.
I’ve been a runner for about 5 years. I still feel funny calling myself one, but read an article a few years ago that said if you accumulate piles of sweaty clothes on the floor, you get to call yourself a runner. And so I am a runner.
I started running when I was about 6 months sober. I’d gained about 10 pounds when I quit drinking. How could this have happened when I’d cut out easily 1,000 calories a day? Witchcraft possibly, though more likely dessert even if I still can’t get the math to come out right.
Most of us feel the octopus effect when we give up drinking, that sly tentacle reach for another substance once we manage to get one in check. For many it’s food because food is delicious and comforting and we need it to survive so there’s always plenty around.
Running became a way for me to lose that extra weight but it turned into its own reward. Here is why it continues to work for me.
It costs nothing to run.
This of course is not strictly true. We must invest in a pair of good running shoes. I buy my $100 pair for half-price when our local running store holds a sidewalk sale on last year’s models. I get running clothes on the cheap because I’ve found all brands trap the stink. Race fees add up if you’re into that sort of thing. Most of my running is done on roads where I live, which costs me absolutely nothing.
Then a funny thing happens a couple times a year and takes me by surprise every time: daylight fucking savings. I go from the freedom of being able to run safely outside before work or after dinner to not at all. So I join Planet Fitness because it’s $10 a month and I can run on treadmills and occasionally get hit on by old men. One guy said “I want you for Christmas” only I had earbuds in and took them out because I thought he was trying to tell me something less disturbing. Christmas had just passed like a month ago. Then he talked about his wife for a few minutes and continued making the rounds to the other ladies on his super early Christmas list. His wife was not going to have a good Christmas.
There are also too many TVs at the gym. Bad news and infomercials splayed like gutted fish. I take my glasses off at the gym so everything is fuzzy and leave my earbuds in. I do this because it’s only temporary and in order to be a runner I have to keep generating sweaty piles of clothes.
I get to do it by myself.
This is notwithstanding awkward social encounters at the gym, i.e. see above or that time an attendant had to ask me to switch machines because mine was making a funny noise, me red-faced thinking I broke it with cloddish heft though maybe it was furious effort or the fact that a hundred people use it per day.
For some, running is a social activity. I see lots of women chat side-by-side on treadmills. My sister belongs to a running group that meets on Sundays to run 10 miles over hills on purpose. Somehow it still sounds fun, but I’m a solo runner. The first time I slipped out the front door in sneakers and earbuds, I looked back for the spotlight and prison guards. I was really getting away with something, a working mother of two with this delicious hour to myself with no questions or demands.
Running also gives me time to think. I’ve pre-written almost as many blog posts on a run as I have in the car, and I spend way more time there. I love being in my own head, listening to favorite songs. I love spending time in nature. One morning I saw 2 doe, 2 fawns (still with polka dots), a heron, a fox, a half-dozen squirrels and at least a dozen bunnies, plus a guy walking a dog. This was all in the span of a half hour.
I don’t have to be the best, which is really fortunate.
I used to feel embarrassed by my pace. Others made the point that at least I was getting out there or that it wasn’t a race, though sometimes it literally was. In five years of running, I haven’t gotten a whole lot faster. The longest distance I’ve run is about 8 miles, which is a far cry from a marathon. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to run a marathon. I also don’t want to put the work in to get a lot faster. I stopped tracking pace and distance in spring so I literally don’t know how fast or far I’m running. I do feel stronger and leaner the more I run. I get to eat 5 cookies and still fit into my pants. Those are the numbers I care about.
Running makes me feel good.
Let me be clear that I do not feel good while running. Around the 15 minute mark I usually feel better than I did at the 5 minute mark, but it isn’t like getting a massage or taking a nap. Running, like any strenuous activity, is really hard. What feels great is being done with the run. I literally get an endorphin boost so that I feel a little high for about an hour afterwards. (There is no subsequent crash either.) Mostly I suspect it feels good because I know I got out there and did it.
I get to share it with others.
This goes against what I said about it being a solo activity, but both of my daughters run too. I wonder sometimes if I’m like a pageant mom who strong armed them into it, but I don’t think so. Or maybe I made running look good, though I’ve seen myself in the mirror afterwards and don’t think that’s it.
My oldest is in her second year of high school cross country. Those girls are hard core. They got up at 6:30 am six days a week all summer long and ran 3-5 miles in some of the hottest, muggiest weather I can recall. My daughter did this despite the very real fear she would not make the team. In fact, she fell short in the timed trial, but the coach let her stay on and she’s well aware what it feels like to be the caboose. She’s the kid who crosses the finish line after some spectators move on because they assume the race is over. Each time she gets close to the finish line, I cheer loud and tear up because I know it’s fucking hard not only to run but to be the very last one. I’m beyond proud of her.
My youngest is about to start a running program at her elementary school. We got her new running shoes and gave a pep talk about how it takes time and practice to get better and stronger. She is not brand new to running so she knows this already. In December, her and I and maybe her sister too will run a 5K race to celebrate end of season. Three miles is almost a cake walk once you’ve done it a few dozen times, so I’m looking forward to being there for her.
Teenaged me, who couldn’t even run a mile in high school, would be in awe of both of them. Adult me knows running beats booze and boys. Every parent wants a better life for their kids and I hope mine will choose to channel stress into something positive and rewarding.
Running works right now for me, but it won’t forever and it isn’t the only way. There’s also walking or biking or maybe knitting, all of which are easier on joints. The key seems to be finding something that is equal parts torture, er, challenge and reward. Taking the healthier routes seems to naturally lead to the next right path.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gray hair is not actually gray but silver or white or pewter or salt. It only appears gray from a distance against a backdrop of pepper. Gray hair (that is not really gray) can be coarse and wiry but is also shiny and healthier than any dyed hair I’ve known. Some mornings I catch my reflection in the mirror and realize gray hair don’t care.
It has been 15 months since my last dye but only 11 months since highlights, which helped the transition or prolonged the inevitable. Either way those months are a blip in time. I finally got so sick of the demarcation line betwen new and old color that I had a big haircut. I got compliments and didn’t hate it. In typical fashion I thought well if short is good, shorter must be gooder and I got more cut off next time. I spent the next 6 weeks hating my short gray hair. In typical fashion I thought well if feeling bad about yourself is what you’re into you might as well gain 7 pounds too. It was around this time my husband put a family photo from 3 Christmases ago directly in my line of sight when I watch movies on the couch. We had a wall painted so I don’t think he did it to trigger my breakdown, but I not only had to stare longingly at people on the TV with normal hair but now a previous version of myself. Between you and me, I think my old color looked brassy, though maybe it was more Tawny.
And one night we were watching a movie and I saw someone who reminded me of, well, me in the mornings. If you don’t recognize the image below, sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion and if you still don’t know what the hell I’m on about, just know my husband and I are in an unspoken competition to use our most favorite-forgotten phrase because after two decades of living together, we forget things but still know how to party. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of us who feels like this.
I hadn’t counted on it taking this long to decide if I like gray hair on me. I don’t recall loving my brown or Tawny hair so maybe it’s just a case of me still being me. Gray definitely makes me feel older, especially in those moments when I’m already feeling insecure. I keep thinking to myself just wait til summer, I assume because my hair will be longer by then and because there will be ice cream and I’m easy to distract that way. Mostly this waiting thing reminds me a lot of sobriety and how long that took to feel natural and comfortable, and finally like Home.
I did not love being sober in my first year. I did it anyway and loved bits and pieces, but still drooled over everybody else’s ability to drink normally or abnormally but without all the pain and obsession. Sometimes I felt like a freak and a failure. But I kept doing it because I am not a quitter except when it comes to drinking.
And over the months and years, my not drinking became not only something I did quite well on the outside but inside as well. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and one day looked up and wondered when was the last time I missed drinking anyway. The next week I missed drinking because that’s how it works, but the pang left just as quickly as it came and stayed away even longer. Here I am today so full of love and zest for life that I have the mental energy to grow out my natural hair color and obsess over it.
I said something to my husband about the picture of me and my old Tawny hair and he joked “it’s like Dorian Gray in reverse” and I laughed but then said “hey wait, aren’t all portraits like that?” We’re supposed to get older and get gray hair and crows feet and laugh lines and other adorably named things that mean we’re dying. What I did was super-accelerate the ageing process and all the insecurities that come with it, especially for a woman.
What I did to soften the blow of getting old (not really) super fast is I started working out again and cancelled my last haircut. In order to celebrate my real hair color (which, how insane is it to feel the need to hide the natural color of our hair? think about that for a second), we picked new vinyl siding for our house and went with the color swatch named silver-gray. Just kidding – pebblestone-gray cost extra – but in the end it’s just siding and it’s just hair. Gray hair don’t care and hopefully I’ll get there myself some day.
When did I regularly start getting up before 5am? This is the dark side of getting up to write in the morning. Sometimes my eyes pop open at 3:30am and I’ll start thinking about coffee and how good it tastes and smells and, yes, let’s have some. I love coffee so much. I did manage to cut it out for about a week when I started having bad heartburn again. I spent the morning of my 41st birthday having a barium swallow x-ray to rule out causes.
Welcome to middle age! Here’s a hospital gown so confusing we also put up a poster to show you how to put it on. In a little while we’re going to give you a metal milkshake to drink, which we’re pretty sure you’ll find delicious if you followed the rule not to eat anything after midnight, which, yes, always makes us think of Gremlins too.
The test went fine and when I popped off the raised platform at the end, the technician went “oh-ohh” and said she wasn’t used to such mobile patients. So at least I felt like a spritely 41 year-old.
This holiday season has been marked with minor illnesses. I also had bronchitis before Thanksgiving. A couple weeks later, my husband one-upped me and landed pneumonia. Our youngest then caught a fever-cough combo that lingered far too long. These were all relatively minor, but being sick and then in recovery mode sure screwed up my idea of how the holidays were gonna go down.
On Sunday, I hit 3.5 years sober. Since last holiday season felt easier than any before it, I mistakenly thought they would just keep feeling that way. I don’t know why I thought that or if I somehow thought in ten years I’d wake up on December 1st and all the gifts would be purchased, wrapped and underneath a tree elves cut from the black forest of Soberasia.
This holiday season started out more stressful than I’d anticipated. I white knuckled through. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not a valuable coping strategy, by the way. I don’t recommend it long term, but sobriety and life in general is sometimes very fucking hard. So it makes sense it will also feel that way. Hang in there, kitten! Don’t give up! The storm will pass.
My storm passed on Sunday, which was also Winter Solstice and 3.5 years since my last drink, but those aren’t the reasons it passed. Sunday was also the day I screwed up the nerve to show up for a big local running group in town. I’m no stranger to running groups, but this was a completely different experience from my last one. The group I joined before was more men and more competitive. This is mostly women, and a woman I’d never met before offered to run with me, even though I later found out her normal pace blows mine out of the water. The instant comradery and support reminded me of an AA meeting. I ran 4 miles and joined a group that meets to run when normal folk are still drooling on their pillows.
This is what I needed all along and I feel like someone or something dropped it in my lap like a gift. Here, I got you something I think you’ll like. At first I opened the box and thought what? this sweater? I already have it in three different colors and never wear it. But I held it up and thought what the hell and tried it on and don’t you know it fit perfectly and felt better by the mile. So, yeah, thanks universe. You always know just what to give me.
I got another swell gift from the universe this week. The Fix ran an essay I wrote about the holidays. I wrote it before Thanksgiving and had worked up in my mind that they didn’t like it enough to use, but then I got a very nice email that they were running it as a feature this week. They asked if I wanted to change anything, which I thought about because things went all pear-shaped and then got better, but then decided the holidays weren’t over yet anyway. Is it too early to call now?
I know better than to label things good or bad, but I still do it. I also eat far too much dessert when stress hits, which makes me feel worse, but I still do that too. What I do differently this year compared to my first sober Christmas is I shop and wrap earlier. When’s the last time a Christmas cookie wrapped all my presents? Thanks a lot cookies, but don’t worry, I still plan to eat every last one of you.
I hope you’ll read the article at The Fix because I tell a story from my first sober Christmas when I was really struggling. A kind stranger I’d never met before or since did something so small I guarantee she had no idea how much she helped me. You never know where the best gifts will come from, but I can tell you sometimes they come from you.
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 Sobercranked 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.