Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Blog...in All of Her Blogginess

You know, I've wanted to start a blog for years. It would come to mind periodically, and I would struggle to come up with a topic I could write about more than two times. I thought for a while about a "Mommy Blog," you know, something witty and hip. Then I thought about a "Knitting Blog" to jump start my creativity and and provide a platform for my designs. But none of these ever really took shape. Partly because I just didn't think I had that much to say, and also partly because all of my ideas seemed four years too late. Especially if I wanted to be famous and quit my day job. Which I did.

It was when I first read Stephanie Wilder Taylor's post that I began to realize what had been happening to me - I was able to give it a name (one that didn't include weak-willed or failure). After a few weeks of reading anything and everything I could find about getting sober, I realized that I wanted to share my feelings too. Although I am very new to sobriety, I really believe that we all can learn from each other. Whether sober for 24 years, 24 days, or even 24 hours, our open and honest communication offers potential help to someone. So the blog has become a way of giving back the support I always find online. I am accountable to this blog and anyone who reads it, in the same way I feel accountable to my AA group. Writing here has become essential to my sobriety.

Perhaps it's because my goals have changed...or because this feels so important, but in the instant I decided I must create this blog, I set everything up. There was no procrastination, no "shopping" for the right host, no advance planning on post topics, and no strategy or goals. It needed to be born, and it was. My initial plans for 90 posts in 90 days has failed to materialize, I don't know where it will go in the future, and I can't say whether I'll ever be able to quit my day job even indirectly as a result of writing this blog.

What I can say is this - I've missed writing. My lies and denial crushed my ability to capture feelings on the page. I'm learning to write openly without trying to control outcomes. And I feel an important connection to the community, even if it's only three people reading what I write. Thank you for that.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grace

When I hit my bottom on June 25th and lasted a week without alcohol, I survived on fear. Fear of what would happen to me if I ever drank again. Fear of what it would mean if I continued to drink after I had done this terrible thing. Fear that my life would unravel if I picked up another drink. I was always near tears about what I'd done. (The shallow part of me scolded myself for doing such a thing at the start of summer; at least in winter the long sleeves would have hidden my error.)

At the end of that week, I felt broken down, exhausted, and frustrated. On the one hand, I was starting to feel physically better. On the other hand, surely a glass of wine wouldn't put anything at risk. If I was really careful and only drank wine, I knew it would be okay. I was convinced I'd learned my lesson and would not repeat earlier mistakes. I would not drink too much. I would not have loud middle-of-the-night fights with my husband. I would not go to work with a screaming hangover. I would not drink during the day. Easy. Simple rules. Things had just gotten out of hand before. I knew it would be different. I just felt so lonely without my wine. My husband and I were barely speaking outside of the organizational conversations that result from having children and responsibilities. Work was stressful. I didn't have any friends.

And for a while this worked. I drank enough to feel the warm glow. Enough to sit out on the deck and have long conversations about nothing. I went to bed on time. After a few weeks...or was it just one week?...I had increased my consumption to include a nightly glass of cognac or scotch. I was convinced that as long as I didn't go crazy and stay up too late, nothing "bad" would happen to me. I mean, everyone drinks, right? Especially if their lives are are as stressful as mine. The day came when I "slipped" and woke up with a hangover. I felt so bad that I fortified myself with some vodka in the morning...just to take the edge off! Definitely not the start of a habit...until it was.

In the meantime, I'd reverted to waking up at 5am every single morning with a rising panic attack. Lists of all of the things I'd done and not done endlessly paraded in front of me. I felt sick to my stomach, exhausted, depressed, and filled with self-loathing. I was both disappointed because I was drinking again, and filled with denial that anything was wrong. Weekends disappeared altogether because I spent the entire time drinking.

During this time I was trying to do a cleanse if you can even believe it - god! How deep my denial must have been, if I believed I could do a month-long cleanse while continuing to drink. I just knew something was wrong. I read "improve your marriage" books, I researched miracle diets on the internet, and I investigated anti-depressants. In short, I looked everywhere for a solution to my increasing depression and anxiety except for the actual source.

Finally, three weeks after my relapse began something shifted. It was Sunday and I was hungover from the night before. It was a Crashing Hangover...it still astonishes me that any of us can continue to put one foot in front of the other with hangovers that would fell a normal person. I had wine at lunch, late afternoon cocktails, and wine with dinner. I can remember my mantra for that day: "Don't get too wasted. It's Sunday. Don't forget it's Sunday. Work tomorrow. Don't get wasted." We had no hard alcohol in the house for after dinner. Part of me was relieved, because I could relax my vigilance. Part of me was worried, because I really did want just a little bit of scotch to help me sleep.

So after dinner, I left the house to walk to the liquor store. It's about a ten minute walk. When I got there, it was closed. I went into the bar next door to see if I could buy something to take home. No. So I walked another ten minutes to another strip mall to see if they had a liquor store with normal hours. Nope. Into another bar to see if they sold off-license. By this point, it was close to 9pm. I gave up and went home.

As I was going home, I suddenly knew how far I would go to get a drink. If I'd known where else to walk, I think I would have done so, no matter how late the hour, or how far the walk. I alternated between the fear this reality produced, and the frustration that I wouldn't be able to have anything more that night.

When I got home, I finally admitted that I was frightened by how much I needed it. I vowed to quit the next day. Honestly, I don't remember the first time I admitted my powerlessness over alcohol to god. But I do know it's the only reason I'm not drinking today. The cravings are gone. I know they'll come to me. They have already and when it does I'm scared, truly terrified about what would happen if I ever took another drink. But, for the most part they're not there.

Most of my excuses for drinking are still here. Most problems don't disappear because you put down your wine. I do know this (now...after many tandrums) - even though many of my problems weren't caused by alcohol, I could never have begun to solve them if I kept alcohol in my life. The list would only grow for as long as I continued drinking. In sobriety, I can see my problems more clearly and also see simple solutions. Large on my gratitude list is the awareness that small changes are happening. Things are getting better.

Also large on my gratitude list are those things that were fixed by sobriety and working on the first three steps: my panic attacks have nearly disappeared, I don't suffer from bone-breaking exhaustion, I don't perform a morning body scan to see how crappy I feel, I can take care of my kids (though I'm still grouchy and conflicted), and when problems arise, I'm coherent enough to give them some attention.

Thanks for your support. Hopefully, I'm not becoming too repetitive. I looked through some old posts to check on the timing for a few things and realized I've talked about this before...so, if you're reading, prepare to be plagued by my forgetful re-telling of various stories. I blame the fog. Or my 30s.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Imaginary "Because You..."

I am not typically one of those people who plan out what to say while someone is talking. I am, however, one of those people who filters what someone is saying through a prism of possible blame, criticism, fairness, and all manner of other interpretations with each sentence uttered. I feel responsible for the feelings of others, as if there was something I should have (or shouldn't have) done to prevent bad feelings and increase good ones. I assume other better and more caring people would have done the "right" thing automatically.

So often the turmoil these thoughts produce means that I don't really hear anyone's point of view, only my own analysis of their point of view.

I started thinking about this after reading: "Before a feeling, there is a thought." Honestly, I thought it was the opposite! You know, you feel bad, so then you think about why you feel bad. Now that I'm paying more attention during difficult conversations, I do see that the negative thought preceeds the negative feelings. When I'm able to separate myself and simply listen without interpretation, I don't feel so bad. I also don't feel so inherently responsible for how they're feeling.

Also, it's much easier to empathize and understand truly where someone else is at when I simply listen to them.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Two "Flashbacks"

A few days ago I was struck by the memory of the effect those first few drinks produce. That warm, slightly giddy feeling that communicates gently, all is right with the world. Those glasses erased the various stresses of the day in a way that a warm blanket and a cup of tea simply does not.

This remembrance would worry me, if not for the second, more alarming, but equally truthful realization. For months I have insisted that I never considered suicide prior to that unfortunate evening I spoke about last week. Even now, I am convinced it was not a suicide attempt. However, as I was driving today I suddenly realized that it has been at least 42 days since I last thought: Maybe the car will just go off the road and I won't have to deal with this pain anymore. That soft, quiet voice which suggested a way out of my misery was often in my head when I was alone in the car. It appeared on the really bad days. I dismissed it each time because I couldn't imagine leaving my family behind, but crap.

Alcohol is insidious and addiction rooted itself so deeply in my subconscious, that it became impossible to differentiate that voice from my own.

So, it is with joy and gratitude that I release that wine-induced (and false) sense of giddy warmth, and curl up with my book and a cup of tea.

EDITED TO ADD: After posting this last night, I've been turning this over and over and over. I think my overall feeling of helplessness and lack of control led me to feel I wasn't an active agent in my life at all. Things just happened to me. Good, bad, or indifferent. I was so desperate for something to change for me. So in the car (or walking across a busy street), it wasn't an urge to actively do anything, it was the sense that maybe this "thing" would just happen, and perhaps take care of the pain. As a passive victim in my life, I didn't think I should cause an accident, I just pondered the possible effects of what might occur if one happened to me. I don't know if that makes sense.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bait and Switch - the Good Kind

Over the past several days and weeks I've been struggling with the basic tenants of powerlessness and acceptance. When I first knew that I absolutely must stop drinking and could not do it on my own, there was relief in turning it over to my higher power. The benefits were immediate and for the first time I could really remember, I felt peace. Since that moment, I pray daily, both in gratitude for the removal of the compulsion to drink and also to ask for another day of sobriety. There is quiet simplicity in this act. On days where I get "too busy" for this prayer, I don't cope as well. Sure, I don't drink, but on the other hand, simple joy seems ellusive.

So where does the bait and switch come in? Over time I've come to realize that turning to your higher power with an admission of powerlessness is not limited to a compulsion to drink. It relates to all aspects of our lives. If one deeply desires serenity, brought by an awareness of what we, as individuals, actually can control, then a preoccupation with outcomes is in direct conflict. Of course, the language of Step 3 is fairly obvious, and you may wonder at my tunnel vision...but at the same time, I am still learning this. Despite having written about it already!

I find that with other elements of my life I struggle far more to let go of a semblance of control. I'm motivated by guilt and fear. Guilt about my failings, which are numerous, and fear about the consequences of the wrong action. I am actively working on this. I remember the relief I found in turning my compulsion to drink to my Higher Power. I have small victories.

But I am still like a child who wants desperately to share a treasured toy and joyfully hands it over, only to snatch it back a few moments later. I want to... and then I can't.

One of my biggest issues relates to my marriage. I have gone back and forth several times about whether it is "fair" to share this on my blog, or even in my AA meetings, but have hit a point where it feels like a pink elephant crowding this space. (Of course, I am the only one who can see it!) You see, my husband has a drinking problem. For years we drank together. For years we buttressed each other's denial, not only about our drinking, but about everything. Now the ground has shifted. And it's hard. I realize that every marriage goes through difficulty in recovery - everyone's ground shifts, no matter what the circumstances of their marriage. (I didn't think so at the beginning...and I am still sometimes envious of people who are married to someone who doesn't need to drink).

Again, in turning this situation over to my higher power, miracles have happened. I do not count his drinks, I do not engage in arguments, I am not wholly preoccupied with him. When I am able to truly let go, the burden is lifted. However, when I snatch it back, I really struggle.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Procrastination Game

I'm really stuck.

The person I vaguely remember, before the addiction, used to be highly organized. Able to prioritize and knock through to-do lists without any issues at all. Then, when drinking became my priority, the lists (when I made them at all) were ignored and just got longer and longer. I believed that once I quit drinking, it would be so much easier to focus, to prioritize, and to deal with all of those items.Some are personal and some are work-related, but my motivation is nearly non-existent in any case. Days disappear into each other and my over all sense is one of zero progress.

Lately, I feel so tired and spacey and unable to concentrate. I thought this would improve after I hit the 30 day mark...does it? It's really depressing and frustrating to find that even simple tasks, requiring little concentration are so difficult to follow through on. Each day I try to make a plan, but so far it just disintegrates over the course of the day. It's sort of like walking through quicksand.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Made It!

After all of that anxiety, the holiday was actually pretty good. I was very happy to be reminded that it is really only a few days (thanks Sober Artist Girl!); part of my dread was based on a two+ month timeline of agony... so much for rational thinking.

Something did happen over the weekend: I had my first "drinking dream". I half expected to have them, especially because I always have them about food whenever I diet, but it took quite a while. Wow! I didn't drink in the dream, but was in a strange environment where there was nothing non-alcoholic to drink. I was very thirsty and kept running around to find something I could have. The dream was completely freaky; I was so happy to wake up sober. Relief just flooded in when I opened my eyes.

I think the dream was related to the realization that I've never in my life been offered so many free drinks since I stopped drinking. It could be that I just never noticed how prevalent alcohol is before, but it seems that every where I go the booze is flowing. For example, when I was travelling a few weeks ago, there was a free scotch tasting set up in the airport waiting area, of all places. My neighbor had a keg party (???) for Oktoberfest and offered me a beer each time I walked by her house with the dog over the next three days. I'm really not sure which one is weirder - I don't even know my neighbor!

Getting alot of practice saying "no thanks" these days -

Friday, October 8, 2010

Both Sides of the Fence

In addition to being coming from a long line of preachers, I was also born into a family with many alcoholics, both by blood and by marriage. My mother tells me that my father was sober for four years when I was quite young, but as far as my memory is concerned, my dad always drank (he did eventually quit, after the divorce). Also, my uncles and my grandmother. On the positive side of the equation, I knew that one did not need to lose everything, live under a bridge, and drink out of a bottle in a paper bag to be an alcoholic. On the negative side, it meant that for most of my childhood, I never brought any friends home. I was that kid, the one who was always at someone else's house, relishing in the normality of more regular family life.

Which gets me to the reason I bring this up now. As an active alcoholic I isolated myself. I cut myself off from friendships with anyone who might question the amount I drank, especially when I really liked and respected them. I was up late last night thinking about friendship and came to realize I've been isolating for far longer than I've actually been an alcoholic. The math simply didn't add up. After I had my first child, I returned to the old coping habits of a child of an alcoholic.

The Canadian Thanksgiving holiday is this weekend. I don't have many good holiday memories if I'm honest. Typically, people come over and someone in my family drinks too much and gets beligerant, or does something completely embarrassing. Because I was always conscious of the image I had to maintain, this person was rarely, if ever, me. I waited until everyone left before drinking too much to be sure that no one ever wondered whether I had a drinking problem. (Also came in handy during my denial period...if I could consume normally when other people were around, surely I couldn't have a problem.) The alternative holiday option has been to stay in and have a "quiet" holiday so that any drunken beligerance would, at least, not be personally embarrassing.

What I am thinking now is this: both situations suck completely. As the holidays approach, I would like to feel something approaching joyful anticipation, rather than dread. Given my current situation, it's going to take some thought, because I really don't want to spend any time at all surrounded by people getting drunk, nevermind during the holidays.

For the most part, these days, I'm trying to only focus on my own recovery, but I do also see the need to dig into the Alanon side at some point.

In the meantime - I hope all of you have a great Columbus Day, or Thanksgiving weekend. If you have any advice from either side of the fence, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Good Old HP

I've been giving quite a bit of thought to the concept of a higher power, and the notion of a personal relationship with God over the past few months. I come from a long line of conservative preachers, went to Catholic school, and spent four of my teenage years born again. When I went to university I left that behind to study Eastern traditions and, more importantly, to me at the time, lose my virginity.

I don't say any of this to create controversy - it's just that after more than a decade (okay, okay...closer to two decades), I still feel an aversion to organized religion. In my experience, it has been both a blessing and a curse. I sincerely respect those who actively participate in their church and find comfort in it. For me though, this feeling was one of the obstacles I had to AA and recovery in general.

However, I was thrilled to understand the meaning behind "the god of your undertstanding". At first, it seemed to be a miraculous loophole. Knowing that some call theirs "Alice" or "Mickey Mouse" even, took the pressure off. It meant I didn't need to go to therapy to unpack all of the experiences I had in the church in order to get sober. I only had to believe in something outside of myself, that was more powerful than me.

It meant, truly, that anyone could get relief from their powerlessness over alcohol.

And it's worked. More than that, it's been essential to many of the small changes working in me. I haven't spent very much time analyzing, what, precisely, the "god of my understanding is", but I wanted to state that I don't think it's necessary.

The main reason for this post is that I fear the sometimes overt Christianity I hear in meetings may dissuade the athiests and agnostics among us from coming back. It almost seems like a topic to be added to Tradition 10 - simply because of the controversy it could generate. Religion is on the same level as Politics for so many people.

Anyway, just my two cents.

Edited to Add: there are actually three great books to read if you aren't sure about the God stuff, but cannot escape drinking:

1. Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down, by Georgia W.
2. How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to Real Life and a Pretty Good Time, Martha Woodroof
3. Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos, Bucky Sinister

I'm not really in the demographic for Get Up, but still found some great value in the spirituality section.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sharing My Story

As I approached 30 days of sobriety, I started to feel the pull to share the story of my bottom and the beginning of my journey to sobriety. For the first time, I feel like 60 days is a possibility, provided I rely on the support I now have around me, both online and offline. I can't do it alone, but am at a point where I don't even want to. My life is so much richer now.

Anyway, my story is posted on Crying out Now and is called 30 Days.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Action/Reaction

First, I am thrilled to find myself on day 30. I honestly didn't believe it would be possible. I couldn't have done it without the online support, AA meetings, and my HP.

Second, I've been reading alot of books. Endlessly. Over the weekend, in preparation for Step 4, I had a realization. I am always focused on results. This means, before I say or do something, I think about the reaction or outcome. I'll define and redefine and tweak and tie myself up in knots about what to do based on my belief about what the result will be. Not only is this dangerous thinking, because, who the hell knows what someone else will say or do as a result, it is based on the notion of control. Controlling someone else's response and controlling the outcome. False perceptions about my position within the universe and my ability to control my environment drive the insanity.

The funny thing is that it's been an incredibly frustrating couple of years. From a career standpoint I've been working really hard to get ahead, not by actively doing the right thing at the right time, but by political manouvering and constant inner turmoil. I haven't budged an inch. I've tried to "beat" the scales by only looking at the number, not looking at the daily choices I make around diet and exercise. I've closed myself off from my friends and family by not honestly discussing my feelings because I change them around to fit my perception of their perception of me.

In short, not only have I tried to control things I don't control, I've tried to cheat the system. The shallowest example relates to diet and exercise - keeping the shallow example in mind actually simplifies the more complex issues for me, because it's so laughable. For the past few months I've been able to lose some weight by not drinking and now that the scales have slowed, I want to lose 5 more pounds. Instead of looking at what I can control (what and how much food I eat, how much exercise I get), I try to control the number that comes up on the scale each week. If I stay the same, or lose, I win! If I gain, I lose. I don't take into account my actions, I don't focus on eating well and exercising for their own benefits, I play the scale like a gambler at the craps table.

This realization has produced a deep sense of relief in me. It's similar to the relief I felt when I admitted I could not control my drinking on my own. I still need to work on letting go and focusing only on that which I can control, but I do feel as though the weight was lifted from my shoulders. Now, it's more obvious to me when I pick the burden back up.

EDITED TO ADD: this does not mean I'm going to run around willy nilly spouting off without careful consideration... :) I just need to change my thinking patterns so that I'm less of a control freak!

Friday, October 1, 2010

While I Was Away

I was out of town for work and thought it would be a great opportunity to relax, read, and catch up on everything. Nothing was as expected; I:

  • spilled coffee on my laptop and was out of commission for more than 24 hours
  • caught a horrible cold that makes it hard to even think
  • was too tired to do anything more than lie in my hotel and watch bad TV
It's very nice to be home.

Also, it's more than awesome to be sitting at day 26!
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