Monday, February 28, 2011

The Issue with Candy

As I was working my way through a bag of candy over the weekend I found myself wondering, "What's the big deal???" After all, it is just candy. It's not alcohol and it's not really hurting anyone. This led me to a deeper realization about my choices and behavior - I don't want to imitate the behaviors I had when I was drinking, because it leaves a window open to relapse. It permits me to hold onto the very thing that made me so unhappy when I was drinking (outside of crushing hangovers, of course) - hiding the truth from myself. Whatever that truth is.

Soon after I quit drinking I began to really see how often I denied my own feelings. I knew what I was feeling at any given time, but I did not give voice to those feelings, unless I was in a blackout screaming about every single thing I'd felt since the last one (of course). Since then, I've come to associate serenity with honesty. When I'm being dishonest with myself or hiding my feelings from someone else, I feel a deeper kind of sadness. I feel hopeless and powerless and without options. I feel tied up in knots and unable to move. I feel worse than the feelings that prompted the dishonesty in the first place.

Over the weekend, Karin left a comment that verbalized (beautifully) what I've been feeling lately. Writing forces me into this honesty, partly because my best writing seems to come from a deep, barely accessible and honest place, but also, because, through the very process of writing I begin to deeply understand where I am and why I am there. Natalie Goldberg calls this practice "writing from first thoughts". I can remember a long time ago in graduate school when we were all reading Foucault and Derrida, talking about the notion of unmediated throught. We all believed this was impossible, because the power of culture prevents us from stepping outside of it. I've since changed my mind about this - writing can be meditation, and it can take us to the very heart/soul/spirit of where we are.

And so, I want to make a commitment to honoring first thoughts, rather than quelling them or jumping off into rationalization or justification. I want to learn to sit with them, without analysis or approbation. I want to make a commitment to doing what it takes to honor authenticity. Mindlessly eating is one way to telling myself to shut up and to shut down.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review Fridays: Writing Advice

One piece of advice I keep seeing in "how to" books about writing is to read constantly. Also, to read different genres that you regularly do. I must confess that I hadn't read a poem since grad school until this week. I went to the bookstore and picked up a few literary journals. I was astonished by the sheer beauty of the words I found. So, instead of doing a book review this week, I'm just going to put down some quotations. These are all from Room (33.4), a Canadian Women's literary journal.

Emily McGiffen
"Learning Swadeshi"

Then, the loom threaded, the warp immaculate, I saw again
what kind of conversation this was:
all of the threads ran one way.

Fran Kimmel
"Laundry Day"

Deafness comes with an on-off switch, otherwise we'd go crazy listening to what we're not meant to hear - all that thudding and cracking and pleading.

Michelle Barker
"At All Times, Love"

love in a way that the margins
can't contain
and your love will be
the morning dew
that touches everything
and transforms even cobwebs
into jewels.

Holley Rubinsky
"Oranges, Blueberries, Cucumber, and Mint"

Gold is the colour of gratitude; the sweet creases of burnished leaves enter, like a vision, into the universe that is her mind.

I was transfixed as I read the pieces - it has been so  long since I've read anything more serious and artistic that I couldn't put the book down. The power of the words and images found here feels transformative and I'm so glad I was able to rediscover this genre.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Violating Principles of Design

Because of my profession, I do know that you aren't supposed to randomly change the look and feel of a site. People who visit your site find it jarring. Unfamiliar.

However, the desire for spring has prompted a shift. The images of the many cans of paint speak to the many possibilities that are opening up for me. The canvas that is my life has shifted, sometimes imperceptibly and and sometimes more radically. I chose this image to remind myself that change is both possible and desirable.

I am just so happy! Even when I'm exhausted, I sometimes want to hug myself out of sheer joy of all that is possible now that I'm sober.

Spiritual Fitness?

I have sat in AA meetings and listened to people beautifully describe the changes sobriety has brought into their lives, only to hear them outside after the meeting complaining like active drunks. These same people often mention that the only people they see fail at sobriety don't follow the steps, don't get sponsors, and don't fully commit to a spiritual life, and as a result, they end up drinking again. I feel uncomfortable about these prounouncements, not only because I've been unable to find a workable relationship with a sponsor, but also because I really think any one of us could walk into a bar and pick up a drink at any point, no matter how "spiritually fit" we are in this moment.

This smacks of the same bible-belt mentality I grew up with, which negatively eschewed psychology and psychiatric drugs: if you fully committed yourself to God, you wouldn't need either.

I've been thinking about this lately as a result of a comment Kristen made about her spiritual fitness being challenged because she "lived in a bubble for the first few years of her sobriety". I think that all too often we force ourselves into situations and decisions because of the limitations imposed by well-meaning, but ultimately clueless people in our lives.

As I indicated yesterday, I think the closer we can get to listening for, and hearing, our own inner voice, the better off we'll be. This is a highly individual process and it takes a lot of ongoing work. One of the things I love most about the community of women blogging about their experiences is that in addition to all of our similarities, the uniqueness really does come through. There are so many ways to get and stay sober and I think our chances of staying sober are increased if we can stay true in our relationships with ourselves and our Higher Powers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What? Me, Candy?

Recently, two wonderful bloggers have spoken about food. Clarav talks about it on Sober in Sweats and Ellie talks about it on One Crafty Mother. I've had a post in mind about eating and food for a while. When I first stopped drinking I was terrified that I would revert to my old patterns and habits with food. It is something I sometimes struggle with when things seem hard - it's so much easier to look to externals for that emotional plumping: easier to find happiness in the number on the scale, than to look honestly at the real problems.

Last month in Yoga International there was a piece called "Fierce Desire." In it, the author talks about how to find and nurture your heartfelt desires. The article opens with:

Almost every New Year's resolution starts with two words: "I will." We summon our willpower and pledge to change not just what we do but who we are. We set goals and imagine how happy we will be when we get what we want...They almost always fail because they start from the assumption that who you are is not good enough, and reinforce the mistaken belief that your happiness depends on acquiring what you want.
This mindset certainly applies to the months I spent trying to control my drinking, but it also speaks well to many attempts I've made to lose weight, eat better, and get in shape. I faced two problems with both goals. First, I believed that change was dependent on the will. Failure indicated only a lack of will power on my part. Second, change was solely intended to make me happy. I looked outward to attribute cause to my unhappiness and selected a magic bullet to fix it.

The author argues that in order to build the life we are "meant to live", we must return to our dharma continuously, so that our deepest intentions can be revealed; this connection to the highest truth permits us to access and honor the deeper meaning in our lives. Change is not required to achieve our heartfelt desires, because we already possess everything we need to be whole. This is true regardless of the specifics of your spiritual beliefs. We are already enough and can discover our heartfelt desire by listening carefully.

This relates to candy in the following way: the author states that every choice we make either supports or undermines our resolve to live in tune with our deepest heartfelt wish to truly be who we are. 

"Let's say you're aware that sugar disrupts your energy and sleep. But time and time again, you 'forget' this awareness and eat sweets anyway. Each time you do this, you reinforce the part of you that says 'screw it' to awareness and intention. You're giving power to the part of you that goes against your consciousness." On the other hand, every conscious choice you make is an opportunity to strengthen [your heartfelt desire.]
To strenghten awareness and connection to your heartfelt desire, the author suggests you select a nonconstructive habit and give it up for forty days. It does not have to be related to your heartfelt desire, rather it provides an opportunity to bring to mind your heartfelt desire each time you feel the urge to engage.

This sounds like Lent. I can remember giving up chocolate one year, successfully. It also sounds like a New Year's resolution. But the intent is different. The habit is intentionally symbolic. The impulse to engage is meant to stimulate and remind us about the importance of making choices that support honesty and awareness.

I chose candy for the exercise. While I didn't fall into a bag of candy when I first stopped drinking, I did slowly choose to buy and eat increasing amounts of it. My favorites are those small chewy sour candies (no idea what they're called) and swedish berries. Each day I would unconsciously eat them. All day. Every day. I felt queasy and my mouth was puckered from the acid. Yet, I continued to do it. Each day I thought I would only have a few, and yet each day I didn't.

Sound familiar?

Yup.

I realized I was using sugar the same way that I'd been using alcohol - to disengage, to soothe, to escape. I was also sneaking it, because I was embarrassed by how much of it I was eating.

I don't have this problem with potato chips or ice cream or pie or even dark chocolate. I do have this problem with candy. So I committed to giving it up for 40 days. It was more difficult than I thought it would be, even with the option of eating anything else (my definition of candy was highly specific and easily left room for substitutes). I found that I didn't actually want a piece of chocolate. When the urge came, it was to fill some highly specific need that was not hunger-related. This awareness has forced me to pay more attention to where the urge is coming from and to listen more closely to what my consciousness is telling me.

I'm not "there" yet. But it is interesting to me that there is a convergence of ideas around honesty, openness, and awareness in much of what I've been reading lately. It's not about the candy. Truly, it isn't. It's about letting go of the pretence that there is safety to be found in denial - in lying to myself - and risk in being as fully honest as possible. There is no magic bullet here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Writing

I've started writing. I hesitate to use the words, "real writing," because it implies that what I do here is not actually writing. What I can say is this: I've wanted to write for a long time, but the very thought of it fills me with terror. Fear of both failure and success have kept me from it for a long time. There's the unfinished dissertation that's been gathering dust in a box for ten years, and a few half-started works of fiction that never went anywhere. The truest blessing of the blog is that it keeps me writing and it keeps me honest about my dreams. I find that this near daily practice reminds me of the importance of opening the page and writing it down. Some days I feel inspired, while other days it seems there's nothing I can do to put a coherent sentence together. Coming back to write regardless has taught me a lot about perseverence, about
"suiting up, and showing up," as it were.

Last week I started reading a book called Your First Novel: An Author Agent Team Share the Keys to Achieving Your Dream, by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. The book is filled with helpful suggestions, many of which only dial up the internal fears I have about my own abilities to actually write something, stick with it to the end, and revise it endlessly. One line really stuck with me. Kyoko Mori, an author discussed in the book, referenced the game of hot potato, indicating that any section of your writing that feels like a hot potato should be the one that is focused on:

But on those dark days when you're actually afraid of your own work, it might be helpful to remember that the best and most flavorful potato salad is made with the hottest potatoes.
I can relate deeply to the notion that it is possible to be afraid of your own work. Moments in writing where it feels so close to the bone - an idea or a belief that is barely at the edge of your consciousness, just glimpsed, that might change everything you thought was true before. It gives me goosebumps. But it's also very good to know that this is a normal experience.

So who knows where it will end up, but I wanted to admit that I'm working on a novel so that I feel accountable to it. It may end up in a drawer eventually, but I want to be sure it is as good as it can possibly be before it hits its final resting place, rather than give up on it due to self-doubt.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where's My Wine?

We used to go out for dinner to nice restaurants. We would have a glass of wine or two with our appetizers, followed by a bottle of wine with dinner. Then after, we would have cognac or scotch with coffee. By the end of the meal I would feel warmth all the way through my body. Not drunk, per se, because in restaurants they serve measured portions, but definitely buzzed. I loved the way that the alcohol made the food taste better. The way it smoothed the edges of the experience, making conversation easy. These dinners always felt like mini-breaks because it always seemed like everything was perfect.

I've only gone out a handful of times since I got sober. Most of these outings have been in family-style restaurants where there is no back story. Even when I was drinking I usually had a diet coke or a coffee when we ate at these places, either because the wine was terrible, or because we were on our way somewhere else at the time.

French or Italian bistros are a different story. When we made plans to go away, I felt slightly nervous. I didn't think I would drink, but if I'm truthful I must admit that much of my life follows a very specific script. I am steeped in habits. Part of me believes that these habits keep me sober. So the root of my fear about going away was that the removal of all of the comforting habits would remove my will to stay sober.

Although I felt somewhat out of my element, the good news is that I didn't want to drink.

However, as I found myself in a nice Fench Bistro, the sense memory of this type of place led me to "reach" for an imaginary wine glass. It was strange because I didn't want a glass of wine. But like a smoker who has quit for a long time reaches into their pocket for a lighter unconsciously, I was unconsciously reaching for my glass of wine over the course of the meal.

It suddenly made sense to me that in order to stay quit we need to completely alter our lifestyles and our habits. These do help us to stay sober, if only because the triggers have been removed by so radically changing our lives. This does not mean I never want to go to a nice restaurant again, but rather, that I needed enough time sober before I could go. If it had been sooner, I might have misunderstood the feelings I had and thought it meant I wanted a drink. I might have ordered one. Because I waited for so long to go, I could separate the pull of habit and association from desire. Any desire I felt was rooted in the past, not in the present.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I was Away...

but not drinking! We took a few days off for family day and left town. It was relaxing and exhausting at the same time. I'll be back to blogging tomorrow for sure. At the moment, this feels sort of like a blank canvas, and I can't think of anything to put on it.

I hope you're all having a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Beautiful" Constructs

A while ago, I mentioned the shock I felt when I read that thoughts come before feelings. Maybe they come immediately before, traveling at the speed of light on the synapses of our brains, but they do come first.

Lately, I've been feeling out of sorts, worried about everything. Thoughts spinning and cycling, as I attempt to make sense of them and determine the "next right thing." Of course I've been keeping those concerns to myself. I'm not sure why I seem to always choose to "go it alone" instead of asking for help, or talking about my feelings, but I do this. I stop for a while, and then like comfortable old jeans, I put them on again. I start to close down and keep my feelings to myself.

I see the signs. I feel myself slowly sliding back into co-dependent thinking. In the beginning, it's a subtle shift, a slow change in focus to interpreting the feelings and thoughts of others, instead of looking at my feelings and actions. Phase two is irritability and frustration. Phase three is over-analysis of the motivations of others. And then finally, I'm left with a total sense of powerlessness and the desire to simply escape everything.

So I do see the signs.

The problem I'm always faced with at the end of the cycle, when I finally do talk is that the "perfect" construction I've come up with to neatly explain everything that's wrong is, um, totally wrong. It's either based on false premises or the product of nightmarishly taking the "worst that could happen" as the expectation at each step in the process. Other people have described this as "tying ourselves in knots," and I think it's apt. No wonder I feel so powerless at the end - in knots, there is little action I can take.

I think faith and trust are the basic missing elements here. For so long, I've let myself believe that I have to do everything on my own. I need to work on trusting my higher power and my family with more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Triggers

A few days ago it was sort of "hot" (hahaha) and I'm missing spring, so I thought I would do what I always do in the summer. I made myself a green iced tea (the sugary powdered stuff, not the healthy stuff). I poured it into a large clear glass and put some ice in it. I may have even put a lemon wedge in there.

As I sat at my desk drinking this innocuous cup of iced tea, I felt very strange. Uncomfortable. Like I was doing something weird.

And I was. In the final long months of my drinking, I used to make very similar drinks, although then, the "iced tea" was 90% vodka or gin and only 10% juice (gives the ads that claim 10% juice new meaning, huh?). I did this continuallly. I added the juice, and I do mean any kind of juice to hide the booze. Because I have kids, this sometimes meant I was drinking strawberry banana gin (the brand that adds carrot juice to trick kids into more vegetables). Eeeww. I know some people really like strawberry banana, but bananas in anything but a smoothy make me want to vomit. But there I sat, day after day hunting through the cupboards for somthing to add to the alcohol. If we were out of soda, which we often were, I added anything I could find. I'm not sure why I didn't just drink it straight up, but maybe I clung to the seeming normality of making a drink. Like, at noon on a Tuesday.

So, feeling strange, I looked hard at the glass. As innocuous and innocent as it was, and felt nauseous and disgusted. It sort of looked like wine, also a frequent companion back then. I knew it wasn't and I didn't wish it was, but the very glass felt tarnished, as though it were filled with poision.

A few months ago someone shared at a meeting that when he saw been steins, he really really wanted a beer. The woman sitting next to me whispered something rude, like "what's his problem. I put coke into my wine glasses." So part of me has been reluctant to share this, because I realize how crazy it sounds. But there's another part of me, the one fearful of ever going back to that life, that thinks it's time to buy completely different water glasses. As for wine glasses, if it were up to me, I would take them outside and smash each and every one of them into a trash can, like they did with the bottles in When a Man Loves a Woman.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guilt and Parenthood

After I published my post on Saturday, it occurred to me that blaming any struggles that my children face on my own drinking is a way of taking some control back. If I'm responsible, then I can fix it. Much of this guilt comes from believing they feel the way that I felt when I was a kid. If I'm honest, the fact is that I didn't notice my dad drank until I was ten. Maybe 9. Before that...nada. Also, even if my kids did notice, there is no reason to assume they felt the way I did - my own brothers didn't feel the way I did and we grew up in the same house.

The reality is that my kids are, for the most part, really happy kids. Last week my older daughter came home and spontaneously said, "it's really nice to come home to such a supportive and loving mom." (I won't say my initial thought was...who are you?..as it would detract from my point). Since I quit drinking, they are more likely to want to spend time with me, more likely to tell me when something bad happened at school, more likely to ask if we can go out and do something. They seem freer to be themselves. (Or perhaps I just notice it more.)

These are all very worthwhile reasons to stay sober. My own joy in motherhood has increased exponentially since I've stopped drinking and for that I'm truly grateful. Guilt about the past seriously detracts me from recognizing how significant a second chance at life is and it also keeps me from living as fully in the present.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Upside of the Boozehound Household?

I really love my parents. When I had my children, I came to deeply appreciate how hard it is to parent well. Or at all, if I'm honest. Because while there are simple moments where my heart nearly bursts open with love, much of day-to-day parenting is a touch annoying, except when it's completely aggravating...and you fantasize about that Parisian loft space I already mentioned. Knowing this has increased the love and appreciation I feel for my parents.

A few weeks ago, Mummra-Mommy wrote a post about growing up in an alcoholic home. She reminded me that I remember little of my own childhood and was pretty free to do anything I wanted. I spent a few days trying to come up with similar memories. I mean, anyone who grew up in an alcoholic home has horrific stories in addition to the merely embarrassing, but I am well and truly stumped when I try to think of something funny to share.

The real story is not that I don't have any hilarious memories, because I'm sure, buried in my forgotten past, there are some gems. The real story is that at the moment I'm unable to see the lighter side because I feel so much guilt about the possible effects my drinking has had on my kids. My own sobriety is too new for me to forgive myself for the many ways I let them down, which also revives my need to forgive my own parents, my dad for always being drunk and my mom for all of the co-dependent sadness she carried.

Amy Hatvany wrote it beautifully for Baby on Board this week:

I practice the steps not just for me, but for my children, who don’t remember much of my drinking, thank god, but if it is etched somewhere on their beautiful souls, I hope seeing me get and stay sober – physically and emotionally – will have a longer lasting, more permanent effect.
Do my kids remember my drinking? I don't really know. They are old enough (6 and 8) to notice adults acting weird, but also young enough that they don't know how to classify it. They are young enough to forget surely. Especially if I stay sober.

On the other hand, the silliness alcohol engenders in those of us plagued by seriousness does remind me of something significant. We don't need to be active alcoholics to have tickle fights or eat pancakes for dinner. We can do that now. Thanks for the post Mummra-Mommy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review Fridays: The Artist's Way

For the past four weeks I've been working through The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. The underlying premise of the book is that we are all creative and the only way to express our true nature is through creative acts. Her definition of creative is broad and she does not suggest we should all quit our day jobs to pursue a life of writing, sculpture, dance, or painting. Rather, she insists that we block our deepest hopes and dreams and as a result do not fully experience our lives.

Written from a mixed perspective of co-dependency and 12-step recovery programs, this book aligns nicely with the other work we do in recovery. Each chapter addresses some facet of creative block and has exercises at the end designed to bring deeper awareness to the unconscious thinking that holds us back.

Parts of the book are a bit out there - some may be put off by the God-talk, which is foundational to the book. Yet, I found if I could turn down the volume on my bs meter, the practical advice was solid. Each week as I do the exercises I'm learning something significant about myself. For example, one thing that really holds me back from writing is guilt about taking time for myself. Even when the kids are busy watching a movie, husband playing guitar, dog sleeping on the couch, I am worried that I should be doing something else besides writing. Ah, like, um what? Getting in the way? Hovering with grapes and tea? Laundry? WTF? While the guilt is still there, I can see it for what it is now, which makes it easier to persevere.

Outside of the weekly exercises there is an ongoing commitment to two items. The first is daily writing three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts and the second is a weekly artist date. Beth Lisick makes great fun of the notion of the artist date and the tone of Cameron's writing in her book Helping Me Help Myself, writing:

The first few pages are difficult to swallow. There is so much talk about spirituality, creativity, synchronicity, recovery, growth, commitment, and various journeys, I feel like I am standing in front of the community bulletin board at my neighborhood organic vegan restaurant.
It's funny, because on the one hand, I can completely identify with Lisick - the same way, as a teenager, I mocked all of the counsellors at camp for being so perky, while at the same time longing to let go and enjoy it. However, in putting aside the "dude, you're so lame" voice in my head, I've learned so much from Cameron. Lisick is funny, but I won't let it ruin my experience of reading the book, even if it means I'm not one of the cool kids.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Good News is Sometimes Hard to Swallow

Last night I was watching the Razor's Edge for the first time and I was struck by the words of a character who had lost her husband and child in an accident. She'd done a lot of self-destructive things and realized her motivation in the choices she made after the accident; she just couldn't understand how something so horrible had happened, so "when the baby died I had to prove that I deserved something so awful to happen."

This is not a post about dealing with that level of loss. But it did remind me of something I read early in my recovery.  I read and reviewed the Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown. She writes:

The greatest challenge for most of us is believing we are worthy now, right this minute. Worthiness doesn't have prerequisites. So many of us have knowingly created/unknowingly allowed/been handed down a long list of worthiness prerequisites...Here's what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.
The very thought that I could possibly be good enough, without a complete personality overhaul was difficult to swallow. At the same time I felt relief, as though a burden had been lifted. I began to tell myself that I didn't have to prove that I was worthy in order to stay sober. I don't have to change to deserve happiness or joy. I don't have to jump through hoops to ask for what I want. Of course, the inner critic always returned with: "that sounds like alot of b.s.", but only at first. I have to keep reminding myself that it's true - everyone is worthy now. Not later. Now.

As I begin to take my writing more seriously, I have to remind myself of this worthiness again and begin to silence the inner critic. It takes work to uncover the unconscious beliefs that are holding me back. It makes me wonder how many other beliefs are holding me back from other dreams. And it makes me aware of how much power each of us has within us to succeed at what we put our minds to, wholeheartedly, whether it is getting sober, recovering from setbacks, or more mundane tidbits that block us.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Change and Willingness

As you can see, the blog background is new. The wonderful blogger at No More Merlot updated her blog to use the image I was using. Initially, I felt dislocated as I read her blog...I've been staring at that image for six months after all. But it led me to realize that change, even small changes like this, are positive. I initially selected the abstract backgound because the flecks of paint reminded me of where I was at then - beauty and hope were possible, but haphazardly applied. Now that I'm in a different place it makes sense to reflect that in the imagery of the blog. For now, for February, a nod to Valentines Day seems like a good idea. Maybe I'll even design my own image in a few weeks, who knows? And I can still visit that beautiful background whenever I read No More Merlot, so nothing is lost.

At last night's AA meeting I was powerfully reminded of how much every single day was a struggle when I was drinking. It took superhuman energy to simply put one foot in front of the other. Simple things, like making lunches, walking the dog, getting to work, and paying attention during a business meeting were a struggle that consumed every ounce of concentration. The notion of saying a kind word, doing a favor for someone, or taking on something extra were outside of the realm of the possible. I could barely survive as it was. Back then, each moment was spent looking for an escape from my life, or at least counting the minutes until I could through all of these responsibilities so that I could get to the drinking part.

The biggest early change for me was the realization that I didn't have to do this on my own. At the end, I was so tired...so so tired that the very thought of doing it alone - quitting, life - was enough to make me want to go back to bed and never leave. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about AA is that it's a church of some kind, a cultish organization of Scientologists with a twist, or veiled Christianity. At least that was my misconception. Unadulterated fear is the only thing that actually drove me to my first AA meeting. However, the notion of a "God of your understanding" really opened the door for me. It's always been very difficult for me to ask for help...I sit like an animal caught in a trap, gnawing off my own arm, without a thought of asking for any help. But I could, even 5 months ago, cry for help from a God of my understanding. I still don't know who that is, because it's not the God of my childhood, but it opened the door, not only to abstinence, but to all of the other possibilities in my life. It's also made it possible for me to ask real people for help before the trap snaps shut, rather than afterwards.

That feeling of not being alone in my life has altered my perspective so fully, that I keep praying. The God of my understanding has changed with me, morphing into something I occasionally get a glimpse of. Before I turned to my higher power, I was merely abstinent, but true recovery wasn't possible.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sobriety First

Before I get into this post, I want to say that if you cannot detox on your own, please ask for help. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe in some cases and may warrant in-patient care. This site lists some of the withdrawal symptoms, so if you are concerned see your doctor and call your local AA office for help. Also, sometimes our lives are so toxic that getting sober without taking a break from them is simply too much. If you want to stop drinking, but cannot - do consider treatment.

--- End public service announcement ---

I think that the only way to get sober is to put it first, ahead of everything else. And I do mean everything: ahead of fear, ahead of every single person or commitment in your life, and ahead of every single message in your head. In the early days I read that the only thing that matters in any given moment is that you don't pick up the first drink. If the only thing I accomplish on any given day is that I don't drink then I must consider it a successful day. Even if I spent the day being a crabby brat and accomplished nothing else. Marking that down as success has taken alot of work - it meant telling myself that I was a success even when I didn't believe it for a minute due to the censors in my head listing off everything I'd done wrong.

In the beginning...oh god. In the beginning it felt impossible. Both to find peace without alcohol, and to view anything I'd done as success. I was so used to guilt and recrimination, that I was unable to let it go. To succeed, I had to put my sobriety ahead of "me," because the only part of myself I'd listened to for so long was the addict. And the addict is a complete dickhead.

I looked through my early posts for something good to to illustrate this. But the posts I found hide the agony of the first attempts and the immediacy of the pain I felt even on the third try. Funny, I think I didn't want to sound like I was whining all the time. I also checked my journal to see whether I'd written anything about how I felt about it. To be honest, every single entry in my journal is about something else. Anger and resentment and complaints about nearly everything and everyone in my life. The only comment about sobriety I could find was this:

Today is day 4. This time I don't feel the euphoria I felt last time. I'm behind at work and feeling anxious about everything. It just feels like there is too much to do and I am a failure.
However, when I look more deeply at all of the complaining, I see fear everywhere. Because everything I had been avoiding was suddenly in front of me in technicolor (or would one say HD now?), I was overwhelmed by the task in front of me. My entire life was unmanageable, not just my drinking. The notion that I could let go of the shambles my life to focus only on staying sober was crazy to me. How on earth could I focus on me when it seemed everyone around me was conspiring to make my life hell? It felt like I was risking the loss of everything I had without any kind of guarentee that it would make any difference.

I don't think I honestly believed that my life would be better without alcohol at the time. The truth I couldn't rationalize was the fact that I knew I would die if I continued to drink. I also knew nothing would change if I continued to drink. I was well and truly caught in a trap: I couldn't continue as I was but moving forward felt impossible.

And so I kept going. The diligence has become second nature in a way. With the physical urge gone it's easier. I've also become kinder to myself and spend less time feeling like a complete failure. I have come to believe that my life is better without alcohol, no matter what happens. It just took some time.

Keep on going; you can always drink tomorrow. Try to prove me wrong.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Detox - the Body's Tandrum

I don't remember what it felt like to get through the first week. And I did it three times. The very first time immediately followed my blackout-induced suicide attempt. I wrapped myself in the shame of what I'd done and cried whenever I thought about it. What had kept me drinking all those years was the belief that if something truly awful happened I would definitely quit. The fact that I was waiting for some awful thing before quitting now sounds quite stupid. The reality is that I went back to drinking harder than before after only a few short weeks of remorse. Feeling crappy as I detoxed felt like well deserved penance, and I sank into self-pity, acting like a sick person with the flu. As soon as the horror receded and I started to feel better I picked up the first drink.

After a month of hard drinking, I finally came to the realization that nothing could happen that would magically stop me from drinking. There was no silver bullet, burning bush, or other transformation that could possibly save me from myself. Every indicator that would lead a normal person to cut back or stop altogether was simply missing from my makeup. So the second and third detox sessions were different.

For years, denial kept me drinking. And fear - the fear that I couldn't handle my life without the relief of a drink. I came across this last week and I think it speaks to the massive change quitting produces:

..we learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it. But not without a tandrum. And not without a kriya, a Sanskrit word meaning spirtiual emergency or surrender. (I always think of kriyas as spiritual seizures. Perhaps they should be spelled crias because they are cries of the soul as it is wrung through changes.)
I resisted seeing things as they really and truly were for so long, like a toddler throwing a huge tandrum - the screaming, arched back, endless tandrum. And then I couldn't unsee it. Quitting is both an ending and a beginning. All of the bad feelings detox brings are part of the change, the surrender...the body's tandrum.

It sucks. There's no way around it and I don't know how I got through it. I do remember "loving" the massive night sweats because I knew the toxins were being released from my body. I wrote endless lists of all of the terrible and benign things that happened when I drank. I wrote lists outlining everything that I was happy about. I prayed tearfully for rescue. I read recovery blogs and books endlessly. I ate massive quantities of candy. I went to bed as soon as the kids were asleep. I did nothing but count the hours that had passed since I had a drink. And I thought about how good I would feel tomorrow when I could say another day had passed.

One of the things that keeps me from that first drink now is that I'm afraid I couldn't do that again.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Five Months

When I first started drinking I hated it. I could never figure out what I wanted to order. I didn't like the taste of alcohol, so my choices were always limited to those girly mixed drink concoctions. You know the ones - they taste like juice, so you don't realize you're getting drunk until you find yourself puking your guts out in the grimy bathroom at the back of the bar. There is sexism inherent in the very design of these drinks, but that's another any post, and perhaps even another blog. In the beginning, when the initial buzzy feeling came over me, I would stop drinking. I hated that feeling...like I was losing control. I also hated the rash that covered my chest with the first sip. My ears burned and turned red.

In graduate school I lived in an apartment across from a pub. At the time, I went there to write and only drank coffee. It was dim and filled with dark wood and you could still smoke inside then. I felt like a real writer when I was in there. At night, the pub transformed into an undergraduate cafeteria/tavern. Tablecloths were removed to show the cheap metal tables and house music shook the rafters. One night I thought I'd go have a beer. I think I had two. (This isn't alcoholic math talking...I really only had two pints.) Something - whether unfamiliarity or allergy - took hold and I couldn't walk back home across the street, because the room was spinning too hard. Luckily, the bartender knew me and got one of the waiters to take me home. It was a long time before I drank again and it wasn't shame that kept me from it.

Rather than feel cool and sophisticated, I felt awkward and clumsy. I couldn't hold my liquor, and it's hardly suave to struggle with a drinks menu. It was just another one of those things other people seemed to do effortlessly that I couldn't quite get the hang of doing. I really couldn't see the point in figuring it out either, when there were so many other things I still needed to master.

I'm not sure what changed. Just as I don't remember my first drink or my last, the ground between normal drinking and alcoholism is murky.

Today I have five months of sobriety (in a row!) and I'm glad that the urgency and drama are gone. Sort of. For the past few weeks I've realized that not drinking is pretty normal for me. But with that loss of urgency to not drink, I feel a bit strange. Not strange, like I want a drink. But strange nonetheless. I really don't know how to express it yet. Even to myself. But something is different now and I'm not quite sure what it is.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Newly Sober...Now What?

I just received a comment here that reminded me why I do this thing...the blogging thing. It's buried in an old post, but it's from someone who is newly sober, and it made me think about the fact that there may be others also reading who are in the early painstaking days. The days of foggy desperation that seem endless. The comment reminded me why I am sober and working to stay that way and I instantly wanted to add my advice, so here are my thoughts:
  1. Be kind to yourself. You're in the most difficult part. It will get easier.
  2. Do whatever you need to make sure you don't take the first drink.
  3. Reach out for help - recovering alcoholics love to help.
  4. Go to bed early - it will make the days go faster.
  5. Go to an AA meeting - it really does help.
  6. Sobriety is the only thing to focus on right now - whatever shambles exist in your life can be dealt with later.
  7. Pray - anything goes here, just let it out.
  8. Keep going - the minutes will add up.
What advice would you give if you had to re-live your first week of sobriety? Please add to my half-assed list!

Book Review Fridays: Bubblegum Fiction

So it's not all about self-improvement over here. Sometimes, when things get crazy and I feel like either my heart or my brain is going to explode, I read silly books. I think "everyone" knows Janet Evanovich and some of you may know  Lisa Lutz. Both write hilarious, unbelievable, and silly fiction. But I recently discovered Kate Johnson (and as such will assume you haven't heard of her) and her series of books about British spy, Sophie Green.

Her books definitely qualify as escapist "detective" fiction. Sophie, the main character, is an unlikely spy, recruited to an unheard of branch of British intelligence after she accidentally takes down a criminal at Stanstead Airport. She's tall, blond, and busty. She is in love with her partner and (of course) more than half of each book is spent in the agony of whether to continue seeing him, or if broken up, to start the romance up again. The mystery in each book competes with the romantic miscommunication, but it's funny, the same way that Evanovich and Lutz are funny.

As a (ahem) 37-year-old, married, volvo-driving reader, these books aren't aspirational (like candy), but  they get me out of my own serious, earnest head for a while. I'm thankful for the means of escape, although it's not new for me, because I always used to read these books when I was drinking too. But now that I'm sober and can remember the plotline all the way through, there's nothing I enjoy more than the simple escape they provide. They remind me to remove my nose from the grindstone every once and a while to look at the lighter side of things. Which is a good thing, even though I'm feeling somewhat shy about admitting my love for this genre.

Sadly, I'm out of books for the moment (get writing people!), so I'll put this plea out there: what authors do you love to read? Qualifications: must be funny, with simple plotlines.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sobriety Toolkit #6: Yoga

I haven't forgotten about this series, but I have been avoiding this one. As on the blog, so it is in real life.

While I was off work I didn't have a problem finding time for yoga, but now that I'm back in the daily grind, I procrastinate doing it. I procrastinate until I don't do it, even though when I don't do yoga my neck and back get achey and I have more headaches. Both my dad and my grandmother developed humps on the top of their backs. Doing yoga regularly also resets my brain and helps me to be open and positive.

So - why do I continue to procrastinate???

Yesterday I read this study on the Origins of Addiction. It's a huge article and there is much to write about, but one item that really resonated was the finding that those who were doing well in wright loss were the most likely to drop out of the program:

In the mid-1980s, physicians in Kaiser Permanente's Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego discovered that patients successfully losing weight in the Weight Program were the most likely to drop out. This unexpected observation led to our discovery that overeating and obesity were often being used unconsciously as protective solutions to unrecognized problems dating back to childhood. Counterintuitively, obesity provided hidden benefits: it often was sexually, physically, or emotionally protective.
Once again, no need to fear  my uniqueness. It is common for us to avoid doing things that will contribute to our over all health and well-being. As with continuing to drink long after the benefits outweigh the consequences, positive change is difficult to begin and maintain, possibly due to unconscious motivations.

Synchronicity seems to be everywhere I look these days; I was also doing an exercise where you list five bad habits and then write the subtle benefits I receive from continuing them. The suggestion is that if we can understand our unconscious motivations, we can begin to dismantle their power over our choices and actions. It's a work in progress, but I'm hopeful that with some attention I'll be able to commit to taking more positive actions in support of my sobriety.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Before I Would Have...

I often find myself struck by a before and after snapshot these days. For example, today I met a friend at a coffee shop. A coffee shop that serves wine, and today, Baileys in coffee. When I drank, I would have been very excited at the opportunity to order a latte with a double shot of baileys even though it was a semi-business meeting. Now, of course, I wondered why the hell a coffee shop needs to serve alcohol.

So it's not that I think, oh, I could totally use a drink, it's more that I feel deeply aware of the subtle differences in my life as it is now.
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