Saturday, April 30, 2011

Summer Dread

As spring begins to appear, I find myself filled with a light sense of dread. It will be the first summer where I have not spend endless afternoons sipping various cocktails (outside of my second pregnancy, which does not count). As the sun takes longer and longer each day to set, I feel a vague sense of dread. By this, I don't mean that I'm not sure what to do with myself. Since getting sober I have found many things to occupy my time and have realized just how many things I gave up so I could continue drinking. What I mean to say is that I'm not sure how to handle the fact that the kids are up later, the outside beckons and it means more to do. It also means that I worry that the witching hour will go on for longer than it did in the winter. I worry that I will not have a good time.

Last night something very interesting happened. We were sitting out on the deck and I was smoking. (yup, still smoking) My youngest daughter came downstairs and peeked through the patio doors. She looked concerned. I got up to see what the matter was, and could tell that she was checking for something.

This morning I realized what she was checking for. She was looking outside to see if I was drinking. A big part of me believes that she doesn't specifically check for alcohol, that she is too young to understand the relationship between drinking and uncertainty. She was five years old last year and I don't know how much she knew then about my drinking or it's relationship to my behaviour. On Easter she told my grandfather that I used to drink wine at dinner, but now I drink tea, so maybe there was (or is now) an awareness of the reason for the changes she sees in me. But last year, she used to come down the stairs every fifteen minutes to check on something. There was always a question or a reason for it, but it occurred to me this morning that it's quite possible she felt ill at ease and came down for reassurance. It's quite possible that she didn't feel safe and did the only thing she could think of to find that sense of safety. It's unfortunate that she had to turn to an alcoholic mother to try to find this.

The thing is, now it's very rare for her to come down after I've tucked her in. This made me realize how much has changed for her. She's not the same nervous kid she was this time last year.

So even if it's hard to lay around without drinking this summer, I have a very good reason not to.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Committee is in Session

My first exposure to the notion that the thoughts, directives, and general conversation that goes on in my head could be conceptualized as a committee was rather liberating. It meant that it would be possible to tune them out a bit, the same way I tune out news announcers who blather on. This takes work. It is no longer an hourly struggle, but often I find it is a daily one...oh, and sometimes it is still an hourly struggle.

One of my biggest hurdles is with work.When things get busy, my mind swirls with directives and constantly changes gears: "do this!..."no, do that!"..."no, wait, you're doing it all wrong." It also continually provides feedback, "you really aren't very good at this"..."everyone will think you don't know what you're doing"..."you should have started this earlier; I thought you were going to try to be more proactive."

It's very tiring. I have to admit that it's a rare day when I'm able to focus and plan and work without all of the background chatter.

I also struggle on the personal side. I find that whenever I admit an emotion or belief to myself, I immediately "hear" the response others might give to me. There is not a single response in this case, but rather a series of he said/she saids. I used to drink both so that I would stop feeling things, and also so that I wouldn't have to listen to the imaginary feedback. The irony is that drinking never actually qualmed them. Instead, it made it harder to discern my own voice amid all the chatter.

I am working to differentiate between them. It takes work and some days are worse than others. Today is one of those days where I can see that I'm getting in my own way by letting them distract me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Al-Anon Part 3: Serendipity

Yesterday I did not question the light feeling I felt in my heart. And for the first time I did not sob all the way through my Al-Anon meeting, nor did I hold back tears. I'm sure I'll wail at the next one, but for yesterday I felt a deep sense that things will work out. Full stop.

Someone told me that once I started to feel better I would be tempted to skip the Al-Anon meetings. My immediate thought was "no way" and this is largely because of my experience in AA. The program only works if you work it - you can't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. My ticket to serenity comes from sitting in those rooms, so I have to go whether I'm on the edge of dispair or feel like dancing. If the only people attending AA or Al-Anon meetings are in the depths of dispair, no one would ever find a sense of hope. At least that's what I'm thinking now.

The most fascinating part of all of this was that in two independent contexts I was able to speak with people who are struggling with someone else's drinking. I felt completely unprepared for the task, not knowing what to say. After all, I'm new to this. I have four meetings under my belt. But then I remembered that in the beginning of AA, people with less than a month of sobriety were sponsors. We grow because we share our experience with others, not because we know the answers. Seeing the pain they were in really brought home to me how significant the ripple effect is with this disease.

It was easier to be the alcoholic. Then, the pain was mine. It was down to me and all of the dumb things I did. It was down to me to change it. Alcohol protected me from seeing how much I was damaging those around me. I could be self-centered and destruct and lie and prevaricate and deny. I guess you can do those things without getting drunk (and I do), but somehow it just seems like a harder path. When I was drinking, I was able to find instant distance. I could go from feeling pain to no pain in the amount of time it took to drink a martini. Or three. That distance allowed me to continue to pretend I was the only one affected by my drinking.

I'm still learning about compassion for people who suffer from this disease - including finding compassion for myself. I need to do that work. For now, my heart goes out to those who live with someone else's addiction.

I'm not sure I said any of the right things yesterday, but the following do come to mind:
  1. The Three C's: You didn't Cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it.
  2. You can focus on your own recovery: it is possible to find peace irrespective of someone else's recovery.
  3. Alcoholism is a family disease: everyone who loves the alcoholic is affected by it.
There is certainly more to say, but I'm still finding my way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inexplicably Happy

A few days ago I indicated that I have days where all I want to do is get under the covers and stay there, like Sandra Bullock did in the movie Practical Magic (which I totally love). Between talking to my sponsor, going to AA & Al-Anon meetings, this is changing. I can't explain it. My life is the same. My circumstances have not changed. However, I can distinctly feel the whisper of my HP moving in my heart and my life. It's hard to explain. Actually, I don't think I could really define it, even if I took a bunch of time to really think about it.

Maybe if I wrote a poem.

Not sure.

Anyway, I feel better. I don't know what the future holds, but I think if I can assume I am doing the best I possibly can right now and affirm that as plenty good enough, then I don't feel so lost. I don't feel the pressure to decide when I'm not ready to decide. When I can let go, really let go, of outcomes, the right now doesn't seem so f-ing painful.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's Get Superficial

I am certain there is another heart-wrenching post to be written. However, I thought I'd get away from that and put together a list of bullet points. It is the "things you probably didn't know about me" list:

  • I have not worn make up since I was a teenager. I started to put it on when I got sober. I'm not sure why, but I really really love eye make up. I probably wear too much.
  • After years of trying to "gracefully" go grey, I also gave this up when I quit drinking. I always dyed it red when I was younger, but decided to go blonde. As blonde as possible, in fact. I love it.
  • I feel years and years younger now that I don't drink. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think,  "jeez, I look good." Could be because of the two points above.
  • I am likely too thin, and definitely out of shape, but I like it anyway.
  • I probably dress too young for my age. Is it wrong that I look at clothes designed for my daughter and really wish I could wear them? I'm specifically thinking of the cute jean skirts that are totally too short. (I resist) Occasionally, I put something on and my daughter tells me "it's too fashionable" so I take it off. But part of me feels sad, because I secretly love it.
  • My favorite weekend involves lying around, reading books and watching movies. There is a part of me that loves the cold, ugly winter, because there is adequate justification for this behavior.
  • I have an android phone and I really love it. I don't need it, because I'm not the "social networking maven" I sometimes hope I'll become, but it does feel good to know that should I ever need to "connect" I am completely ready.
  • Up until recently, I was always accessible to clients. I dutifully checked my work email on my Blackberry and always answered the phone. Now, I don't get work email outside of work and I only answer my phone if I know who is calling. It's much more relaxing that way, although sometimes I feel guilty about it.
  • I really miss the hardcore giggling that only happens if you're out with a group of women. I must find myself a group like this so that I can laugh my ass off more frequently.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Drinking is Sooo Glamorous (not)

Don't worry this post is not about the best time I had drunk. Occasionally, I hear people talk about drinking or using in a way that sounds like bragging. Some of them are in recovery and some of them are still using. It really drives me crazy. Hearing about that ache makes me uncomfortable. It takes me back inside the pain of addiction - right back to the "knowledge"  that there's no way to live without it.

Many people talk about alcohol like they would an abusive and destructive lover. This makes sense to me. The story of loss we initially feel when giving up our drug of choice sounds very much like an agony column. Until we can work our steps and find a new way of living, it feels like we've walked away from "the only "person" that cares about us." I do remember feeling hopelessly alone, although I felt this way when I was drinking too. It reminded me of the way I felt in high school when I was dumped by a self-absorbed narcissist who found another girl more likely to put out. In my loneliness, the good times suddenly stood out, and I felt the relationship wouldn't have ended if only I could have changed something essential about myself...shown more control, more willpower, been just a little bit cooler about the whole thing, instead of throwing my whole life at it...or him.

I think these feelings are a natural part of recovery. However, hearing people talk this way scares the crap out of me. I am still afraid that one day I'll wake up and, having forgotten every bad thing that happened, remember "all" of the good. I'm afraid that one day the work I've done in recovery will disappear...poof...and the woman who needed to drink to live will be there, waiting for me, bottle in hand. In some ways, it's kind of funny, because I'm not afraid I will one day believe I can have just one drink. I do not worry that I'll find myself at a dinner party and decide to try the wine, stupid justification at hand. No. I am afraid that one day I will believe I just can't keep moving forward and will throw myself back into the abyss. This scares me to the core, because I'm not sure I have enough strength to begin again.

The thing I'm slowly coming to realize is that I have already changed so much that the woman who needed to drink to live is not who I am now. I think she's still there, deep within my addicted self, holding that bottle. She may never fully go away, because she represents all of the parts of me that have been hurt. I will have to learn to show her compassion and love so that healing can take place. But I am not her anymore.

I'm not sure if that makes sense - I'm still trying to understand it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Al-Anon Part Two

In my family one basically has two choices for an occupation: you can be a minister (or marry one) or you can be an alcoholic/addict. When I look at the list of individuals who have struggled with alcohol it looks like this: six uncles, one grandmother, one grandfather, one aunt, one father, and two brothers. And those are only the people I know about. When I look at family members who have been in close relationships with these alcoholics, it looks like this: nine wives, one mother, one step-mother, one grandmother, one grandfather, one sister-in-law, nine children, one sister, and on and on for the people I've missed. This list does not include friends, bosses, co-workers, girlfriends or boyfriends. If I put together a family tree outlining the ravages of drugs and alcohol it would look pretty bleak.

The other basic fact about my family is that no one (again, as far as I know) is in recovery. Two of my uncles quit, one to go to bible school (lol). Three of my uncles died of Cirrhosis in their early fifties and my grandparents died in active alcoholism. My dad has quit drinking and has about a year and a half of sobriety. One brother quit early on, saving himself (as far as I know) from addiction, the other one died after going through treatment and putting together several months of sober time (it was an accident). My mother told me over the weekend that another uncle has just gone into treatment (hopefully I'll get an AA buddy out of that).

As with the alcoholics and addicts, we don't go to treatment ourselves (exceptions noted above). There is a deeply seated belief that as long as the alcoholic stops drinking (or you get a divorce), the problem of alcoholism goes away. I spent years believing this. If I'm really honest, even when I got sober I believed all problems would instantly disappear the moment I put down my glass.

The point of this sorry tale (beyond the dangers of being born into a family of Irish descent) is this: when we live in an environment that is chaotic and uncertain we all develop coping mechanisms to survive it. We learn to ignore and stuff our feelings, to look away from truths that stare directly into our eyes. We protect ourselves - as we should do - but in so doing we develop habits that persist even when the alcohol is removed from our lives. Just like we do as alcoholics.

In AA I have learned so much about the manifestation of this disease in my life, beliefs and thought patterns. I am learning to ask for help (why does that take so long?) and to recognize the steps I need to take to improve my life. I was thinking back to the first meetings I attended and can remember the feeling that the urge to drink was lifted for the hour I spent in those rooms. Rachel Brownell describes her first meeting perfectly in Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore:

The people in this meeting seem just like those Mormon ladies. No doubt all the friendliness in the room makes some people suspicious, but maybe I'm just broken enough not to care if they are faking. This meeting is still the nicest place I've been in a long time. I wonder if they'd let me live here. I wonder if they let people bring their kids. I close my eyes and will time to stand still.
I felt the exact same way in both of the Al-Anon meetings I've attended. There have been many days over the past few months where I felt I did not have the strength to continue. I've felt the weary exhaustion take over and have believed that the effort it takes to go on breathing in and out is simply beyond my capacity. I have wanted to curl into a tight ball and remain in my room until the feeling lifts. Which would be never.

Al-Anon meetings are helping me. The hour spent in that room, listening to others share their experience and hope (hope more than anything) lift this feeling of dread. The tears fall continuously during these meetings, shocking me with the intensity of the pain in my heart. But something else happens too - I walk out of the room feeling like I can go another day. Not that I must, because I need to be there for my kids, but that I can. The meetings give me a sense that it is possible to feel better, it is possible to get through, and I do have the strength to do so - I just need help to do it.
In going, I've come to recognize that I need Al-Anon as much as I need AA. It's even possible that right now, I need Al-Anon more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Al-Anon Rocks

I've attended my second Al-Anon meeting and I have to say that if you've ever had a friend or relative who was an alcoholic or an addict, even if they are no longer active or in your life, you should totally go. Really. Or even if you are the only alcoholic in your life go and listen to the way that alcohol has affected others because listening provides even more reasons to stay sober.

I am astonished by the wisdom and love in those rooms. I am also somewhat flabbergasted by the volume of buried emotions that arise in me when other people share. I honestly thought that I'd dealt with my childhood issues (har har) and "didn't have too much to say about the deep past" until I sat there and found myself crying about my dad. So there you go.

The meetings bring the same sense of peace I found when I first walked into the rooms of AA. I feel such gratitude that this fellowship exists.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Motherhood

One of the biggest gifts of my sobriety has been an increased awareness of and appreciation for my children. Each night before I go to bed I thank god that they are in my life. I can't believe I spent so much time locked inside my own head, missing parts of them. Leaving the past to the past, I am thankful that it's never too late in the evening to tuck them in, or calm their fears. They can come to find me at any time of night and I'll be able to take care of them.

I can clearly remember a time when this was not the case. In the house we used to live in the sun would stream into my younger daughter's room during the summer, making it difficult for her to fall asleep at night. To counteract the light, we hung an old blanket over her curtain rod. Her bed was up against the window, so in order to hang the blanket, you had to stand on her bed. She slept in a narrow toddler bed at this point. One night, after too much wine, the blanket fell down. It was around nine o'clock and she should have already been deeply asleep by this point. She wasn't. I had to fix the blanket. I didn't think it was beyond my abilities, however, as I stood on her bed, arms high in the air to reach the curtain rod, I suddenly felt like I was standing on a balance beam. Somehow, I lost my balance and fell down, banging my head on the floor.

She jumped out of bed, worried that I'd hurt myself. Of course, I hadn't, but I was terribly embarrassed, afraid she would think there was something wrong with me. God, how I tried to make sure no one thought that. She said it didn't matter, that she would go to sleep without the blanket. I somehow managed to get back up there, fix the blanket and tuck her back into bed.

I was ashamed though. Because I knew she thought something was wrong. And I knew it too. For years I'd convinced myself that my duties as a mother ended at eight pm. Looking back now, I can see that I missed the point.

Being present for my children and having them know that I am there, beyond a shadow of a doubt has become a very important part of my sobriety. I am ever so thankful to be here now and to be able to really see them is something I'm grateful for. While I still struggle with so many elements of parenting (no shit, huh), I am thankful for the time I do have with them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

2012 (the movie) and Emotional Sobriety

Last night I was watching 2012 and there's this scene where a man with twenty-four years of sobriety grabs a bottle of Jack Daniels when he realizes the end is near (at least I think it was Jack). He drank because there was no time left and he knew he was going to die. It brought to mind the stories I've read about recovering alcoholics who turn down that drink, even when they know they're dying and cannot do that much damage to themselves or others anymore. It is the latter, rather than the former, I find inspiring.

Yes. It is "just" a movie, but I think if there is a circumstance, tucked away in the back of our minds, we think just calls for a drink, our sobriety is at risk. It means there is some part of us that is just dry. It also leaves open the possibility that we will revise our special circumstance, opening the window just a little wider.

I think very few people understand the notion of emotional sobriety. I know I didn't until I began my recovery. It always seemed like if the booze was gone I'd be fine. If my dad stopped drinking we'd be fine. If. If. If. I never considered the possibility that the preservation and development of hope, acceptance, and surrender applied to life in some kind of general way.

Over the past few weeks I've been really struggling to find a bit of peace. My physical sobriety has not been in question - that window is solidly shut with a chain and lock around it - but I do believe my emotional sobriety has been somewhat up in the air. I need to go back to the beginning of the steps and work through them with respect to the uncertainty in my life right now. I need to look at doing the next right thing for today, not the next right thing that leads me to the end of the path (oh shit if only I knew what that was anyway) I see for myself.

I need to move forward so that if I ever find myself on a cruise ship, with the end of the world at hand, I'll still feel a sense of serenity brought by acceptance and surrender.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Everyone Around You Drinks

Last week MATA left an interesting comment on my blog, suggesting that I had great strength because I was able to quit drinking while in a relationship with someone who also drank. Others have said this too. Here's the real deal: part of me knew that when I quit drinking I was "putting my marriage at risk." Some part of me already knew that I was using alcohol to mask my dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the relationship. However, the bigger part of me honestly and truly believed that if I quit, so would he. REALLY. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't happen. Now, this wasn't a conscious belief, so much as it was some unconscious set of assumptions about why and how people drink. I couldn't see how denial would carry through without the in-house justification and enablement that goes on when both people in a relationship drink.

This belief kept me going through the hard times - through the cravings and the sadness. It was, after all, only a matter of time. I've only really begun to understand and accept this near foundational belief.

I'm also beginning to realize that I also quit for me. Over the years, I've allowed small pieces of myself to be eviscerated, thinking each time that it didn't matter. I've trained myself to give up to maintain peace. The night I truly realized I had to quit drinking was the night that I realized I'd given up so much that I no longer knew who I was anymore. For the first time, it mattered.

With this knowledge, it is not more difficult to stay sober. It is more difficult to be in the relationship though. The good thing is that I now have Al-Anon. And you know what? I want what they have.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Acceptance is Not Approval

I used to say that I didn't have an issue with depression, my life just sucked. When I was drinking I spent most of my time looking at the externals in my life, believing with my whole heart that I would be happy if only "x" changed. Periodically, I considered going on anti-depressants. Now, I'm not sure whether I believed I drank to combat depression and hoped that with an anti-depressant I would moderate, or whether I just felt so lost that it was one other drug I thought to add to my repitoire.

I find myself struggling with acceptance right now. I am nervous, anxious, my stomach is not right, and I feel like I may throw up most days. I feel a deep pull to go to bed at eight o'clock each night. I don't want to talk about difficult things with my husband. I just want some peace. I want to know I'm doing the right thing now and that I'll be able to do the right thing later.

I also want to be able to concentrate at work and feel like I'm getting done what needs to be done. For the past few weeks I feel like I've been living in an alternate reality - unable to bring the attention needed to any task. As a result, I'm scrambling to catch up and dealing with feelings of unworthiness.

I, I, I. Crap. I think.

The alanon meeting was good. It's funny, because I don't think I've ever cried in an AA meeting, but the tears started rolling with the first share and didn't stop until the end of the meeting. I don't think I realized how much pain I carry from my past with the alcoholics in my life. The basic fact is: I want what they have, and I'll go to any lengths to get it.

I find myself repeating: acceptance is not approval (not disapproval either). Accepting what is, is only an honest look at my life as it is, now. Nothing more.I'm hopeful that it will bring acceptance, and with it, peace.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


It's been a while since I've talked about my drinking, but yesterday, in the midst of a difficult day, I found myself thinking about how I used to get through the difficult days by imagining how good a cold glass of wine would taste at the end of the day. I would anticipate the way the edges would melt and dream about how I'd "forget" the sadness, anger and irritation. When I finally arrived home from work I would soothe myself with this glass of wine (and the next ones), drinking until I couldn't remember anything but the warm feeling of wasted.

Sure, I'd ignore my kids and feel thankful that they (somehow) were playing quietly together in another room. I'd ignore my husband too, even if he was sitting in the kitchen talking about his day. His words came and went, but I didn't pay them any attention. As bedtime approached, I would usually step back and consider whether I'd feel sick tomorrow as a result of this much needed medication, feeling angry if I thought I'd had too much or stayed up too late, feeling relieved if I'd managed some level of control. Funny how it always felt accidental.

I'm not clear on what used to happen next, as most nights I wouldn't actually remember going to bed. I always made it to bed, never waking up on the couch or the floor, but I think this was more an act of will designed to prove to myself that I wasn't hurting my kids. It was a way of evading responsibility for my drinking. I never questioned the fact that they didn't want to be around me (or us, perhaps I should say), until I quit drinking and suddenly they did want to be with me.

So yesterday as I sat in that business meeting, weary and exhausted from a late night due to someone else's drinking, and thought about that "glass of wine" I felt thankful that I've come far enough to see it for what it is: poison.

Today I go to my first Al-Anon meeting. I think if it can provide even half the comfort and strength that AA has, it will be an amazing relief.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cure for Anxiety

This will be a quick post, but I wanted to share.

Yesterday I found myself nearly overwhelmed with anxiety - rapidly beating heart, shaking legs, and dizzy - I worked on my breathe (still needs work) and visualization. It just wasn't working. I decided to put together a gratitude list of all the people I'm thankful to have in my life. My heart rate began to slow and I felt calm.

It was awesome.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Importance of Looking Inward

However helpful any teacher has been, it is crucial that we not insert an outside authority within ourselves. When we do so, we tend to strive the have the experience we think we should have, and thus there is nothing we have discovered ourselves - nothing original or authentic.
Donna Farth, Bringing Yoga to Life

When I read that yesterday I almost jumped out of my seat on the train, filled with sudden awareness that I do this all the time. I even do it with my HP - I look for outward signs, messages, and affirmation. Partly, I do this because my "best thinking" led me to deep unhappiness and alcoholism. At the same time, I do not think that recovery lies in a lack of self-trust. The dangers of that "best thinking" are rationalization and dishonesty. Learning to listen to an inner voice (HP) is fully about learning to be honest with myself, to strive to see things as they are and accept them, and then make the best decision I can.

Perfection is not my objective - inherent in any previous attempts at "perfect" were the lies I told myself.

Anyway, I want to keep this idea close over the days and weeks that follow. In order to ensure I don't spin out of control like I did with that job offer a few weeks ago, I must be patient, take one day at a time, and look inward for the best course of action.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Finding Peace in Change

I was going to write about the gender politics of addiction this morning. Ideas and concepts have been swirling around in my head in a way they haven't since grad school, but I'll leave that for now, because we've just gotten news that we will likely need to move. It brought to the forefront the notion of instability. I have worked hard to recover stability in my life - not to resist change, but to give myself time to figure out what's working and what is not. I've committed myself to the idea that "big changes in the first year are not a good idea" and have been working to stick to that, even when the change is something normally tied to feelings of stability. For example, I decided I really didn't want to buy a house right now, even though on the surface it hints at stability, because it meant more responsibility and more tasks to be done.

I still think this is good advice.

However, there is this part of me, again, at the edge of my consciousness, that continues to see that change is continual. Sometimes it's gradual, but it's always happening. These big bumps come as a surprise though.

I don't have a point yet for this post. I guess the thing to do is: sit with the anxiety and have faith that things will work out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Few Truths About Alcoholism

In the days that have followed the claim that I could drink like a normal person, whether because I've learned so much that I don't need to drink alcoholically, or because I could do it if I tried hard enough, I've been thinking about some simple things that we probably all learn that others don't learn, unless they learn. They are:

Alcoholism is a progressive disease
I think there is a general lack of understanding about addiction on this point. As addicts, our disease is only in remission. We can grow and learn other coping skills and become constructive members of society. However, we are not cured and never will be. It doesn't matter whether one bases this fact on physiological or behaviorial grounds. The basic fact is that the only thing standing between a recovering alcoholic and an active one is that first drink. We will not drink more responsibly "because we've learned our lesson," instead, in short order we will drink as much, if not more, than before. Anyone who "goes back out" will confirm this fact for us, should we waver.

Alcoholism is addiction, not moral failing
This is related to the point above, but bears repeating. I can't remember how many times I tried to regulate, drink less, quit, take a break, drink on weekends only, etc. etc. etc. Each experiment was a failure. I was in so much pain I couldn't even see what it was costing me until I stopped. I learned something interesting (something I should already have known) from my mother: my father tried to quit drinking and wanted to quit for a long time. I never knew this. As a teenager, I always thought he was just a hopeless failure who didn't love us enough to quit.

The drinking (or drugging) is not the only problem
When I was a kid I honestly believed that if my dad simply quit drinking everything would be normal (perhaps even perfect). Alcohol messes with your perceptions, beliefs, and emotions at a simple physical level. When I removed it from my life many things were better, however, there are still a lot of things I need to actively work on, daily, to prevent the "stinking thinking" from re-entering my life. Sober, without recovery, is better than drunk, but not by much.

Alcoholics Lie
As bad as you think it is, as much as you think they drink, they drink more. When I was drinking, I hid 25-50% of my consumption from those around me. I would sneak into my study to drink gin from a hidden bottle, I would gulp wine while doing the dishes, I would take shots from the bottles in the liquor cabinet when no one else was home. I can honestly say that no one in my life knew how much I drank. I also lied about how bad I felt all the time.

You Didn't Cause It, You Can't Control It, and You Can't Cure It
If you are close to an active alcoholic, remember: there is nothing you can do to make them stop drinking. They have to want it for themselves. I have struggled with this one - attempting to be perfect so that "he" (in my life it's always been he) won't drink. I have believed that, even when I knew it wasn't true. I have given it over to god, only to take it back. I have pretzled myself in the hope of some relief. I have acknowledged my denial, only to once more pull the wool over my eyes. I have analyzed and re-analyzed everything I say and don't say about the drinking. I always come back to this: anything I do say can be twisted to mean anything the active alcoholic wants it to mean. I know. I did it myself.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feeling Glum

Do you ever have that feeling that everything is too overwhelming to deal with?

I'm in that space today. In the bad old days, I'd grab a drink to smooth out the feelings of dispair. Today, a different person, I'm trying to lean into it, to give myself permission to feel without assuming that this feeling will last forever. There is a delicate balance in this - at least for me, it feels difficult. I can't tell whether I'm supposed to go do something that will make me feel better, or if I am supposed to feel what I feel and wait for the tide to change.

For now, I'll just remind myself that bad feelings are as transitory as good ones. And I'll keep on keeping on - a bad day sober is better than a good day drunk.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Strange Beliefs

In recovery I've learned to let go...sometimes. Recently, it's come to my attention that buried deep within is the belief that if I'm truly recovering I won't feel resentful, angry, or frustrated. That these feelings are a sign of my disease talking. My realization came as I was meditating about gratitude, going through a list of things in my life that I feel grateful for. Other thoughts kept creeping in - superificial and childish thoughts, wants and daydreams. I thought, "not now, I'm praying." As if I was in a meeting with a very important CEO who needed my complete attention to the matter at hand, as if God isn't privy to every thought and feeling that runs through my mind. As if I needed to be a particular type of person (a.k.a. perfect) in order to feel grace.

What I know, in my head at least, is that the disease keeps me from feeling these emotions. I drank so that I could wash them away. I kept them hidden away because I didn't have the strength to face them, own them, or deal with them. I assumed that no one cared to listen. And I assumed that if I could do better, I would feel better. A better job, marriage, city, or circumstances would take care of these feelings and thereby remove my urge to drink. The vicious circle continued as I spun from thing to thing, all designed to make me feel better. Nothing worked. I do believe that I had to try everything, before I was left, deeply alone, with no other options, before I could face up to my drinking.

The truth is that admitting our real feelings, even if only to ourselves and our higher power, is the thing that throws our disease for a loop. I'm still learning to sit with them - even when I admit my frustration or pain, I find myself looking for an easy, instant solution to them - be honest about where I am right now and wait for guidance. Being rigorously honest with myself is taking a lot of energy, but I can feel the ground shifting and have faith that it's the right path.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seven Months!

And my the time flies.

I was thinking this morning about all of the god awful drunks I have buried in my memory. All of the times I drank too much and did something completely stupid that left me feeling guilty and ashamed. All of the times I thought, "You have to be more careful," instead of thinking, "this is a sign you should stop." It is fascinating to me the lengths I went to protect my drinking - to give myself permission to seek out that warm glow, regardless how many times it bit me in the ass. And I shudder to think about it.

The past seven months have been filled with more joy than I've ever experienced, but also more pain. Awareness of what is happening around you sometimes has a sharp edge in sobriety. That said, I wouldn't trade the worst of the pain for my best drunk day. Really. I'm not lying.

If you're sober, you know just what I mean.

Here's to another 24.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Now that the Cat is Out of the Bag...

Sort of. I mean, I have shared some of my story, but not all of it. I want to let you know that my blog is not about to become a drunkalog by proxy. I have done my utmost, to date, to protect the privacy of the people in my life, choosing to remain silent about certain things because I didn't want to hurt them, should they happen across this blog. In the intervening months that I've been writing, it has become clear to me that protecting other's anonymity is important, but not at the expense of sharing my story. So, in sharing this element of my recovery, I will take the same care to share my story, not any one else's.

I was reminded late last week that one of the reasons I continued to drink (this is my responsibility) was because I was unwilling to face the state of my marriage. It was only when it became clear that I'd lost myself so completely that I found the courage to face that woman in the mirror and to begin to listen to what she wanted me to do. I am once again at that point. I find myself healing and growing in my sobriety. I look at each day with thanks that I got another chance. In fact, although I mark my sobriety date and mostly keep track of the days and months that pass, there is a more significant date in the back of my mind, reminding me why I do this - even when it hurts - and that is the day I cut myself. My bottom: the day I decided it would be better if I disappeared.

So last week I came across a few posts on Boozefree Brigade, written by women who had recently quit drinking, despite years of drinking together with thier partners. Some were very new to sobriety. I was tossed back to those early days and remembered how alone I felt. There were days when I thought I was the only drunk, trying to get sober, under those awful circumstances. "Why me" was a pretty frequent refrain. There were a number of times I wrote and deleted a post in which I complained about my circumstances. I wanted to share this part of my recovery here so that...I could continue to share here.

At the moment, this thing, this beast in my house is eating up my thoughts and concerns and I do not want to live like this anymore. I need to keep "my eyes on my own paper," as I say frequently to my girls, but not at the expense of denial. It really doesn't matter to me whether he's an alcoholic or not, I must finally admit the fact that his drinking bothers me. I have quietly stood by hoping he would see a bright light and put down the drink. I am making myself sick with that hope. So, out of options, I will begin the next phase of my recovery and go to Al-Anon for help. I know that without AA there is no way I would be sober now. I have the same faith in my recovery with Al-Anon. God knows there have been enough drunks in my family for there to be ample material.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Step One: We Admitted We Were Powerless...

I've been reading a lot about living with an alcoholic lately and finally looked up the alanon meetings in my area. I plan to go next week and to put some serious time into those rooms. Some days, I think I am where I am now because I never really dealt with the alcoholism that flowed through most of my childhood. As with many things, I wish I'd understood then that the removal of an alcoholic from your life does not cure you from the effects of that relationship.

I've updated my sidebar to include sites/blogs that discuss alcoholism from the alanon perspective (not meaning to make the connection with the organization specifically, but don't have a shorthand term that is not denominational - help? what do you call people who live/love an alcoholic who want to find their own recovery????). In some ways, at this point, I feel like I've hit Step 1 on that topic and my current circumstances are preventing me from continuing to recover from my own addiction.

I did have a question. Everyone says that the crying, screaming, begging, etc. does nothing to get someone to stop drinking. But, they also say that one shouldn't protect the drinker from the effects of their drinking. I wonder this: wouldn't an effect of that person's drinking be the fact that their partner is so angry and frightened that they want to scream out loud? I have been mostly silent about the drinking in order to protect my own sobriety. But I have also been silent because I am afraid of long drawn-out arguments, recriminations, and bullshit. I know many of you have grown up with alcoholics, or live with them now, can you tell me? I feel I'm stuck in a conundrum.

If you know of other sites/blogs that cover this topic, please let me know - I've only just begun looking.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Aw...You're Not an Alcoholic

I know we all hear this at one time or another, whether from family or a well-meaning acquaintance. They, for whatever reason, don't want to think we were "that bad" and sometimes, I think, they don't want to take a close look at their own drinking. The comment underlines the notion that it's SO fucking awful to be an alcoholic that they cannot understand why or how we could proudly say we are one. I get such simple joy in saying, "My name is Tara and I'm an alcoholic" that the shame and disgust I used to feel about my own drinking is explained. The shame disappears a little each time I utter it.

I think it can be simply said - there is no shame in being a recovering alcoholic. The shame lives in the heart of the active drinker.

Anyway, I can't go into the particulars (again!) but suffice it to say, my main takeaway is that when people try to resist our own self-awareness and recovery, they:

     A. Are naive and have no idea what they're talking about, or
     B. Have some truth of their own they are avoiding and would like to deflect.

I refuse to be sucked in. I AM an alcoholic. But if I'm NOT, I can say, not drinking is a precursor to my spiritual well-being. Someone in a meeting once said, "This is not a not-drinking contest." I want a t-shirt with that written on it. See, it doesn't matter what label anyone wants to give me - I know that truth does not lie in a glass of wine. So I don't drink. Finding a glimpse of "real" truth has shown me that alcohol is only fool's gold. Not good enough. Any. More.

I may be sounding repetitive, but this just keeps coming up in my life and each time I want to write about it. Otherwise, I fear I might start screaming. Really. Think crazy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Asking For What You Need

My mom came for a short visit this week and I was reminded how much her support means to me. Despite her own struggles she has really always been there for me. I have often forgotten this over the years and have hid my own pain and circumstances from her. When I was a teenager I managed to hide an eating disorder quite successfully for four years and then when I outed myself I made sure we never really spoke of it. I minimized how bad it had been and only told her about it because I needed her signature to go on anti-depressants. This time around, I am being far more honest about how it was then and how it is now. I am finding the honesty and courage to speak my truth about it without worrying about what she'll think about me.

Through that honesty, I am able to really feel supported. Without the honesty I only ever had the platitude of support I believed was there all along. It's difficult to explain.

I struggle with honesty and I am afraid to ask for what I want or need. There is some part of me, deep within, that believes I have to do everything on my own. That not doing so is a failure and makes me less than capable. I can partition the drinking. I know without a doubt that I did not quit drinking and do not stay sober on my own. In addition to my higher power, there is the support in the rooms, support online, god moving through acquaintances and friends, and on and on. It does not feel like a failure to lean on this support, rather, it feels like a blessing.

When it comes to other areas of my life though, I falter. I am afraid to speak. I am afraid to need. I'm afraid that if I do, if I admit that I do, the net will disappear and I will be alone. This is hard to admit, even here, semi-anonymously, but it's where I'm at right now. I desperately want to change this part of myself, to find the courage to ask for help, to speak honestly about where I'm at, and to continue to grow.
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