Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Dog Days of Drinking

During the last several months I was drinking I had this high-stress job. It was supposed to be challenging and fun, an opportunity to finally start getting the promotions I had long "deserved." Instead, I discovered a semi-dysfunctional place where everyone was too busy and too stressed to help anyone else out. When things went wrong, as they inevitably did, blame was cast. Solutions were never sought.

I added to the problem. When it became apparent that this was no magical place, with recognition and promotion around the corner, I drowned my sorrows even more frequently than I had done so before. I complained to anyone who would listen. I felt completely discouraged and totally hopeless. So I drank every night. I also took to drinking at lunch so that I could cope with the debilitating hangovers. I ceased to make any progress on my projects. Some days, I was so hungover that I would book a meeting room and sit in there alone all day reading books I'd downloaded.

There was one guy I used to smoke with. He was also new to the company and was struggling with the over-work, politics of blame, and the sense that there was no real escape. We used to complain to each other nearly every day.

Last night I saw him at a meeting. It was crazy. So far, I've never seen anyone from my "real life" at a meeting. To see someone from that time and place really threw me. Puzzle pieces clicked into place though as I remembered our conversations. I realized "of course! We were both totally consumed by alcoholic thinking. Of course he's an alcoholic too." But in the sheer isolation I enforced, combined with the tunnel vision my drinking ensured, it never occurred to me at the time. It was really good to see him. To know that he's finding his way out too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sweet Non-Alcoholics

Last night I went to dinner with a few friends from work. I don't really know them very well, but I was struck by some semi-foreign behaviors:
  1. No one had more than one drink.
  2. One person ordered a virgin dacquari because she was afraid she'd be too spinny to drive if she had something alcoholic, because she almost never drinks and has no tolerance for it.
  3. One person left half of their drink unfinished.
  4. Another person took approximately 90 minutes to drink a pint of beer and then ordered a coke.
  5. No one suggested hitting the bar after to keep the party going.
  6. One person didn't drink at all, because, as he put it, "I really hate to drink during the week."
It was strange indeed, and made me really aware of how I used to surround myself with people who drank as much as I did, so that I wouldn't notice my own drinking. It's possible if this dinner had taken place while I was still drinking that I could have encouraged everyone to have another drink or two. It's also possible that I would have consumed three glasses of wine alone, become the life of the party and woken up this morning filled with regret at the impolitic things I would have been likely to have said.

As it was, the experience underlined for me the difference between me and them. I never drank like they do - probably not ever - so my abstinence is a very good thing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anniversaries

I've been reading a great series of books written by Jess Lourey. In August Moon, there is a scene where the main character, an "accidental" detective, gets drunk and destroys her garden, one of her most precious possessions, after a few months of trying to maintain her sobriety. The scene is masterfully written, because it signifies something we all do when we're actively drinking - we destroy ourselves and everything that matters to us - we are left picking up the pieces of the messes we make drunk, never finding time to work through our actual issues. Reading the scene was a powerful reminder of all that I was in the process of losing during my last year of drinking. (Most of the book is light-hearted and funny, btw. I highly recommend her if you're looking for something fun to read.)

Friday was an important milestone for me. It was one year since I cut myself. On that night last year, I drank and drank and drank, nearly finishing half a bottle of grappa, in addition to copious amounts of wine with dinner. I was past drunk. It was late, already dark outside. In the midst of a blackout-induced fight with my husband, I went downstairs to the kitchen. I felt desolated and alone. I felt misunderstood and completely hopeless, without any way out of the insense pain. I had recently developed a habit of hitting myself when I was drunk, because I was so tired of my continuing failure to regulate my drinking. That night, it just didn't work - I hadn't punished myself enough for my failures - failure to drink less, go to bed earlier, prevent an argument, explain myself in a way that could be understood by the man who was supposed to be closest to me. I felt that if he could reject me, then there was no hope that anyone would accept me. I glanced at the paring knife on the darkened countertop. I sliced it across my wrist, shocked at the amount of pressure it took to break the skin. Seeing some blood, I pushed harder with the next cut. I could hear my husband upstairs calling me to come to bed. Blood began to pulse out, more than I thought possible. I panicked, trying to stem the flow, suddenly aware of how much damage I'd done.

I taped the wounds shut and snuck up to bed with an ice pack. I laid awake for the rest of the night, convinced that I would die if I slept. I hoped that in the morning it wouldn't look quite so bad and prayed it only seemed so awful because of the darkness. When I removed the tape in the morning to shower, the cuts re-opened. I felt a deeper sense of shame than I'd ever felt before - what I had done was so incredibly selfish. I waited until everyone left for the day and then snuck off to the doctor, unwilling to admit what I'd done. I think part of me thought no one else would ever need to know. My biggest fear was that they'd commit me and take me away from my kids.

In the end, of course, it's not something you can hide. Especially at the start of summer...long sleeved shirts in 90 degree weather kind of speak for themselves. My husband was bewildered when he found out. For me, it was a clear bottom, hit with a crashing thud. It took me two months of stopping and starting, but I was filled with dispair any time I drank after that night. It broke through my denial and brought home to me what I was risking if I continued to drink. I wasn't able to put together a pack of bullshit with a nice enough bow to allow me to keep drinking as I had before. A few sober days strung together clearly showed me how much better I felt without alcohol in my system. My panick attacks subsided and my depression abated. When I slipped and drank again, I was shocked at how horrible the hangovers were. The pain pushed me back on the wagon each time.

Now, looking back, I feel like a different person. I feel a deep sadness for that woman. She is still there, close to my heart, but I now know that change and hope are possible. I no longer believe I have to keep everything on the outside looking pristine and successful at the expense of the inside. I am far more able to accept myself, warts and all, than I ever was before (though this is a work in progress). I am able to draw on my inner strength to overcome the difficulties in my life, instead of turning to the bottle.

I know that the bottle lies. It's crystaline sweetness belies the poison within.

Peace.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Control Freak

I admit it. I am a bit of a control freak. To matain my denial of these tendencies, I generally point to areas in life where other people are control freaks and I am not. For example, I don't schedule bill payments, I almost never iron, and I can sit peacefully in a room with kid clutter. However, there are three areas in my life where I have lately been squeezed enough by frustration to admit I have some control issues. These are:
  1. Getting the kids to bed on time.
  2. Eating supper before 6:30pm.
  3. Not lingering at the table after supper.
These seem like small things. For the most part they are small things, until I look closely at the reasoning behind them. When I was drinking I held fast to these rules to protect my children from the effects of my drinking. I made sure to minimize the amount of time they were exposed to me. If we ate early, I would not have had too much to drink before dinner and could minimize their awareness that I was on my way to potentially saying something stupid. Getting them to bed and to sleep early freed me to drink as much as I wanted to before I went to bed. I could pretend they weren't missing out on anything parental and that they were safely in dreamland before I drank to blackout.

This is all very obvious and I am certain that every alcoholic takes similar steps to hide their drinking from the people close to them. It's part of the rule-set we develop so that we can keep drinking without getting caught. We do it to minimize the damage caused by our drinking and to protect our rationale that we aren't that bad.

I find myself continuing these patterns even though I'm not drinking. I do it now to minimize their exposure to their father's drinking. What I am only now beginning to realize is that there is an element of magical thinking in my behavior - the belief that if these steps are followed to the letter, nothing bad will happen. If we eat early there won't be time to over-imbibe before dinner, so the tension at the table will not rest heavy on my shoulders. After dinner has become designated tea time, so the quicker we eat the meal, the quicker the spectre of overconsumption can be put to bed. If all goes well, I feel calm enough to let go of getting the kids to bed early. Should any part of my plan go awry, then it becomes imperative that bedtime routines are followed to the letter.

There is an honest attempt to prevent the kids from being around their father when he's had too much to drink. This stems from childhood memories of the discomfort I felt when my father drank too much. To cope, the rest of the family escaped to disparate locations within the house, or, when possible, outside of the house. We lived together, but almost never spent any time with one another. I want to save my kids from those feelings. At the same time, I can see that I'm replicating my childhood in so doing. I am also trying to protect myself. Some of this is visceral, the result of too many shattered childhood hopes. On the other side, I do know that I do not want my children to grow up in an alcoholic home. You may hate me for staying. Or even for what I'm about to say next: I don't want my marriage to end, so I jump through these hoops to minimize damage that would force me to leave. Finally, I am trying to protect him. To protect him from seeing the anger, disappointment, and hurt I felt with my dad. I am protecting him from the consequences of his own behavior should he choose to drink too much.

I'm getting squeezed out of my super hero cape. Summer is upon us and school is almost out. There will be no reasonable justification for enforcing early bedtimes. The warm, light evenings encourage outside activities that delay supper. No homework or after dinner activities remove any excuse to hurry dinner along. I am afraid of what will happen if my magical routine cannot be casually followed. I want to say that I rationally know the schedule is not protective. But I cannot honestly write that. It does protect. The thing I can rationally admit is that it takes alot of energy to attempt to police someone else's drinking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Next Right Thing

One of the things I find fascinating about the human condition is that we so often do what we know we should not do, and fail to do what we know we should do. I don't think this habit falls solely at the feet of alcoholics or addicts. I think it is generally felt.

Both sides of this coin present difficulties. There are times when I feel it easier to avoid doing than to do. Not doing is a simple (not neccessarily easy) task of stopping myself in the moment of impulse. It takes commitment and effort and attention, but mindfulness in the present moment is all that is required. Of course when it came to drinking it was not easy. It was damn near impossible, actually. Lately I seem to keep coming across people who are in that difficult first part. It really takes me back to where I was then. I haven't forgotten that near painful urge to drink. In fact, I had a small taste of it during the move. Back then it was constant. It hurt to leave behind my security blanket. It hurt to feel. I am also struggling with finding the strength to stop smoking. I think that will hurt too.

However, over the past few months, my difficulty has consistently been related to the doing side of things. It seems that whenever I commit to actually doing anything - working harder at my job, making time for meditation and yoga, eating breakfast, writing - I just cannot quite seem to get up and do it. I am not beating myself up about this, but I have noticed it. Consistently. And it's very frustrating.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Moving is Incredible

The past week has been tough. Really really tough. I had mercifully blocked out how much work it is to move, which reduced the intensity of my pre-emptive panic attack, but did introduce a sense of dismay when, by the fourth straight day, we were still not finished with anything. There is much that is half done, but nothing that is completely finished.

I was surprised by a subtle sense that I should drink. It wasn't so much a craving, as it was a wish that I could do something to escape the mess and the boxes for a little while. A large part of my vague sense of unease was prompted by the fact that I have used alcohol to get through every single move I've made since I was twenty-five. Actually I think that 99% of it comes down to that ingrained sort of trigger. Stress and exhaustion build up to a breaking point and then relief is sought...something, anything, to reduce it. In the past, I coped by drinking.

This time I didn't. Each time the (mercifully mild) itch arose, I kept coming back to the knowledge that drinking would not make me feel any better; the soft glow from a few glasses of wine would not reduce any of the stress or exhaustion. The warm blanket that used to be so inviting and comforting is now so clearly filled with moth holes and odd stains that any pretence that might make me pick up the first drink falls on the hard reality that although this is difficult, I must just get through it. I have put far too much energy into getting, and then staying, sober to fall on my sword for this.

After all, it's really just one enormous mess. It will pass.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Great Balls of Panic

When I was drinking, near the end anyway, I would wake up each day filled with wave after wave of panic, usually at about five am...sometimes earlier. I could never quite get back to sleep. Alongside the panic were feelings of dread, self-loathing and fear. For each minute I laid in bed, trying desperately to fall back asleep, the panic would build incrementally, until jumping out of my own skin felt like the only solution.

When I quit drinking this panic subsided. I was able to sleep, finally, until the alarm went off. Some days I awoke before the alarm, but instead of panic I felt a deep sense of peace. There was an urge to jump out of bed and face the day, because there were so many things I wanted to do. Wanted to do, not needed to do to keep the panic at bay. I felt childlike excitement about getting up to write, walk the dog, and have that first delicious cup of tea.

Lately, some of that old panic has come back. It could be physiological - the result of cutting out sugar and cutting back on caffiene. It could be my impending period. It could be a delayed reaction to the acupuncture I had last week. Or, it could be psychological - a build up of stress resulting from the massive amounts of procrastination, lack of focus, and job-hatred I've been living with. I'm not sure, but I can tell you that I was dissappointed to re-make it's aquaintance. You see, I thought my panic attacks were entirely due to the drink. I told myself, "see, if you don't drink, you don't panic."

It turns out, no. Well, yes, partly. I no longer face this particular demon every morning. But this morning, when I jolted awake, I stopped for a moment. I could feel the anxiety, like a hot, red, firey ball, low in the pit of my stomach. As is my habit, I immediately started making panicky lists of all of the things that are undone, that I haven't done, that I've forgotten about, that I never thought about before to calm the anxiety. I paused, mid-list, finally realizing that all of the time I've spent in the past making such lists has never calmed me. Getting through a task list does give me some sense of accomplishment (or is it a false sense of control?), but running on panicky fumes is exhausting, like trying to put out a fire with an eye dropper. So, I paused again and really tried to just feel the weight of it, that thing in my belly... to feel it without judgement as to whether it was justified or unjustified, right or wrong. The pressure to be better, more organized, more fun, more perfect to chase away the feeling lifted.

For a moment, I felt better. The panic feels more manageable when it is just panic. It's still there, but it's quieter when I don't try to negotiate it out of my psyche by promising to be good today. Instead of rushing around, trying to escape from it, I'm going to let it be. It just is, after all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Habit of Writing

I seem to have fallen out of the habit of writing. There is much to say, but I've been struggling with a heaviness in my heart that does not seem to have anything to do with my external circumstances. I was thinking about my last post (what the heck happened to the end of it? I don't remember what I said, but as I re-read it this morning, I thought perhaps the true insight was in the deleted section??) and I have two thoughts about it.

First, I remembered how significant it was to me to see that there were others like me. Near the end of my drinking I felt isolated and alone and could not believe there were other people who thought and felt like I did. I was filled with shame at my need to drink. I felt this way despite growing up in an alcoholic home, knowing that many people struggle with addiction. Without AA I'm not sure I could have found my way out. Hearing others tell their stories gave me community and permission to forgive myself for what I had done. I don't think I could have shared my story with just anyone - the risk would have been too great. As it was, I've found people in the rooms who can relate to and understand where I come from. That is a kind of family. I don't think I could have gotten sober without AA.

Second, I am very hesitant to speak about, or think about, recovery outside of AA. Part of my reticience is the notion of anonymity and fear of violating that precept. I am not a representative of AA and I do not want to be perceived as such. That said, there is a bigger underlying fear that if I write about how I feel I will offend some of you, dear readers. I am also afraid that my feelings are "my addict speaking" and that any step I take to broaden my recovery will result in relapse. I'm afraid to miss a meeting. Afraid that it will mean I will drink. I'm afraid of becoming a dry drunk. At the same time, lately when I leave my meeting I feel like I've been told how to live, how to think, and how to feel, that, rather than a suggested program of recovery, there is a list of strict rules to be obeyed.

Anyway, I hope you will stick with me as I work through these things. I've ignored my own voice for so long, far longer than I've been drinking. There is also the old eating disorder and the ACOA that I seek recovery from. A few months ago I thought I'd need to hit a few more groups so that I could address each one. Part of my journey in seeking new alternatives comes from a desire for an integrated recovery. Part of it comes from the sexist underpinnings of Al-Anon and The Big Books's "To the Wives". Part of it comes from my return to Buddhism after fifteen years of turning away from any kind of spiritual understanding.

I have no idea where it will lead me, but I welcome your input.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

De-Centered

Some days it seems very challenging to believe...just believe I'm capable of getting done what needs to get done. Awareness of the mind tricks that preceed these feelings of hopelessness is beginning. Pema Chodron says that basic awareness is a key insight. I sit with this now and attempt non-judgment. It's very tempting to take awareness and immediately try to push for change. Problem? Fix It. Now. Anything else can feel so much like failure. This is not helpful.

I keep hearing the phrase "alcoholics are like this," and "oh, that's such an alcoholic thing to do." Beyond the specific behaviours, feelings and beliefs that we share in active addiction, caused largely by the chemical reactions in our brains and bodies, I really don't see it. Unless we are struggling with specific cravings, justifications for drinking or using, I'm not seeing that alcoholics are a special group of people with special defects. As I delve deeper into Buddhism what I see is that these "defects of character" are shared by all of us. Not just the alcoholics and drug addicts, or gamblers and eating disordered, or the shopaholics. Not just the codependents either. Everyone. As humans we struggle and strive. As members of this culture we are everywhere encouraged to look outside of ourselves for relief from pain and to enhance pleasure. The very notion of looking inward for guidance, acceptance and love for ourselves goes completely against the cultural messages we are continuously bombarded with.

I find great comfort in the idea that I am no better and no worse than anyone else. I find peace in the notion that although each of us struggle with things, we have much to share with each other. I am an alcoholic and I cannot drink, no matter what. But that simple fact need not be isolating; we are all connected with each other regardless whether we share that specific detail or not.

I am an alcoholic. I cannot drink no matter what happens. Yes.

I think the rest of it is up for grabs, honestly. We are all both unique in

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Things Are Peaceful

I haven't been writing because words feel difficult. I do have a broader sense of peace and faith about my current reality. Perhaps it is "taking life on life's terms" finally, or maybe it's simply that everything has calmed down. I can't tell.

I can say that there is an understanding I can sense, but cannot verbalize. Words don't come that adequately describe what is at the edge of my consciousness. There is definitely something there, but it's still in shadows (not the bad kind of shadows). Once I have some better, verbal sense of what it is, I'll definitely write about it.

I've been reading One Road, Many Journeys, by Charlotte Kasl, and must say that it is an amazing book. The earlier section reminded me of my college women's studies classes - she even quotes Mary Daly. One element of the book has really stuck with me: she argues that AA emphasizes the "classic alcoholic," but does not really deal with alcoholism in other forms. One type is called the co-dependent alcoholic. This person drinks around others who drink because they attempt to shield themselves from those relationships. I could really identify with this. For many of the years that I drank, this described me to a tee. Of course, later, I jumped into what can be described as the classic alcoholic. Things got away from me.

Another point she makes is that there are many who drink little, who would never be classified as alcoholics, but prevent their own personal growth because they drink. This goes back to something I've heard in the rooms - "it's not how much you drink, it's what it does to you."

Anyway, that's it for the random musings for today.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nine Months

Woot! Woot!

I haven't been writing. I know this. Partly it was due to internet issues and partly due to an overload of other work. It's good to be back. Really good.

Unfortunately, I don't have much to say today.

I am filled with gratitude that I've made it this far in my sobriety, for the people who've been there to help me. Thank you to all of you for listening to my story, for relating to my emotional ups and downs, and for giving me encouragement. I could not have come this far without you.
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