Saturday, December 24, 2011

More on Drinking and the Holidays

I've given some more thought to living with an active alcoholic during the holidays. I do have a few tips after all.

  1. Protect yourself and your kids first. It doesn't matter what day of the year it is; you are not ruining Christmas by taking care of yourself (or your kids). If your qualifier is behaving in a threatening or demeaning manner, do what you can to get away from the situation. Call a friend or family member, or the police. Remember: you didn't ruin Christmas, they did.
  2. Surround yourself with friends and family. If possible, invite sympathetic people over. I always felt so alone, because I'd isolated myself, but whenever I had family over, I felt less alone. 
  3. Remember One Day at a Time. It really is only two days. It is possible to get through two days, if you can take them one day at a time (or one minute at a time).  
  4. Forgive Yourself. I felt so bad and so responsible for how things were, that I blamed myself for having a "bad" Christmas. Cut yourself some slack (if you're like me and feel solely responsible for change).
  5. Let Go. One thing I was always doing was to try to control the outcome of his drinking so that things would be nice. I can now see that I wasn't fooling anyone. I can also see that it prevented him from seeing how bad things were. Looking back, I sometimes wish I'd had the courage to let events unfold...to show that it was that bad.
I'm off to be with family for a few days. If you need a listening ear, please send me an email.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Alcoholic Santas

I spent most of last year stuck in endless worry about what to do about my marriage. Because I still loved my husband, I was really torn about how to handle his drinking. I can remember feeling stuck. I didn't know what to do or even how to decide. I was stressed out, not sleeping, not eating, and wondering how I would get through each day. Alanon literature promises that the "family situation" will improve regardless of whether the drinker still drinks. Personally, the only way I saw for my family situation to improve was to remove the drinker from the family. While I did find some relief in taking the steps in Alanon, the anxiety never left me.

As many people use the excuse of the holiday to justify increased "merriment" and alcoholics simply just drink more, I think this time of year can be especially difficult if you live with someone in active addiction. One of the most challenging decisions I've ever made was the one to leave my marriage if the drinking continued - it took months to find this bottom line. It took longer to own it and believe that it was true and unchangeable. It's still there, quietly, as a bottom line. I know I cannot live with someone who drinks around me. I hold this close to my heart and swear to honor the promise I made to myself, regardless of when or how or if this agreement is breached. I was also thinking that we never really are out of the woods. I am not out of the woods, because for as long as I live and breathe I could pick up a drink. We are not out of the woods because my husband has his own choices.

I do wish there was some way to provide comfort to anyone still living with their alcoholic. Some way to short-circuit the pain I went through. I'm not sure there is, but I did want to say my heart goes out to you and I hope you're able to find a bit of peace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marathon Training...Yes...Me

Although even I am astonished by this plan, I "officially" begin training for a marathon today. If anyone had asked me if I would want to do a marathon three months ago I would have laughed in their faces. Moi? Not likely. Yet here I sit. I am confident that I can do it and am really looking forward to the challenge.

This change really underlines for me how much can change. Given time, commitment, and a small bit of hope, lives can shift. Two years ago at this time I was drowning in a bottle of scotch (wine having ceased to really do anything for my mood), slowly losing any faith I'd had that it's possible for things to work out. This time last year, I was watching my husband continue his own slow suicide attempt. Now, all this has changed. Small, daily steps... nothing dramatic. These steps make all the difference.

Anyway, I plan to write about the running here. I hope that's okay. I will try not to bore anyone with too much minutiae and will still talk about other things. It's a strange thing really...this is my blog after all, but at the same time, I feel some sort of responsibility to say the things that need to be said. What things? I don't know actually, which is part of the reason I haven't been writing as much as I used to. More to explore there, I suppose.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review Fridays: Second Wind

Last week I read a wonderful book called Second Wind: One Woman's Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents, by Cami Ostman. Her book chronicles her personal and spiritual growth through her experiences running. In the beginning, she started because she was deeply unhappy about her divorce and her alienation with the church. It helped her to find a bit of peace. As time went on she began to view marathon running as a sort of vision quest. The book outlines what she learned about herself and about life during each of the marathons she ran.

Her experiences reminded me of the terror I felt (and still feel) about getting to know the real me. Part of my drinking was intended to protect myself (my ego) from knowing who I really was, out of fear that underneath all the layers, there was really nothing there. She writes:
We all have these parts of us; bitter, coarse, vindictive. I had known this journey would bring me face-to-face with my inner self. I had just hoped that I would dig deep and see the divine or more of that satisfying Inner Wisdom shining its light on my beauty and strength, and not an Inner Bitch ready to crush the spirit of the man she loves. But the Bitch in each of us has her rights too, and she deserves a little airtime once in a while.
This fear is a funny thing, because the ego's desire to "protect" us from ourselves is nothing more than a false promise. It breeds fear and is based on the underlying belief that we are worthless. That if we let go of the trappings that define us (job, money, status, beauty, youth), there is nothing of substance left. Ostman is able to demonstrate the gifts that come to us when we are able to really accept ourselves as we are. She also indicates what we lose when we stay trapped:
As people, we have aspects so ugly and unhappy that we exile them into silence and obscurity. This serves us for a while, I suppose, as long as we are content with not knowing ourselves well and not being known well by others. For me, once I moved away from a canned definition of myself provided by church and culture and started to really be known..it became evident that I'd have to know myself, intimately.
When I read this book I realized how much effort I can put into protecting my own shell games - in doing so, I give up the opportunity for real connection in exchange for a false sense of self, a false sense of security. I also found it inspiring to think about the notion that our relationships with others are only as intimate as our relationships with ourselves - relationships mirror back to us where we sit with ourselves. Wanting to be honest and open with others - to build those relationships that are expansive- is incentive to accept myself as I am. Admitting that I'm not perfect (again) and don't always do the right thing (and often do the petty thing) opens the door for this intimacy. The other point that really spoke to me was that Ostman did not play at the duality between these things. She did not try to vanquish her inner bitch, but rather saw a place for her. She was able to accept the elements that make her, her, and in so doing, was able to experience real growth.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Priorities

In my performance reviews it has often been said that I "fail to effectively prioritize when I get too busy." For years I've struggled to figure out the right way to order tasks when there are far too many to complete. I've done everything from making lists to using a timer for tasks. It has additionally been said that I don't ask for help until a situation is urgent. These failings have weighed heavily on me for a long time.

Last night two things occurred to me. First, when there is too much to do, sorting out priorities is not going to mean that everything gets done on time. Doing the most important three things each day does not mean everything will work out just fine. It simply means that in a world with ten fires, the biggest fires get a few splashes of water. Over time, unless there is a true change to your situation, the fires will simply get bigger. Live with this situation for a while and suddenly everything is a big mess. I have blamed myself for this situation for far too long, instead of understanding that it is the natural outcome of having too much to do over too long a duration.

The solution to the above situation is obvious: ask for help. I can honestly say that I have improved at this. I do ask for help early and often. This leads to the second realization: when no one is willing to take any steps to help you, the fires will get bigger. At that point the only hope you have is that they will have some understanding and sympathy for the hard work you're doing. That they will see that although everything is a big mess, it would have been a bigger mess without all of your efforts.

Sadly, I don't see this happen at most of the places I work. There is some kind of underlying lack of sympathy and understanding. I clearly remember one case where a senior VP told a junior project manager: "If I have to work late, you have to work late." Showing a complete lack of awareness of the difference in their authority, remuneration, and responsibility. I also hear "I'm so incredibly busy too. We're all busy. Why are you complaining?" As if I think I'm special enough to receive the help no one else is offered.

Anyway, my point isn't that I make no mistakes. I really do make them all the time - I do fail to prioritize and do forget to ask for concrete assistance. That said, the outcome is shared. It's not all my fault when things fall apart. I can put the hair shirt back in the drawer for another day or two and accept that I'm doing my best in the situation, even if no one else agrees with me.

I miss all of you. I miss writing. I wish you peace.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Spirits

The Christmas season brings with it many parties, lunches, and pre-dinner drink parties. As with last year, I'm reminded of the way I used to use it as an excuse to drink at weird times of the day. In my industry Christmas is always a very stressful time of the year. Things do not slow down between Thanksgiving and Christmas - if anything, they accelerate as we try to finish as much as possible prior to the New Year. Drinking used to ease that stress for me.

I'm still counting down to the break almost as much as I've ever done, but I am not missing a noon glass of wine. I realized last night that I used to drink to tune out of life...a few drinks always put a barrier between me and my emotions, between me and the world around me. Now that I'm sober, I watch others at parties. As far as I can understand it, most people drink for the same reason. They drink to shut down their higher thinking powers, to relax, and to forget. Sometimes (even though I know it's not really true) I think the only difference between an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic is that alcoholics rely on this crutch too often. Non-alcoholics self-limit tipsy to once a week or less, while alcoholics figure that what is good for a Friday is just as excellent on a Monday. The slippery slope leads us to drinking morning, noon, and night. Hmm. Maybe it is true.

As I've said before, I really don't like to be around drunk people. I find their easy hilarity grates on my nerves and their belligerence is still frightening. I've spent too many years of my life managing alcoholics. I close the door on my own needs in order to maintain as semblance of peace. This is what troubles me about those parties. It is not that I'm not allowed to drink, it's that you never really know what will happen when people shut down their higher reasoning powers. When I was drinking it was possible to ignore everything, but sober, I'm thrown back to too many Christmases past, when my hopes were shattered by someone else's drinking.

Thankfully, I only have one more Christmas party to attend before I'm done for another year. I thought it might help if I listed out some of my party-going strategies for anyone who is struggling:

  1. Arrive early - if you're first to arrive, you can be first to leave. Also, by arriving early, you have the opportunity to speak to people before they've had too much to drink.
  2. Be kind to the server (if at a restaurant). They will have to deal with drunk people later; by being kind, they will happily keep your glass full of whatever you're drinking.
  3. Ask for a rocks glass if you are worried that people will nag you to have a drink - that way, it won't occur to them that you're sober.
  4. Try to find a sober (or mostly sober) person to spend time with. I'm always astonished to find that I'm not the only one not drinking.
  5. Don't be afraid to leave early. Even really early. Always take care of you first.
  6. Have an excuse at the ready if you are concerned there will be repercussions for leaving before the party is over: early commitment the next day, sick child, young babysitter with a curfew, whatever.
  7. Have some reward waiting for you at home to celebrate making it through a party without a drink: a hot bath, a dessert, whatever.

Monday, December 5, 2011

This Morning

The alarm goes off at 5:30am. I flip the snooze button and squeeze my eyes shut, wishing it was the weekend. There are 101 things to get done today and I really do not have the energy or focus or will left to keep putting one foot in front of the other anymore. I've been pushing and pushing and pushing. I begin to formulate a plan - I'll call in sick today and sneak back into bed as soon as everyone goes to work and school. I'll put my head under the covers and read a good book. The only thing that stops me is the certain knowledge that the mess will be waiting for me on Tuesday.

I've been distracted and grouchy and (so far) unable to make a dent in the problems I'm having at work.Things have become so stressful that I daydream about finally getting fired. It wouldn't be justified, but at least it would end the current predicament. I don't like it when people dismiss my concerns, partly because it takes me so long to finally hit the point where I can't take it anymore. It seems that if you really can handle a lot that when you say you can't take it anymore, people should simply get it.

My distraction is such that I did something exceedingly stupid over the weekend. In the midst of errands, surrounded by frustrating drivers and grumpy shoppers, I left $80 at the self-checkout till. It was my fault - I was in too big a hurry to wait for the receipt and so seldom do cash withdrawals from the checkout counter that in the space it took for my card to be verified, I'd forgotten I'd done it in the first place. In fact, I didn't even realize I'd done it until the next day when I reached into my wallet and discovered it wasn't there.

Is it Christmas break yet? I know I am counting down the days. I just hope I make it relatively unscathed.
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