Missing the Sober Universe

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I am here and still alive, for those of you who have noticed my absence. I so miss this connection! I am traveling around with just an I-phone (although I know you all blog from your phones, I can’t) with an entourage of relatives, with no real place to check-in with my beloved blogging friends.

So far, I’ve gone to two weddings (sober) and had a blast, three days with the parents, a week of vacation at the beach, with another long weekend with countless in-laws coming up, and the idea of drinking has barely surfaced. It holds the same power now as my desire to have a giant piece of cheesecake — I glance at it, notice it might be appetizing, realize how sick it will make me, and then POOF! — the thought is gone immediately as I turn my attention elsewhere.

What they say is true, although I never believed it. The psychological desire for alcohol goes away. I thought I’d be salivating the rest of my life, watching the world have fun without me. I could care less about it now. Amazing!

Happy Wednesday all, and I will chat with you soon.

Step One: Are You Really Powerless?

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AA Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

When I was ‘working the steps,’ I spent a lot of  time and energy questioning whether or not I was really powerless over alcohol. After all, there was that time at my sister’s wedding when I turned down a fourth drink. And that other time when I  was so hung over that I voluntarily turned down a glass of tepid wine (because I didn’t think I could hold it down).

All kidding aside, I could sometimes sustain periods of controlled drinking. And I started out as a normal drinker. But in hindsight, none of this mattered. All it did was send me into endless rounds of deciding if I was really an alcoholic, and if there was any doubt, I could continue to drink. I used this doubt to undermine every attempt I made to quit.

But there was no denying that my life had become unmanageable.

Look what Joss over at She-Who-Hears says in her blog:

“Unmanageability manifests itself in different ways and different degrees, but this part of the step furthers the admission of internal chaos with a direct admission of its manifestation into all elements our lives. We are not in control of ourselves, and our lives are now controlled by raw, insatiable need.”

Unmanageability was manifesting in every area of my life. I should have concentrated on this part of the statement instead of allowing my ego to convince me that I didn’t really qualify as a true alcoholic, and therefore none of what followed applied to me. I could have saved myself many more years of drinking.

Joss’s post is well worth the read: Step One.

Sobriety is Like Middle School

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After giving up the drink, you will soon find out that facing the world newly sober is like going back to middle school.

You will suddenly morph into your 14-year-old self, and struggle to fit in. You are tongue-tied, awkward, overeager, and shy, all at the same time. Your clothes are weird and don’t fit right.

And you have to learn the basics of socializing all over again.

It doesn’t matter what personality you had in your drinking life, because with liquid courage, we were all super confident, talkative, funny, … charming even. (Until we had a little too much, but I don’t have to tell you that.)

Alcohol, being the great equalizer, has brought us all to this new playing field: middle school.

Your sober community (if you have one) is a great place to start honing your skills, but often they are as stunted socially as you are. And thriving in this community involves learning to speak in monologues and emote on cue, which are NOT assets in middle school. Still, try to hang out with some of the older kids in this group who know their way around the schoolyard. (And AVOID the ones selling pot on the playground, even though your lizard brain thinks they’re cool. Tell yourself you don’t want to be cool. Cool is for fools! Write this on your notebook where no one else can see it.)

Sooner or later, you will be forced out of your sober safety zone, like an eagle out of the nest. A gangly, awkward eagle who spits when he talks.

You might then begin venturing out with your old drinking buddies because that’s all you know. This doesn’t count. You can’t practice having a sober conversation with people who are drinking. They want to do all the talking, for one thing, and they aren’t listening to a word you say anyway. (You do this too.) They are performing. They need an audience. All you have to do is nod your head and laugh at their stories. Even little kids can do that.

Instead, after a few months of sobriety (a year, in my case), you must seek out some normal people and attempt to hang out with them.

I did this recently. My husband and I met another couple for dinner at a restaurant. I was pretty sure that no drinking would be involved because the other couple looked so respectable. We did our best to look respectable too. Drinking never even came up. (Did you even know people like this existed? People whose lives don’t revolve around whether or not they are going to order a drink?)

After I ordered my decaf coffee, right on cue, I morphed into a kid sitting at the grown-up’s table — tongue-tied, awkward, overeager, and shy, all at the same time.

I had to consciously think things like, Now it’s my turn to say something. Say something! I no longer even recognized the simple give and take of conversation.

The inner angsting continued. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Shift eye contact to the guy who’s talking. Don’t stare. Don’t say ‘shit.’ Don’t mention Trump. Wait, he just said ‘fuck.’ Does that mean I can say ‘shit’? No! It will seem like I’m trying to be cool. Be cool. Be cool. There’s a lull in the conversation … say something! Anything!

This from a girl who once smugly described herself as a social butterfly.

Mercifully, these middle school years don’t take as long as the first time around. They’re in dog years! Even faster. Right there at the table, I advanced to tenth grade.

I became that eager to please high school girl I once was. I jumped in to the conversation now and then, testing out my growing confidence. And the evening continued on pleasantly. It was fun even. We’re going to do it again soon.

What I remember now is that before I learned to drink, I learned to talk.

I learned to express myself. I watched what other people did to learn social cues. I risked talking to people, and then built on that experience to talk to someone else. I risked telling a joke. I failed, but didn’t let it destroy me. I tried again. I learned to be myself in a group. I found out that I have something to say.

Now, I get to learn who I am all over again. To relearn what I forgot mattered. To begin again with a clean slate.

And this time, I can do it right.

ONE YEAR!

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The tagline on my site says “A women’s quest for one year of sobriety.” And let me tell you, the odds weren’t in my favor.

But guess the fuck what? Fall down 1000 times, get up 1001!

WOO Freakin’ HOO!!

I would expound more about the miracle year I’ve had, but guess what? I am off on a reward vacation to Athens! Yes, all the way to Athens!

Athens, Georgia, actually. Ha ha ha! Why? Because I have family there, and as part of my newfound sobriety, I actually visit family with out worrying about how to drink around them. And it’s not even a family-obligation day, like Thanksgiving. AND I’m looking forward to it. This is soooo unlike me!

So I am off to Georgia y’all!

(Here’s a picture of Ug to make your day. He has to sit on ice packs during the football games so that he doesn’t get overheated. FYI — I am not a Georgia fan. I just like the dog.)

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How NOT to Stay Sober

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From a wealth of experience, some even remembered, I would like to start an un-checklist of things to avoid.

It just so happens I am an expert on how NOT to stay sober. Here are some pitfalls that played out over and over again in my own life. Feel free to add your own.

Don’t do these things! (An un-check list)

Play the victim. Even though you are the victim of a devastatingly addictive substance, playing the victim keeps you stuck. Don’t allow your mind to continually revisit the past, especially knowing that your brain is cleverly weeding out the shitty and emphasizing the sublime, so that it can once again turn you into its shady dealer.

You are not helpless. You are not defeated. You are still alive, and you can still win this battle.

Bathe in guilt. There is an allure to guilt. Sometimes it feels like you are punishing yourself (righteously!) the way you think you should be punished. But guilt has no place in early recovery, if anywhere at all. Guilt makes you feel like drinking. It makes you drink when other people aren’t watching. It makes you feel unworthy, and that eventually translates into feeling unworthy of healing. I used to force myself to review moments of bad behavior, and believe me, it didn’t bolster my will to succeed. It made me feel hopeless and ashamed.

Betray your own cause. I used to switch sides in the battle against alcohol like the worst traitor. Instead of siding with my self, my life, my children’s lives, my God, my better angels, my best intentions, my desperate handwritten pledges to stop drinking, I would gaze across the battlefield and see what the enemy had to offer. I would then sneak across battle lines in the middle of the night, like the turncoat I was, and begin plotting to allow myself to drink. I joined the enemy in shooting down help from the outside world and from my wiser self. You can’t help but lose when you abandon your own cause.

Let your thoughts rule you. One of the most freeing things I’ve learned since nixing the Cosmos is that I am respnsible for my thoughts. It’s not life that will cause you to drink again. It’s your thoughts about life and yourself that will cause you to drink.

If I’m not watching my thoughts, I will be controlled by them. The minute I start thinking, “Why can’t I have a drink? Everybody else is,” and then wallow in that self-pity, I have set the stage for eventual drinking.

Instead, I can hear the thought, recognize it as damaging and untrue, tell myself I am way beyond this kind of thinking, and then let it go. I then immediately substitute a thought like “I am healthy and happy.” I let that thought wash over me, and repeat it until I feel healthy and happy. Believe me when I say this becomes so second nature that the thought to drink becomes more like an annoying gnat than an alluring siren’s call.

Be accommodating. This was a huge factor in keeping me trapped for so long. I didn’t want to disappoint my drinking buddies. I wanted romantic relationships to stay the same. I wanted to continue the life I had, while somehow finding the fortitude not to drink. And I didn’t want to inconvenience other people.

THIS DOES NOT WORK.

You must put yourself first, no matter what. This is counter-intuitive to everyone who has been beaten down by alcohol. We must accommodate other people so that we don’t get fired, dumped, or exposed.

I remember a friend called me in one of my earlier attempts at sobriety, and she was upset. She begged me to meet her at a bar to ‘talk.’ It was 9:30 on a school night. I said no at first, but she pleaded, saying that I was the only one who would understand. I went. Three hours later, I was drinking, she was off dancing with someone, and I eventually had to call a cab because my friend wanted to stay.

She didn’t need me. I needed me. She could have easily called someone else. And I didn’t really help her, except by listening, which could have been done over the phone. On the other hand, I had betrayed my own cause and wrecked my sobriety. Was it worth it? It never ever is. Never.

So … what’s on your “un-check” list?

Facebook, Drinking, and Illusion

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It’s funny how life works.

Sometimes I get the exact phrase or story or song lyric that I will need right before being blindsided. It’s as if someone hands me a lifeline just as I’m about to go overboard.

Yesterday’s lifeline came in the form of an email from a friend in early sobriety, and she included a link to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. (I’ve seen it before but was happy to listen to Brene once again discuss how embracing our weaknesses can help us connect with life and other people.) My friend described how she was using the Ted Talk to ‘lean in’ to uncomfortable feelings. I’d been trying to do that as well because I am forever scheming to avoid discomfort and pain, like most people. I am a great stuffer of bad feelings. Of course, I used to have alcohol to dull or sharpen or release ‘bad’ feelings, but that stopped working long ago.

My friend wrote about those overwhelming feelings and urges you get when you first stop drinking. I was beyond all that, I thought. I couldn’t really remember when the last strong desire to drink had hit me. I had graduated. Armed with almost a year of studying sobriety as if I were majoring in it, I felt safe.

On to Facebook ….

I rarely look at Facebook, mostly because I don’t have much interest in what people I knew years ago are having for breakfast. Or where their great-nephew is going to school. I do like to keep up with distant relatives and close friends, but that only takes the occasional glance at Facebook, and I wade past all of the invitations to like this or that. Consequently, I rarely post anything.

I was on Facebook to invite another friend of mine, Kim, on a spiritual retreat I was thinking of attending. I quickly Googled the retreat’s website to judge if it might be something that appealed to her. Unfortunately, the site featured a photo of a tired-looking  group of mostly older women acting kooky to demonstrate that they were having fun. (Never mind that they were probably my age.) Ah, well … hopefully she could see past the images to the more spiritual aspects of the retreat.

Clicking on Kim’s Facebook page, I saw that she was on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean. There she was, frosty glass of mimosa hoisted in the air. “Breakfast of champions!” was the caption. She looked tanned and happy, and I casually scrolled down through her photos. Kim in a cocktail dress, glass of wine in hand. Celebrating a birthday with a gang of friends, all casually strewn about an island bar. More photos of friends, friends, friends. So happy, all of them.

And a feeling I didn’t like began to wrap itself around my heart.

Envy. Hurt.

I used to do that. I used to be on those beaches, feeling the warm sun on my skin, hugging people I barely knew, hoisting my glass in the air. I wanted that back again. It was mine too. I felt a familiar wave of grief wash over me.

Then I thought about the spiritual getaway I would be going to. That awful photo of sober, kooky fun. I didn’t want to do that! That wasn’t me. I am one of those women on the boat. That’s where I belong.

But this time I recognized the feeling I was having, because I had named it before. Heartbreak.

And I sat with the feeling. I let myself feel it. It hung on tight around my chest, and then began to dissipate. I honored myself, acknowledging that it was OK to feel this grief, however misguided.

It hurt to let go of who I was. It hurt to suddenly be the kind of person who talks about mindfulness and yoga and healthy food, sprinkled in with a few anti-drinking anecdotes. A person who goes to bed by ten and has become predictable and has successfully driven most every drinking friend to the sidelines of her life. And has yet to search for new ones among the non-drinking world.

But that’s OK. That’s change, I told myself. Change for the better.

More reasonable thoughts began to enter my mind. As if on cue, a quote from an Eckhart Tolle article that I had written down rose in my mind: “Now you can use thought instead of being used by it.”

The photographs, and my thoughts that went with them, were an illusion. I knew that. When I was drinking with friends, the photos never covered the following morning, hung over and remorseful. Or the drunken arguments that took place late at night. Or the swerving cars leaving the dock. And this idea that drinking somehow led to vacations was also an illusion. It led to overdrawn bank accounts and money wasted on gallons of alcohol.

And broken families.

And I knew Kim was actually having a crisis of her own right now, wondering about her marriage, her career, her kids. And her drinking. She also was trying to save herself from a life that looked glittery and colorful on the outside, but that she found increasingly empty and unfulfilling.

I sent her the invite. And I look forward to the retreat, with her or without.

I went back to the retreat photo, to see it through my own eyes instead of how I perceived Kim might see it. On second glance, the people in the photo seemed genuine, like they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They were unconcerned about their image. Hell, they probably posted the photo on their Facebook pages.

Maybe they were just waiting for me to grow up enough to appreciate them. Maybe this group, I decided, was exactly what I needed.