Happy New Year

I’m not jumping on the “screw 2016” bandwagon. Yes, a lot of famous, beloved people died, and yes, we in the US elected a dangerous buffoon to the presidency. But I’ve had worse years (2008 when I had cancer, pretty much any of the years I was drinking out of control). I was sober every day of 2016 (I’m coming up on two years). I committed myself to a serious Zen practice. And because of these two things, the first allowing the second, all the awfulness and suffering of 2016 was more bearable, and through it I could see spots –heck mountains!–of peace and joy and ease. Never had that for a full year before.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. I wanted to reprint a reply I posted for Annie over on Dappled Path. Many of you probably have followed Annie’s struggles to defeat her serious problems with alcoholism (as if there are any other kinds). And many of you are probably rooting for her as she attempts to make 2017 her year to get sober. I know I am.

Today, Annie talked about “preparing” for Sober January, her planned first sober month. I may well be misreading what she said — and what some of those replying implied — but what I heard was that for her (and others), sobriety would start tomorrow. That they were on Day -1, so to speak.

As a recovering alcoholic, that sort of thinking is both tremendously familiar (I’ll start not drinking tomorrow, so tonight, let’s drink to that!) and terrifying. I don’t believe in rules or absolutes for the most part, but I know that planning to stop drinking tomorrow is almost worse than not planning to stop at all. But I am stepping on my own lines. Here’s what I said, reprinted just in case Annie shuts her blog:

Dear Annie, you know, of course, that I fervently hope this is the day one that sticks. I’ve been hoping for two years, since I first started following your blog. I do, though, want to quibble with your title — “Preparation.” First of all, you of all people don’t need to make any more preparations to get sober. You’ve been preparing for years. You are the most prepared drunk-hoping-to-get-sober I know.

So unless this “preparation” involves NOT drinking tonight, New Years Eve, it is meaningless in terms of doing anything that forwards your sobriety.

You also know, because I’ve said it publicly and privately to you a million times before, you cannot get sober in the future. You cannot stop drinking in the future. The only time you can stop drinking (or take any action) is right now, the present. You must see the danger (or at very least the irony) of pouring yourself a glass of bubbly to toast your future sobriety.

And maybe you are sipping herbal tea and avoiding the big parties tonight, if so, brava! If not, then here’s my message to you –and to anyone else reading or responding here who is “preparing” to stop drinking tomorrow (I’m not talking to those doing Dry January to drop some weight after the holiday excess. I’m talking to active alcoholics hoping to use Dry January to kick start a life of sobriety) — STOP NOW. Even if you’ve already pre-gamed a bit or had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. End it now. Leave the party, if you’re already there. Hide in the bathroom and feel sorry for yourself if you can’t leave. Go to bed early if you’re home.

The only way to stop drinking is to stop drinking. It will never be the right time (or it will always be, take your pick). It will never be easy. Putting it off until tomorrow is NOT preparation for a life a sobriety. It is preparation for a life making excuses for your continued, destructive drunken behavior.

End it now. It will be the hardest and best thing you ever do. And Happy New Year.

Enlightenment

I have mentioned before, I believe, that stumbling my way into, first, a meditation practice and second, a Zen practice has been a cornerstone in my recovery. As I transition into doing a few less meetings and a few more hours on the cushion, I am struck again and again by the similarities between many Buddhist principles and much of what is espoused in the better AA meetings.

Today, that happened again.

I get a daily email from Triangle magazine, a quote from an online article (which I often end up reading). Today’s was:

Why become enlightened? This is a question I sometimes ask myself. The answer I give is twofold: to make the world a better place and to avoid the pain of clinging to an existence that is unhappy.

Swap out “become enlightened” with “stop drinking.”  See what I mean?

Checking In

I am mortified that it has taken me so long to get back here. Part, maybe most, of the reason is that my life has been so good – lots of writing, traveling, enjoying family and nature and the world. Diving deeper into a Zen practice that is changing everything. See clearly a lot more often. All without drinking, something I would not have thought possible two years ago. This is beyond the pink cloud effect of the first few months (that is, after the tar-black-and-hailing-dog-poop cloud effect of the first few weeks). It’s a whole new world. Not “life without alcohol.” Just life.

And a life I didn’t even know was there before: full of good nights’ sleeps and hard laughs with friends and family and good decisions. Times can still be hard sometimes, grief happens, injustice doesn’t disappear, but everything sits easier. And there are so many clear sunrises, starry nights, and evening mists to enjoy along the way.

It was always there, always available to me, but I missed it, because I was focused on nailing down that first (then second then third) drink. Maybe I drank because I was scared it wasn’t there. That that first sip of white wine in the evening was the best anything ever would be, and if I gave that up, then I would have nothing, or worse than nothing – the constant craving, headaches, nausea, bloating, and ill temper that marked most of my drinking days.

Well I was wrong. And that’s why I really will try to post more often. Because those of you just starting to quit, or trying to get up the nerve to quit, or planning a relapse need to hear this.

No matter how bad your life is right now, stopping drinking will make it better. Guaranteed. It will also probably make it great.

Life During Wartime: Early Sobriety

So sorry I’ve been AWOL these past couple of weeks. I’m in an MFA program, and we had our big residency week last week. It’s always completely draining, especially for those of us many years out of university, but this one was particularly brain-sucking. I graduate this time next year, so I sat through the “graduation requirements” meeting at which all those thesis and other deadlines got articulated. It’s not that I didn’t know they were coming up. It’s just the fact of them being spoken into public air made them all too real.

In years’ past, I would have needed a drink (or ten) to calm the panic that meeting stirred up. This year, I settled myself down with the thought “thank God I’m not drinking anymore.” Because I’m going to need every one of those formerly wasted hours and brain cells to get finished.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about.

Before I left, I commented on UKAnnie’s blog (Dappled Path, currently shut down, I believe, but that is often a temporary state) with a link to a live performance of the Talking Head’s “Life During Wartime” (link at the bottom of the page). I want to elaborate on the point I was trying to make there. And in doing so, I want to emphasize, this was MY experience of early sobriety. I know it’s not everyone’s, and maybe not anyone else’s. So I’ll make that disclaimer here, and go on as if the rest is the word of Buddha — and you all will just have to make the necessary adjustments.

When I was first gobsmacked with the realization that I had to get sober, I was in a state that feels very much like David Byrne sings and dances in this video clip. It wasn’t a matter of figuring out whether I was an alcoholic or devising some sort of moderation plan (I had noodled on both of those for years). Nor was it an endeavor I saw as a clear path to mental and physical health — like taking up race walking or eating more vegetables. I was petrified. I did not know what was happening to me. I did not know what to do to survive beyond doing everything I could not to drink minute to minute. I was willing to try anything I thought might work — and that included walking into my first AA meeting, 90 in 90, and, had that not done it, rehab or medicine. I did not know — and this is the important part — whether I would survive, whether I would escape the addiction. I just knew that I had to try.

“This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.”

Had I not been this desperate and scared, I would have continued to half-ass sobriety attempts, making excuses about why I couldn’t stop drinking now, or maybe I didn’t really need to. I had to make stopping drinking my number one priority.

“No time for dancing, or lovey dovey. I ain’t got time for that now.”

One of the things I love in this clip is the way the whole band is in constant motion. They are working so hard. And that’s the way I felt at the beginning. I spent all my time working so hard for my sobriety (and when that voice came that said — but you need to take care of your family and your job too — I had to answer, that’s what I’m doing. Because this war is threatening us all). I went to meetings, I got a sponsor, I read books and blogs, I walked and ran miles, I took up yoga, I gave up parties, I learned to meditate, I did sit-ups, I ate donuts, I journaled, I read books on religion, I volunteered everywhere that would have me, and I would have checked into a rehab facility. The only rule was no rules, no plans, just action after action, minute by minute, to stay sober.

“Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock,
We blended in with the crowd.
We got computers, we’re tapping phone lines,
I know that that ain’t allowed.”

And you know what? I didn’t keep doing all of that. I kept what worked. I discarded what didn’t. I became what I needed to be to not drink that day. To survive.

“We dress like students, we dress like housewives,
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle, so many times now,
I don’t know what I look like.”

What I did not do was plan ahead. Because I knew (know) myself. If I decided the way to get sober was to go to a meeting…tomorrow…or the doctor…next week…or to stop drinking…on Monday, I would have a new plan the next week that put it all off until the week after that. I could have (and did) stay in the planning and reading and researching stage for a very long time. Which is how one should behave if one is buying a new home or adopting a dog — not how one should behave if one is fighting a battle for one’s life. In that case, you do what you need to do in the moment to make it to the next moment.

“Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive.
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace,
The burning keeps me alive.”

The burning kept me alive too.

Now watch the video, and I want to make one more point.

There’s so much there — paranoia, fear, insanity, sure. The very real feeling that this may not work — there are no guarantees. But also, dare I say it, there’s a pulsing, thrilling euphoria that was unavailable to me during my drinking days. Surviving is a rush! It’s terrifying, and it’s so hard, but it has all the beat and energy of real life. Yes, you will get to the better sleep and calmer outlook and peaceful afternoons with the family — but even in those first awful days, you will feel more alive than maybe ever before.

Big Baby II

I am thrilled so many people found my post yesterday on the RAIN technique for learning to sit with difficult (or any) strong feelings. I have used it I don’t know how many times, and still do. I do hope you will read Tara Brach’s explanation (linked in yesterday’s post). She covers it more eloquently and in more detail than I could or did.

I’m following up today to make one point, which may sound obvious, but isn’t to many, and wasn’t to me when I first thought about getting sober. RAIN and other awesome sobriety tools work only if…you’re sober. That’s right, there are many, many paths to the sober life, but they all, without exception, have one thing in common: You have to stop drinking.

I know many of us follow the brave and heartbreaking UKAnnie over at Dappled Path. And I don’t want to pick on her — her complete honesty in talking online about her struggles to get sober have done a huge service in letting newbies see how hard it is — worth it, but really, really hard. When I was in my first thirty days of sobriety, Annie’s blog was the first I ever followed. Because of her, I didn’t feel alone. She expresses the fears and doubts so many of us had and still have. Hers was the first blog I ever commented on. Because she had helped me get sober, I wanted her to get on over to the bright side too. She deserves it! As do all the others who comment “me too!” on her blog.

So in thinking what to say to Annie recently — in trying to make sure I had shared everything that helped me get clean, every tip and technique — I remembered what a good (now sober)  AA friend told me. My friend was at a meeting, complaining that he really wanted to get sober, but just couldn’t. He was drunk at the meeting, by the way, and had a bottle in his coat pocket. An old timer turned to him and said, “Well, at some point, if you really want to get sober, you’re going to have to stop drinking.”

My friend is a smart guy. But he said, that hadn’t really hit him before. If he wanted sobriety, he had to give up drinking. He couldn’t have both.

Which brings me to my present to all of those who are struggling with this — the desire to life a sober life and the equally strong, sometimes stronger, desire to keep drinking. Though this film was made in the 80s (and stars some famous folk who are looking a lot younger than they do today, obviously), the message is almost perfect (there are a couple moments that suggest relapse as an option — but in general the message is clear). Basically Ernie learns that he can’t hold onto his beloved rubber duck AND learn to play the saxophone (You gotta put down the duckie…). And we have to accept that we gotta put down the bottle, if we’re gonna live the sober life (I sing along with those words). You can do one or the other, but not both.

Oh, just watch it: Sesame Street, Put Down the Duckie

 

 

 

 

Big Baby

Most alcoholics, and I suppose most addicts,  are pretty self-centered. I certainly was (and probably still am — but I’m working on it). We spend so much time figuring out when we’re getting our next drink, organizing all social events so we can drink, and eventually, when things start to go off the rails, hiding our drinks and making all sorts of excuses about how we MUST drink in order to be the happy, friendly (wife, friend, mother, coworker) we always thought we were (ha). Everything is about ME and my next drink.

And worse than that is what one of my AA friends calls the Big Baby Syndrome. We meet every set-back, fear, social awkwardness, discomfort of any sort with, you got it, a drink We also drink when we are happy or celebrating. Basically, any emotion is met with a drink. We never learn to feel, we just learn to drink to — and over –our feelings. Like a big baby, when we are at all off balance, we start crying for our bottle.

So when we quit drinking, suddenly our go-to response to any feeling is taken away. We have to sit with our big-baby selves, and feel. I truly think dealing with all these feelings, which for me manifest as crazy-making anxiety, is why it is so damn hard in the first few months of sobriety.

I was greatly helped in those first day by a great technique from the Buddhist tradition for this called RAIN (See Tara Brach’s explanation here). I won’t explain this in the detail the article goes into, but the idea is to sit, for me in meditation, and experience the emotion as a physical sensation, not identified with you — a physical sensation which, like absolutely every other phenomena in life, will move on (notice I just snuck the Buddhist notion of impermanence in there?).

So for me, here’s how it would work. Lets say I was hit by a massive craving. I would try to go sit someplace peaceful (eg., not a bar). Then:

Recognize (R) it (“Oh, that’s a craving alright).

Accept (A) it. One monk I love says, welcome it with open arms. Give it a hug, and say, oh, your poor dear, this craving really hurts. Let me rock it and soothe it like a baby (you would not, I hope, give a baby gin)).

Investigate (I) it — what does it feel like physically (is it a burning in your chest? Your throat? Is your head pounding? To what beat?) DO NOT try to figure it out (this is because I am a worthless drunk with low self-esteem) and DO NOT think of solutions (If I drank, it would go away. One drink wouldn’t be so bad). Pretend it is a feeling that floated over from your next door neighbor — it is HIS craving, and you are just trying to describe it so you can report it as lost.

Then, in most cases, as I scrunched up my eyes and tried to locate the exact place in my chest the flaming ball of fire that is craving was located, the craving would start to pass. I would realize, it is something that I observed, and it is NOT ME (N, non-identification).

This helped me so much in my first months. And here’s the great part for the budding Buddhists out there. This ability to observe and detach from our feelings — without trying to get rid of them is or smother them in alcohol or some other distraction — is the beginning of a serious practice, one in which we open our eyes to what is real versus the smoke screen thrown up by our over-active, ego-driven minds. But that is another post…

 

Meditation

I could not be more thrilled with the response my last post on lying, and Buddhism, and how the two don’t jibe even if you mix them with vodka. A real great discussion of the role of spirituality in recovery broke out in the comments. And one of my sober heroes, Sober Mummy at Mummy was a Secret Drinker (a wonderful, relevant, helpful blog, if you haven’t read it), did her own clever post on Buddhism (read it here).

This is a conversation I hope all of us keep having. Because being able to nourish the spirit is one of the wonderful benefits we reap when we stop trying to nourish ourselves with the spirits(see what I did there?). In AA meetings and on sober blogs, I heard lots of people’s stories about what they did to get through early sobriety. Some of their experiences resonated with me, some didn’t, but I always appreciated hearing from those who had trudged that path before me. I think the same goes for building a sober soul to go with one’s new sober life. Everyone’s experience is valuable, even if I don’t find it relevant to me in its particulars.

So keep it up, y’all.

I want to add a little to the Buddhism talk, because the practice has come to mean so much to me, but I think, had I dove in too quickly, I could have missed this particular spiritual boat.

When I first stopped drinking, I loaded an app from Meditation Oasis called “Learn to Meditate.” It is a multi-week course which includes some very basic instructions on meditating, which I needed (stuff like “what to do if you keep falling asleep — answer, go ahead and nap. You probably need it), and 25 minute guided meditations. The voice is so calming and the guidance was just what I needed to bring me gently into the present moment. I made myself do them everyday and was hooked by the end.

I did this initially because I was desperate for something to shut down my nattering brain — so full of anxiety and self-loathing, and regrets. I had used alcohol to do this for so many years, I don’t think I ever learned how to sit quietly with my feelings (Why should I, when there is a nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge??). Though sometimes I struggled mightily to stay with the meditation, I always ended up feeling more grounded and rested after. I even would meditate at the time I used to pour my first glass of wine, a substitute cocktail hour.

I got a couple more of Meditation Oasis’s apps (the rest and sleep ones are awesome!) and then picked up another app called Insight Timer. This app has a section that allows you to search for guided meditations (which are rated and sorted by teacher or subject or time). Through it, I discovered Tara Brach, a buddhist teacher, who helped me take my meditation practice to the next level. I also started listening to her talks (she has a podcast) and learning some of the basics of Buddhism, in a very user-friendly, this-is-how-this-applies-to-real-life sort of way.

Her teachings brought me to many others (I’m skipping a bunch of steps here), and I did all sorts of reading and continued to meditate without fail every single day. Today. I practice Zen Buddhism, which involves silent meditation and a mix of more challenging and Tara Brach-like texts. It is just what I need right now…BUT, had I started with Zen, I think I would have never continued, with Buddhism or meditation, and what a loss that would have been.

Silent meditation would have been impossible for me in those early days. My addicted brain was wailing way to loudly for me to know how to be able to hear through it to the real sober world. And some of the Buddhist texts can sound quite abstract (they are really quite the opposite) if you come to them with no experience in mindfulness and no guidance (and I am talking about online here — you don’t need to climb a mountain top and look for a monk) from teachers who can make Buddhist principles relatable.

This is a very long way of saying, I hope that all of you who have expressed interest in Buddhism do pursue it. And if you do, I would (did) start with gentle mindfulness meditation and see where that takes you.

Oh, and one more recommendation: James Salazar’s book (also and audio tape, also an online class) called Awakening Joy. I have the book, which I have read through and done the exercises, I’ve listened to it on Audible in the car two times, the last just recently. And I’m taking the online class right now. Really great stuff, based on Buddhist mindfulness principles. This is one you can start right away, even if you never meditated a moment in your life.

 

 

Lying

One of the very many wonderful  things that happened to me after I quit drinking was I was able to fully commit to Buddhism. I was raised in a very liberal Christian church and had exposure to (and gained respect for) many different religions. But the basic tenets and beliefs of Buddhism had always spoken to me the loudest. I won’t go into why here, because this isn’t a religion blog, and I’m not a proselytizer. Just take my word for it — it was a spiritual path I really wanted to take.

But I couldn’t.

Buddhism doesn’t have a lot of rules. But the five precepts are its ten commandments. Whatever else you do in your practice, you gotta buy into these. They are (according to the BBC — and pretty much everyone else):

All Buddhists live by the Five Moral Precepts which are refraining from:

  • harming living things
  • taking what is not given
  • sexual misconduct
  • lying or gossip
  • taking intoxicating substances

See number five? You see my problem. There is healthy discussion among Buddhists about what the first four precepts demand. They are clear, but there is some definitional wiggle room around the edges, and that leads to (positive and friendly) discourse among practitioners (eg., the first precept is not just about not whacking people or becoming a vegetarian (plants are alive, after all) but about a broader sense of moving through the world causing the least suffering to all of our living earth, you know, environmentalism, leave no trace camping, that sort of thing).

But number five? Not a lot of room for discussion. And I gave you the most generous translation. Quite literally, it can be read as “No fermented liquor.” Not “a social drink is fine once in a while” or “don’t get drunk.” No drinking period. Now go meditate.

So, I stopped drinking. Learned mindfulness meditation practices (which got me through many a cravings freakout, but that’s another post) and, once those intoxicating substances worked their way out of my bloodstream and my thirsty synapses, dedicated myself to a serious Zen practice. And it has been more mind-expanding and happy-making than drinking ever was. In fact, those times when I flash on that thought — I would love a drink right now (rarely these days, but it does happen), I think, no — I would have to give up Zen, and I’m hanging onto that the way I used to hang on to a nice bottle of Malbec.

What I didn’t realize at that time was that it wasn’t just precept five that was keeping me for Buddhism. Precept four would have also blocked me — the one that says (again really clearly), no lying.

Because alcoholics are liars. Really good liars. We lie to the people we love the most. We tell them we don’t have a problem (and justify it by not wanting to worry them or have to stop drinking and become less entertaining to them (as if)). We lie by omission — drinking in secret. But worst of all, at least for our hopes of recover, we lie to ourselves.

You know those lies. The ones where we convince ourselves we’re not as bad as [FILL IN THE BLANK — AA members, people on TV, our friend so and so]. At 3 AM, we wake up and (before we can get our lies on) know we have a serious problem. By afternoon (or morning for some), we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t have a problem after all, by telling ourselves, you got it, more lies.

I was so bad that I would drink half a bottle of wine before going to a social or work dinner, then I would have maybe one or two glasses of wine at the cocktail hour and one or two more at dinner. When I went home, I would congratulate myself for being “a moderate drinker” — seriously — over a couple of glasses of scotch.

Buddhism is very much based on seeing the world as it really is — in all its wonder and beauty — and seeing ourselves as we really are — in all our wonder and beauty. In a way, giving up lying about booze was more liberating than giving up the booze itself (of course, you can’t do the former without the latter).

I want to leave you with a story the writer Alice Walker tells about lying, and lying to someone you love, but mostly about the wonderful freedom that stopping the lies brings, even if that means we have to speak hard truths:

When I was three or four, I broke a jar, and given that I had siblings I could have said that they had broken it, or I could have said that it had slipped. I remember that he asked me if I had done it, and I looked at him and I thought, gee, this is a person I really love and he would be happy if I hadn’t broken this thing. On the other hand he was looking at me with such expectancy that I found myself coming up to meet his expectancy with a real need to express the truth, because that’s the most wonderful feeling there is. So I said, “Yes, I broke the jar.” His response was not to fuss and not to spank me or anything but rather to beam this incredible love in my direction, and that was his way of teaching me about telling the truth and what is possible. It is possible that if you tell the truth not only will you be delivered yourself from the prison of untruth, but the person who hears the truth will also be opened and can be delighted.

 

 

People, Places, and Things

One of the first thing AA newcomers are told is to beware of “people, places, and things.” Not all of them, of course, the old times would say, but those that trigger the urge to drink.

Unfortunately, for me in early sobriety, that would be pretty much all people, places, and things. My friends and I always met over drinks or dinner and drinks. I had worked for a long time in a very boozy industry, so any “meeting” after 5 pm, and there were a few, involved drinking. My family is chock-a-block full of functional (or dead) alcoholics — oh, excuse me, wine connoisseurs.

And places: I drank everywhere in the house, including bed and the bathtub (Bathtub gin — no thank you, but gin while IN the bathtub — sure). Things — things like insomnia, stress, anxiety, worry, worry about drinking too much — I drank for (to?) those. So how was this supposed to work?

At first, I thought, what the hell — I’ll just keep going as I was going, but pour soda water in my glass instead of (INSERT BOOZE OF CHOICE HERE). And I did, for exactly one night, a trip out to my family’s favorite Mexican restaurant for some celebration or another (probably nothing, in fact) — a place that makes the best margaritas in the universe, and trust me, I have made a statistically significant sample.

I went into the event shaking, a really lovely lady from AA’s number clutched in my hand, and my almost-non-drinking-and really-supportive husband at my side to intercept the double margaritas they always bring (brought) to me the moment I crossed the threshold.

I survived the night, sobriety intact (all 24 hours of it). But it was hard and miserable and I didn’t ever want to do it again.

And after that — I hid out as much as I could for the next 9 months. I am so lucky that I was in a place in my life I could work from my (remote) home. My kids are grown and weren’t ever that interested in partying with me in any case, so no school events (except one college graduation, at which I organized the large family presence, something I had planned before getting sober. Again, miserable from the “getting through while everyone else was drinking wine I paid for” standpoint but actually fairly amazing from the “wow, I am present for this great moment in my kid’s life, and I am not missing it in a haze of booze and self-centeredness” POV. Was I the life of the party? No. Did I behave appropriately and affectionally at an event that was, after all, NOT ABOUT ME? Yes. For once, yes).

I did really cut back on social events, something I needed my husband’s support to do. I started seeing friends at times other than dinner, and when I couldn’t manage that, I didn’t stay as long. I found out lots of people don’t drink, and most don’t drink anywhere near as intensely as I did. I hadn’t noticed because I was too busy pouring my own.

I think if I had not had the support of AA, and my husband, and my flexible schedule that allowed me to stay away from “people, places, and things,” I’m not sure I could have made it as far as I have (423 days according to the handy counter on my phone). It was not advice I would have thought I was capable of taking at the beginning of this, and yet it is what I did, and I’m sober. It is why I can see rehab might be a really great option for people who might have a lot of trouble getting away from people, places, and things. Sometimes, I kind of loved (and still do) the thought of a peaceful few weeks detoxing somewhere where I didn’t have to navigate people, places, and things.

Oh, and one other thing. I thought for the first few months of all this that I had lost this huge part of myself — the party girl, the sophisticated wine collector, etc. etc. I had lost a huge part of myself, but I wasn’t accurately looking at who that alcohol-defined person really was. Today, I still have the friendships, I still find a way to get to sleep at night, I still love cooking dinner and visiting my kids in their interesting new cities.

But I have learned that it wasn’t the booze that made those people, places, and things special. It was the people, places, and things themselves. And finally, I am getting to enjoy them straight up, without diluting them first in a bottle of Pinot Noir.

Colonoscopy

In my last, rather tortuous, post, I tried to connect the skills I learned getting sober “one day at a time” with the calm attitude I strove for before my colonoscopy last week. In that post, I also talked about my experience with breast cancer. I got lots of lovely, supportive “so glad you are well” notices when I announced my bowels were clean — of cancer and everything else (OMG, let’s just acknowledge I have now defined “oversharing”). Thank you all for those, by the way.

But I need to clear a couple of things up. First, the breast cancer. That was all in 2008, with one last little teeny operation in early 2009. Since then, I have been cancer free and healthy, if fairly paranoid about a recurrence (though sobriety and the mind work that accompanies it has helped tremendously in healing that bruise). The colonoscopy had nothing to do with the breast cancer — it was just why I was so nervous about the procedure.

So I want to be clear — everyone should have one of these puppies (colonoscopies that is) when they reach 50, or earlier if there is a history of colon cancer in the family. That’s the current recommendation in the US — not sure about the UK and beyond, but I am betting it is similar there too. It is one of the most effective diagnostic tests against cancer. Colon cancer starts as a polyp in the colon and grows slowly from there. Not all polyps are cancer (or will become it) but all cancer starts from polyps. If such a thing is found during a colonoscopy, they can snip it off — no pain at all — and end the chance it will become cancer. If the polyp is allowed to grow into a cancer, there will be likely no signs until it is too advanced to treat, and from what I’ve heard, it is a terrible way to die.

Ladies, this is not unlike a pap smear (though the prep is admittedly gross — but not nearly as bad as I thought and not nearly as bad as 90% of the Internet stories about it): an easy test that can nip a devastating cancer in the bud (or butt).

Here’s some more info on the procedure the U.S. Dana Farber Institute.

And to be clear again — a colonoscopy is not to be feared, and it is not just for people who are sick or suspect they might have cancer. So don’t put it off — I’m sorry I did as long as I did.