Cruisin’

I want to check in quickly with my readers (all three of you) to let you know, I’m off on a Mexican Riviera cruise tomorrow, and may not be able to post for a week or so. Internet minutes are dear on the ship, and the connection is supposedly about the same strength as the battery-powered transistor radio I had back in the 70s (loved that thing). I put this out there because, having just started this blog, I didn’t want anyone to think I had grown bored and given it up already (because that is exactly what would have happened if I was still drinking — I was a great one for committing to new projects and passions whilst a couple of bottles down. This is how I acquired an Icelandic sheep flock).

Also, I’ve been inspired by the reports on Mummy was a Secret Drinker about her vacation in Jamaica. Though I have traveled a great deal since I stopped drinking — and often to places that could well be considered vacation hot spots, I was always working. This time, I plan to take the week off and vacation like a normal person.

Except for the drinking. I’m not much of a cruiser, but I know that for a lot of people, drinking is what this sort of trip is about. I am so so fortunate that this trip has been arranged by my sober bother and his wife (both with ten-plus years). It is a chance for his family, me, my grown youngest daughter, my mom, and her husband to spend some, but not too much, quality time together. I’m also going to read for pleasure, sit in the sun, and relax with my grown-up-and-moved-far-away baby.

In the past, I would have been itching to get at the free drinks our tickets get us — enough to pickle most heavy-weight boxers. I would have been planning how early I could get my first drink of the day, finding like minded quaffers, trying to stay up for late-night ice cream drinks, then sleeping badly, sweating rum all over the sun deck, carrying out a half-assed and guilt-driven exercise program, and fighting a hangover until I could get that first drink of the day. As Sober Mummy put it: Not restful nor a vacation at all.

How very lovely to be able to spend a week relaxing and enjoying, not drinking and planning on drinking or recovering from drinking. I am always on guard, because I know this is a sneaky disease, but at the moment, I have zero desire to drink on the ship. In fact, I feel profoundly grateful I don’t have to. Right now, I could not be more happy and grateful to go into this vacation sober

 

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Turning Day One into Day Two

In my last post I talked about my last Day One. I posited that the most important difference in that attempt at sobriety versus all the others in the past was that I gave up control of the process. I surrendered, gave in, took the first step, in the parlance of twelve steppers.

I think that was a necessary step, but not, as we used to say in economics class, but not sufficient (on its own). Other things had to happen, and one of those was that I did something different.

I have yet to meet an alcoholic who doesn’t — or didn’t (if they are in recovery) — think that he or she can keep trying past failed moderation (or even sobriety) plans and expect them to work this time. There is a reason so many bloggers refer to addiction as a wolf. It is clever and relentless and is not about to get fooled by a strategy it has defeated a thousand times in the past.

So if today really is going to be your last Day One, you’ve got to change it up, do something you haven’t done (seriously) before. In all likelihood, this something is going to be the something you have been avoiding — a meeting, a doctor, rehab — because it is just too damn scary. And why is it scary? Because it means you are not as exceptional as you thought. You aren’t going to be the first happily drinking alcoholic on the planet. You are really going to have to stop drinking.

My something different was an AA meeting. I know there are a range of views on AA. But as a first shot across the bow of addiction, I think it is a pretty good one. Here’s why:

  1. You can get to a meeting soon: AA is everywhere. You could get online ten minutes after you swear you have had your last drink ever and probably find a meeting within a couple of hours and a couple of miles of your house. I did, and that was the meeting that saved my life (see above). If you can get yourself into the room and ask for help before your crazy alcoholic brain starts talking you out of it, you are 90 percent of the way there. (I also know people who have checked into rehab (or were checked in) within hours of deciding “I’m done,” and that seems to be the best way to make it stick as well, though I am passing that on second hand). What you want to avoid is the “next week” syndrome — I have an appointment with a counselor or a doctor or a shaman NEXT WEEK, so that’s done. This is far too much time. At the point you have surrendered, you have probably spent 10-30 years being serious about drinking and 10-30 minutes being serious about stopping. By NEXT WEEK, you’ll be sending your doctor a case of nice Pinot just to forget the whole thing.
  2. People WILL help you at a meeting: You will get practical advise on staying sober until the next meeting, numbers to call to help you along, people clapping for your wise decision. You won’t be alone anymore.
  3. AA costs you nothing: I always laugh at the people who see AA as some sort of cult, desperate to recruit new members from the (t0o large) population of vulnerable drunks. Be clear: AA doesn’t cost anything except the couple bucks you throw in the pot for coffee and rent — and that’s voluntary. Everyone wants you to succeed, but no one will ever force you to show up. There’s talk of spirituality in recovery but no one religion is promoted — I know long-time AA members who are muslims, christians, hindus, atheists, agnostics, and warlocks. I’m a buddhist. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, as they always say at the beginning of the meetings. The only religion not welcome is the cult of the cocktail.

Maybe you have tried meetings in the past, and they haven’t worked for you. OK, I MIGHT accept that, but I want you to ask first, why not? Was it because you were still fighting the thought that you had to stop drinking? Because you went in looking for reasons you were different than everyone in that room rather than for reasons you were the same? Did you speak up and ask for help, or sit in the back calculating how long it would take you to drive to the nearest liquor store?

All I am saying is, if you feel that THIS Day One is different, maybe give a meeting another chance, this time without agenda. All you have to lose is your $2.

Monday Morning Quarterback: Part One/Stop Thinking

I’m in California this week, so I realize Monday morning is far gone for most of you (and it is actually nearing dinnertime here), but I found myself in thinking about what I would do if I were a dear friend of mine who is today again on Day One. Or more accurately, thinking what I did do over a year ago when I walked into an AA meeting and, much to my own surprise, told a bunch of strangers that I was an alcoholic and wanted to stop drinking. Those people saved my life, by the way, and at some point I’ll tell that story. Or maybe just erect a huge statue to them and release a thousand doves

But this Monday, I have been trying to figure out why that was a Day One that stuck. What made that particular moment the one that launched my sober life when so many other pledges and prayers didn’t take? I understand and fully appreciate that everyone is different, and what worked for me may not work for you. Sober bubble baths, for example? Just made me want a glass of champagne to complete the picture. And really no one, especially me, needs to contemplate my naked belly unmedicated.

So what I’m about to share, I do in hopes that it might help someone else get where I am now — one year and two weeks of sobriety, so hard won and so worth the struggle. I also realize, once I started writing this up, that I have a LOT to say on the matter, so I’m going to break up my own person “How It Works” into several posts, maybe not all right away. And like they say in AA, Take from this what you can use, leave the rest.

I think the first, biggest difference on my last Day One was was that I stopped thinking.

Since I started drinking at about 18, I had always been a “game” drinker. I worked in a profession and hung out with people (and family) for whom drinking was a part of any social (and most business) gathering, meal, or event. We weren’t winos, we were wine connoisseurs. We didn’t have a problem, we gave great dinner parties. That sort of thing. But over the last decade, things got more desperate in my drinking (either that or I realized that they did — fodder for another blog post). I started not being able to limit myself to two glasses, even on just family nights at home. I started drinking before I went out so as not to seem to drink to much when I was out then drank more when I got home. I began to enjoy drinking alone more than I enjoyed social drinking.

As these habits started to become obsessions, I began to make stricter bargains with myself about moderating, deals I never kept. I gingerly looked up information on alcoholism but decided I could not be an alcoholic because I could not quit — I could not imagine a life without alcohol (recognize the logic there?) I checked out AA meetings, where they were. I watched my brother and sister-in-law (both eleven years sober today) and their friends for afar (and with a disdainful smirk on my face, because I thought they were no fun anymore now that they couldn’t handle their liquor — yeah, I was THAT asshole alcoholic). I spent many a three a.m. up in a cold sweat, regretting that I again could not remember how much I drank or what I did or where my purse was. After sneaking out of the bedroom, locating wallet and cell phone, and hiding the bottle I killed after everyone went to bed, I would lie awake until dawn, planning how to stop, at least for a while, just to show that I could. And none of my elaborate schemes got me even two days of sobriety.

What did get me into that meeting on my real Day One was that I stopped thinking. I stopped trying to control my free fall. I walked over to the meeting place in a (hungover) fog, not thinking beyond the next literal step, not having a clue what I expected from the meeting, not having an agenda at all. I sat down with a bunch of strangers told them my name, and started sobbing.

Previous to this, all of my efforts to stop or (mostly) moderate had been MY plans. I had set the rules (then broken them). I decided what I needed to do. On my Day One that stuck, I had no plan beyond getting in the door to the meeting. I had no idea what to do once I got there and asked for help.

I completely gave up control and put it in the hands of the saints at that meeting. They sent me home with a copy of Living Sober, which I read cover to cover, twice, that day. And I did everything the book advised, like I was a piece of Ikea furniture and that book was the assembly instructions. I went back to a meeting the next day, hungry for more guidance, and kept going to a meeting a day, for ninety days, just as I was told. Later I found the wonderful sober community online and started following advice here.

Now, for the most part, I don’t let my (crazy alcoholic) brain get involved in deciding how I’m going to stay sober. I leave that to sober friends, AA, and, yeah, a higher power of sorts (I’m not involved in an organized religion, but I have developed a spiritual practice that helps guide my sobriety).

So I guess my first piece of advice to those out there hoping like hell to get to a Day Two, Day Ten, and Day Ten Thousand is: Stop trying to outsmart your addiction. You can’t. Just admit defeat. Tell alcohol: You win. I’m not playing anymore. Take your bucket of beer and go home. Then, for as long as it take, for me it may be a lifetime, put your sobriety in the hands of the enormous and loving community of ex-drunks, who I guarantee you will welcome you — as I was welcomed — with laughter and support and guidance and companionship and, most of all, the promises of a happier life than you can ever imagine.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

At the moment, I am sitting by myself on a rainy night in San Francisco waiting for my daughter to get home from an  office happy hour. I’m visiting for a few weeks, so I don’t mind her abandoning me with the cats for the evening. And so far, she has shown little of the drinking behavior that I did at her age (20s). I’ve been here two weeks already, and she has opened one bottle of wine, from which she takes 1/2 a glass (or what I would consider 1/2 a glass) with dinner every few days. I mean, the bottle is still here, in the fridge. Who raised this child?

Quick side note: I NEVER that I can remember, opened a wine bottle that I did not kill in the same evening. My husband learned to make vinegar about a year before I got sober and announced that he would use all the left over wine each evening. I found this hilarious.

In any case, at this point in my sober journey, I am starting to consider how I will fill my hours now that my dysfunctional marriage to alcohol has ended. I’m actually having to think about what it is that makes me happy. And I feel like a complete novice at the process. Why? Because what used to make me happy always had to involve drinking (and the rest was less important). If I were doing something and drinking, or was going to be drinking later, I was happy. I thought.

Now I didn’t used to see it that clearly, but I had this incredible eye-opening week on vacation (out to dinner every night) with my hard drinking mom and her husband, who is dying of diagnosed alcohol induced dementia (not a pretty sight — and a story for another time). And yes, they both still drink. And yes they know that I am an alcoholic in recovery as is my only sibling. This disease runs in families, folks.

At dinner, in an attempt to pass the time while my stepfather (1) forgot where he was, (2) argued with my mother over whether she was drinking more of the wine than he, (3) forgot who I was, (4) offered me a glass of wine for the 45 millionth time, I was revisiting memories from my childhood with my mom. The conversation went like this…

ME: Remember when we had that big barbecue in the back yard for the Bicentennial?

MOM: Oh yes, we made whiskey sours and everyone got smashed and gave funny speeches.

Or:

MOM: Remember when we went to Paris, and your dad and I drank three bottles of really nice wine and your Dad kissed the waiter?

ME: No.

MOM: Maybe you weren’t there that time.

Anyway, the point is, she has NO happy memory that is not first about what was drunk. So why am I surprised that I can’t think of how to be happy in a way that does not involve drink. Of course, as an adult, I had lots of hobbies (cooking, so I could throw dinner parties WITH LOTS OF WINE) and passions (travel TO WINE REGIONS). And I loved my kids and participated in all their activities and triumphs (Long days that earned me my nightly bottle — birthday parties with a bar for the adults. I was even a Brownie leader, and we held our leadership meetings over tequila shots. Oh I was the FUN mom).

So I certainly get it when the Day One-ers of the world out there panic that they will never have fun again. If they are like me, they have few memories of fun that was not linked in some way to alcohol. And damn alcohol for that — taking all the credit for the joy that parenthood and friendship and hobbies bring.

Which brings me back to where I started, oh so many paragraphs ago. Sobriety year two — finding happiness in all the places it has always been, but I have been too plastered to notice.

The Holy Grail of Moderation

On another blog, one commenter said: “For many of us at the beginning, moderation would have been our holy grail, but further down the line you realise that actually true freedom from that whispering, bargaining voice, the regret and self-flagellation, only comes from total abstinence.”

I think this is worth reading, about one thousand times, for those in early sobriety or even just thinking about getting drinking under control. It is worth reading for people like me too. Those of us who have some many months of hard-won sobriety under our belts and begin to think, especially on a Friday, I got this. I understand how dangerous excessive drinking is now, would never go back to that, but what harm one lousy glass of wine at the office happy hour…

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Now excuse me while I go get that comment tattooed on my ass. Because I am an alcoholic, and I am certain that just one drink will spiral me back into a dark and lonely place I don’t ever want to go again. So fire up the espresso machine and TGIF.

Before I got properly sober, I spent several years developing elaborate drink moderation plans. I usually started hungover Sunday morning with “I’m only drinking on the weekends.” Of course, since it was still the weekend at that point, I would go out to a favorite Mexican restaurant and down three or four margaritas (enough tequila to kill your average bullfighter) — it was our family tradition! You can’t eat enchiladas without a margarita! It would make everyone uncomfortable (because I am sure my hardly-drinking husband and my children were comforted by my nodding off into the salsa)!

Most often, I didn’t even make it through Monday. I’d have a work event, and who can get through those without wine, at which point, Monday had turned into a drinking day, and didn’t count. Or I would decide, I would only drink when we went out. To be sociable, you know. Or I would just have two glasses of wine a night, because that’s HEALTHY. It helps with heart disease (as if my liver wasn’t going to kill me years before my heart had its first murderous thought).

I could usually negotiate my way into drinking just as much as ever for the whole week. The worst part was I believed my own bullshit. I really thought I was a normal drinker just trying to set up a healthy plan, like everyone else. Kinda like cutting down on carbs.

No, strike that. The worst part was the TIME I gave alcohol. When I wasn’t drinking it, I was regretting drinking it or using all my brain power and energy to figure out how to drink it — drink it all. The constant negotiation and failure and renegotiation and rationalization was exhausting and frightening. It defined me. I was a person dedicated beyond all else to drinking myself to death. That end justified all means — including lying (to myself and others), obsessing, and, of course, poisoning myself.

The comment I led with reminded me of this. The Holy Grail doesn’t exist. Moderation doesn’t exist for me, and I assume for many other alcoholics. If you think it might work for you, I would guess you either aren’t an alcoholic — in which case, stop reading this and go start your web search for the best Happy Hour deals tonight. Or you are an alcoholic who is not yet ready to stop, with all the honesty, and ultimately freedom, that involves.

 

 

Hello Sober Blogging World!

There are a lot of reasons I, sober now one year and change, have not started a sober blog until now. I’m a writer by trade, and I couldn’t imagine using my free non-writing time to, you know, write. I have a hard time throwing my first, or even eighth, drafts out into the world, yet I get that the power of blogs is often in their unfiltered spontaneity. Though an avid lurker and occasional commenter in the sober blogging world, I wasn’t sure I had much to add, except a huge thank you to all those braver than I who have shared their struggles and triumphs.

In fact, I need to shout out to several outstanding bloggers who I credit as much as anything for the fact I have a new and happy (not always easy, but always present) life today: Annie at Dappled Path, Mrs. D at Mrs. D is Going Without, SoberMummy at Mummy was a Secret Drinker, ainsobriety, and many more I know I am going to remember as the blogging days go by.

I’m still not sure I have all that much to offer, but I do, always, have a lot to say. And as one who also credits AA with saving my life, especially in the early days (40 in 40 my friends – I wouldn’t have believed it, but it got me through the flaming brimstone), I believe in the 12th step. I stay sober by helping another alcoholic stay sober. Because I travel a lot, I’m not able to sponsor someone in person, so for now, this blog will be my way to reach out.

And now, I’m going to shut up. One of my other concerns about blogging is that I tend to go on (and on and on). I have a million issues I’d like to discuss: first year blues, parenting regrets, drinking families, sorting out the memories, socializing sober, why I haven’t lost 75 pounds like my sober sister-in-law, why I have gained five pounds despite cutting out about a million calories a day in Pinot Noir.

Actually, I promise, this is not going to turn into a “why am I still fat” blog. In fact, like a good AA meeting, I plan to keep my posts to drinking and not drinking, and how and why to go from one to the other, and how I did, and how I hope to stay on this side, where the grass is most certainly greener, probably because there hasn’t been vodka spilled all over it. That is what I need to stay sober in year two, and what I hope will help someone get or stay sober today.