Day 10: The Sober Rollercoaster

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I’ve been putting off writing this post because every time I feel like doing it, I know that an hour later I will probably be in a completely different state of mind, and the post will not be representative of the “Day” which, for some strange reason, I think it it meant to represent. I’ve also been putting it off because I feel like all I do on this blog is complain about feeling sad and lonely, and honestly, I don’t want to impose my negativity onto anyone. But here I go anyway, because I am hoping that writing will help, and because I want to keep this blog alive. So here I go.

AM I GOING CRAZY?

Life feels like a rollercoaster of insanity these days. I feel like a hyperemotional mess right now, and apologize to anyone reading this for the gloomy mood.

A small example of how intensely the pendulum has been swinging for me in the last couple of days.

On Wednesday, I navigated my first cocktail party sober and it was a breeze. Zero cravings. 100% joy, happy mood. Glad to have chatted to people, amused to see people (i.e. my past self) get more and more sloppy-drunk as the evening progressed, glad to notice the MULTIPLE non-drinkers (somehow I had NEVER noticed these people before. I spent so much time surrounding myself with drinkers that I projected that the whole world constantly drank, and the non-drinkers I simply blocked out of my attention and friendship circles), glad to not make a drunken fool of myself or retrospectively worry that I had, glad to leave when I had had enough, glad to feel great the next morning. Easy peasy. 

Last night, on the other hand, as I was trying to sleep next to my partner (who has an aversion to physical contact before sleeping – something with which I struggle as I have very strong needs for affection before sleeping), I was feeling sad and lonely (but keeping it to myself). I then heard my partner stroke the new cat we brought back from the SPCA that afternoon, and whisper soothing and comforting words to it: “It’s ok baby, it’s ok. I love you so much”. I am not proud of what follows.

My partner thought I was asleep, but upon hearing and seeing him provide for a cat what I feel he doesn’t provide for me but I deeply need (in his defense, he says he tries his best and really can’t sleep if he is touching somebody else), I started to curl up in a little ball of suffering and cry silently. (This would obviously never happen if I went to sleep after drinking).

After a while my partner noticed I was not asleep but crying, and when he hugged me and asked me what was wrong, it was too late: I started to weep uncontrollably. I barely had the time to say “I’m sorry, the ‘no physical contact’ thing is too much for me to handle tonight, I think I need to take care of my own emotional needs and be alone” before leaving his house and running home. I then wept until 3:00 AM in my bed, feeling alone in the universe and like nobody loves me.

This is not the first time that this has happened, but it is the first relationship in which it has, and the problem is this is the first relationship in which I have ever gone to sleep with someone SOBER. It is very difficult for me to untangle things: are my feelings due to a dysfunctional dynamic in my relationship (needs too high or badly expressed, partner not able to meet needs, incompatibility between partners, etc.) OR is this just some primitive emotional need that is bubbling up at night BECAUSE I AM SOBER? I have never been with someone who hates cuddling before sleep, and I have never been sober in a long term relationship before. I don’t know which factor is responsible for my unhappiness, and I am seriously questioning whether I should remain in a relationship with somebody if I am crying myself to sleep every night (I am fine when I sleep alone, by the way).

As I write all this, I can’t help but think there is something wrong with me. (For feeling so lonely, for feeling such a strong and unquenchable need to be loved/receive physical affection, for staying in a situation which makes me unhappy, and most of all, for not knowing HOW to fix this: for being unable to decide whether I need to fix myself or fix my situation).

WHAT IS THIS INSANE BEHAVIOR? How can a 31 year old grown woman (perfectly functional by day, I assure you) be jealous of a poor little cat, of a few loving words uttered to it, not to her? My intellect knows perfectly well that all this drama was caused by me being triggered, then creating a series of projections and stories in my mind and causing the resurfacing of some kind of abandonment wound from the past. (but again: is this resurfacing due to my relationship or my being sober?)

But SERIOUSLY, jealous of a cat? urgh.

Does this mean I am unable of being in an adult relationship?

Should I go to therapy for this?

After all that drama and crying, I had strong urges to drink and numb my feelings that night. I didn’t drink though, I simply let myself cry and be sad (this is very new to me, and is something I had worked towards doing in therapy, but never really managed to, since I was drunk most of the time and unaware of my feelings/running away from them). This morning as I sipped my coffee I even noticed thoughts like “fuck it, this sobriety stuff is dumb, I need a break, I am exhausted, maybe tonight I go for a beer, what else is there to do in life anyway?”, etc. popping up. Thankfully, I know to let them pass and breathe through the cravings.

I’m going to keep sitting with these feelings of loneliness and eventually let my poor partner back in at some point (I told him I wasn’t ready to talk yet).

Writing all this (again, sorry to any readers out there) has helped a bit. I don’t feel like drinking anymore. And I feel less sad.

The funny thing is that initially, I was the one who wanted to get a cat for myself. I guess my partner beat me to it. Maybe we can each have our own cat, and work on ourselves separately for a bit.

Sigh. 

Living sober is not easy. I hope you guys are having a better time than me, and that I will join you again in the land of happy sobriety soon.

xx

Anne

Day 6: Bye bye comfort zone !

I’ve been sober for 6 days, and already I’ve done a bunch of random stuff that took me out of my comfort zone: I attended an evangelist fundraiser for kids in Zambia (that was easy cause the evangelist people don’t drink, there was no alcohol served – haha), I’ve worked as a hostess for a bike-powered smoothie gig (which involved cheering people on as they pedal to make their own smoothies in a mall for 5 hours), I managed to somehow catch a cold, I broke up then made up with my partner, I overcame my shame and went to a dermatologist to start a new treatment for adult acne. And last but not least, I set myself a longer-term goal that implies overcoming some serious fear: 

In another AF community I’m part of they make you book a physical challenge so you’re working towards a goal and have a “reason” to stay sober. Most people chose to run half marathons or whatever, but I personally HATE running, so I decided to pick something that has been on my mind for a couple of years and is still the main obstacle in my yoga practice: my intense FEAR OF HANDSTANDS. I used to be able to do them against a wall a few years ago, but I guess my fear has increased with age, and these days even the “against the wall” handstand feels like too much. I’m thinking, if I don’t start now I’m NEVER going to be able to do this. So I set up a rug again a wall in my living room as a practice space, and made one pathetic attempt that failed. But at least I have something to work with and improve. Let’s see how this goes, maybe in 3 months I’ll have made some progress 🙂 

Tomorrow evening I have my first serious social event and “challenge” situation: my university’s welcome reception cocktail party. I have already mentioned to a few friends (including those present during my embarrassing binge on the evening before Day 1 – see “Day 2, here we go”) that I’m on a “sobriety challenge”. I’m feeling a bit nervous, as this is typically the kind of situation in which I used to believe that alcohol was necessary in order to survive. I suffer from a bad case of impostor’s syndrome in the academic setting, and alcohol used to take the edge off of the awkward conversations with my colleagues and faculty members. This time I will try to remember that 90% of people in academia suffer from similar anxieties and are awkward people in the first place, and that there is nothing wrong with me. That sober-Anne is good enough and smart enough to deal with the people and the chit-chat for a couple of hours while sipping sparkling water. And most of all, that once she has made an appearance and fulfilled her duty, sober-Anne is wise enough to just get out of there if sh**t gets too boring or unbearable. 

What are some of the challenges you’re learning to face without liquid courage these days ?

Whatever it is, keep going!

Anne

Day 4: Grief?

Wow.

I started meditating again after a two week long break. I usually do 1h – 1h30 a day, split into two or three sessions. This morning, I did 40 minutes, 20 of which were spent weeping. Weeping for no specific reason, it seemed at first. Then it became clearer: weeping because of the deep unhappiness of loved ones close to me (see previous post), and for myself (my partner and I are facing a rough patch, he has decided to go back to therapy and we are taking a break so he can work on himself. I miss him a lot).

I feel like I have lost, or am grieving for the loss of a few things: the “presence” of alcohol in my every day life, hope that my parents will ever change or be happy, my relationship.

And I must face the facts: I am alone. I am with myself.

I must remember that this is ok.

It feels so strange to actually feel these emotions without having to push them away. I’m not freaking out that they’re there. Of course, they pass. Every time.

I know it’s only day 4, but so far I have not had any desire to drink whatsoever. It’s simply off the table. I do feel like I am mourning the loss of a liquid companion. But I know it’s an unhelpful companion, who provided a brief distraction in the moment, and drove me further and further away from myself and reality as time went by. The flip side is that I now get to spend all this time with the companion that alcohol turned into a barely audible voice and invisible being: myself. My sober, sensitive, self.

As early as 10:00am this I started to feel intense pangs of loneliness. Usually these hit me in the evening, if I spend the evening alone. This feeling of being alone in the world and unloved truly is the most difficult emotion for me to handle. Thankfully, at some point, I reminded myself that I create my own reality and I could either keep feeling sorry for myself, or actually do something to feel better. So I went to yoga with a friend, and I went to read a book in the park instead of staying indoors.

By pure chance (or because we live in a small town), my partner randomly showed up at the same park. After three days of no contact, he just appeared out of nowhere. We talked. He said his need for space was in part due to the impression that my decision to quit drinking was made because of him (and that as soon as I am away from him I start drinking again). This is both true (I drank in secret and at almost every occasion when he wasn’t around) and false (my decision to quit was made 100% for myself, is due in great part to my family history, and has been brewing for a VERY long time. In a sense, it has absolutely nothing to do with my partner).

Paradox? He offered that we spend the evening together, but I spontaneously said I would rather spend the evening alone, with myself, to process my feelings.

Look at me go!

Usually I would have wanted a beer as soon as I returned to my empty apartment. Tonight I don’t. I am simply writing this here – in this confused post, which is less about drinking than about the things I would use drinking to cover up.

I am determined to learn how to enjoy being alone, being with myself, and need neither a substance or another person to make me feel happy. I need to internalize the idea that I am enough.

It’s strange, but although I spent most of my Sunday crying, right now I can say that I am happy. I feel proud of being able to deal with reality as it is, and with my feelings.

Whatever your goal, stay strong !

Anne

Day 2: Here we go!

Yep, you heard, me: day 2, not 1. 

Why, you ask? Because, my friend, for me, day 1 was spent in bed, running to the bathroom to puke bile every hour, nursing the worst hangover I have had in a very very long time. 

Sigh.

Let me rewind a little bit. 

Two weeks ago, I hopped on a plane to my home country for a well-deserved holiday, after an intense summer of work. Back home (I’m not trying to justify anything here, just saying), drinking is part of every day life, of the culture, it’s “what we do”. Or at least, it’s what the people I’ve surrounded myself with throughout the years do. All the time. My family and friends  all drink. Because I knew I would be going back home this summer, I knew I would want to “enjoy myself” one last time before my quit date, which I set for my return. 

And enjoy myself I did! For about a week. At first it was just one or two drinks. Soon, I needed 3 to get a buzz, and by the end of the two weeks I found myself obsessing about drinking and gulping the drinks down faster than most of my friends, thinking about the next one before I finished the previous one, and waking up to hangovers like that was a normal part of life. Still, it felt like I was “having fun” and my “well deserved” alcoholic reward. 

Sigh.

Then, on week 2 I went to visit my parents, which is when shit started to hit the fan. 

My mother is a heavy alcoholic (and, I think, a narcissist). I spent my whole childhood being sad for unknown reasons and my teenage years being silently angry at “the monster” that was my mother. She has been an alcoholic for the last 35 years, with occasional month-long periods of sobriety. My father, my siblings and I tried several times to get her to quit. She saw several addictologists, who (surprise) all ended up being “incompetent”. All her attempts failed. Now she drinks when she wakes up, she drinks in the car (yep, she brings a fucking wine box and glass and sits in the passengers’ seat sipping wine like it’s a normal thing to do), she drinks during meals, before meals, after meals. My dad (a quiet, hard-working, emotionally incompetent Protestant type) is the enabler, who takes her shit and pours her “top up” after “top up”. I spent most of my 20’s being angry at him for being so passive. For several years now, he has resigned himself to living with (and taking care of) a depressed, obese woman who no longer has a job, treats him like shit, has hip replacements but can barely walk, and drinks herself into oblivion (or worse, an angry drunk) every day. My parents’ life over the years has shrunk into becoming a black hole of isolation and co-dependent hell.

Needless to say my siblings and I all fled the nest as soon as we could. I see my parents once or twice a year. Living abroad is a convenient excuse. I have worked hard in therapy to deal with the anger, sadness and guilt that all this has caused, and am still working on it. Going back to the nest feels ok for a day or two, but then starts to feel like hell. We all grew up in silence, treading on eggshells and unable to express our feelings. Therapy has helped my to set boundaries and speak up when I feel like thing have gone too far.

Nowadays, my tolerance limit with my parents is about 2 days. After that, the mind games, the addictions, the arguments, the drama and conflict are too much for me to handle. This summer, I stormed out of their house on two occasions, completely overwhelmed by the unhealthy manipulation and drunken aggressivity. The second time, I left after telling my mother “you need a psychiatrist”. Going back to their house turns me into the angry 14 year old I was never allowed to be. We did “make up” on the last day, mostly to make my father feel better, but it was artificial. I was happy to leave. It was a question of survival. 

During my stay, there was one notable and useful event. When I was alone with my father, I  brought up a topic that had never crossed my mind and was mentioned to me by my little brother the previous week. I asked my dad if there was any hidden trauma in the family that would explain why my mother is so unhappy, beyond the alcoholism. He confirmed that as children, my mother and her siblings (two heavy alcoholics, one of them who died of alcoholism) were repeatedly sexually molested by an uncle of theirs. This was both a shock (especially as my father “never really talked about it with my mother”. sigh.) and a huge relief. Turns out, unlike what I had grown to believe throughout the years: I am not doomed to become like my mother. There is no “curse” in my blood or DNA, there is an exterior, empirical traumatic event that was not dealt with. I am not my mother. I didn’t mention the whole matter to her, since a) she was never sober b) I was not sure she could handle it or c) that it was my place to do so. 

I had never suspected that there was another reason that made my mother so fucked up. I had never stopped to think that the alcohol did not appear out of nowhere, but was used to self-medicate for a wound that was never healed. I am happy and proud to be the first one in my family to go to therapy and break the cycle of shame and silence and addiction. 

Going back to alcohol-hell made me remember where I come from and where I don’t want to end up. Gave me even more motivation for my sober journey. 

After my trip, on the day that my plane landed, I had a department event: pizza and drinks. This was my “last chance” to “enjoy myself” before my quit date. Despite the jet lag and exhaustion from traveling, despite the fact that I neither knew not liked most of the people there, I went to the event. I didn’t care about anything except drinking. And boy, did I drink. I gulped the drinks down until people started saying “Anne, I am worried about your jet lag”, or “wow, you really need to go to bed”. And I kept drinking, “having fun”. The next morning I spent vomiting and feeling the pain of having poisoned my body so violently the night before. I texted my partner to say I was hungover and couldn’t get lunch with him. He was very disappointed, and texted me “Is that why you didn’t want to see me last night? So you could drink? I feel like you chose alcohol over me, and like I was lied to”. Despite my apology and his “forgiveness”, I know he is still upset with me. 

So yeah, for me day 1 was easy. It was practically nonexistent. A cloud of pain and shame. This morning, I woke up very early. I was sewing a hole in an old pair of shorts of mine, and you bet: my fingers were shaking. 

The real shit starts now. 

I no longer want to make tortured decisions about whether to drink or not to drink. This single decision, whereby alcohol is off the table altogether no matter what, is freeing. I want to be free from hell. 

During my hangover I finished listening to This Naked Mind, which really helped me get ready over the last few weeks. https://www.amazon.com/This-Naked-Mind-Discover-Happiness/dp/B078F9NDFS/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=this+naked+mind+drinking&qid=1567784774&s=gateway&sr=8-2

I am more motivated than ever. 

Whoever is out there and trying hard: you can do this ! Stay strong! 

Anne. 

Two weeks to go – the grey zone.

Two weeks to go before I quit drinking. I mean, quit for a long time, quit for “real”. (As if the 11 last days weren’t real).

Last night for the first time in 12 days, I drank alcohol. At a dinner party, with friends. There were no disasters, no embarrassing events, no regrets. A slight hangover. Slight fear and worry, but no regrets. I even told my partner, who knows I want to be sober. He made no comments.

Despite appearances this “success” is a slippery slope for me. It’s the road to thinking “see? I can moderate, no problem! this sobriety crap is for REAL alcoholics. All you need is to drink normally, like normal people. You can do it”. Yep, my internal dialogue can be a manipulative obnoxious asshole sometimes.

What REALLY happened is: last night I started fantasizing about drinking two hours BEFORE the dinner party. I fought off cravings to drink before going. Once I was there, I had to make tremendous efforts to try and drink slowly, and pretend like I wasn’t already thinking of the next glass while I was still working on the current one. It felt like a kind of starvation: wanting more, more, more, but pretending not to. In total, I must have had about 6 glasses of wine. But then when I got home I had the urge to drink MORE. I didn’t. Then this this afternoon I started fantasizing about drinking later on in the evening. I then experienced VERY strong cravings to drink “as a reward” for my work day. Or to drink to avoid the anxiety linked to my work day. Or just to drink.

Yep. Even more sneaky, under all these cravings, was an especially destructive thought pattern. The desire to drink “because I drank last night, and thereby fucked up 11 days of sobriety and therefore should just go all the way and get super drunk and just drink every day until my quit date”. The voice that says, as Day 1 slowly approaches, and a part of me begins to get scared, “WTF are you thinking, being sober BEFORE the official day 1 of sobriety ??? You are wasting precious “drinking time” ! You should be enjoying, not depriving yourself right now”. etc. etc. etc.

Yadda yadda.

Sneeeeaky thoughts! Yep, I only took one dinner party to get me going back to the good old “secret planning” mentality. This afternoon I caught myself telling my partner I would have to work all evening and it was best that I stayed alone, while thinking in the back of my mind “If I am alone, I can drink as a reward after work, or even WHILE I work, to get me through it (as a grad student I do most of my work at home), or I could just drink INSTEAD of working, no one will ever know”.

Thankfully, I didn’t pay too much attention to these thoughts, and actually managed to get to work, although it was REALLY hard. Then, before I knew it, the evening came and my partner asked if he could come over and sleep in my bed while I finished working. I said yes, and here I am, sober, typing this as my “reward” and “winding-down” after a LONG and tiring work session. No beer tonight = no opportunity to feed the all-black/all-white narratives = I have no choice but to sit with all these mixed feelings.

And you know what? It actually feels really good to have been “forced by events” to be sober tonight. It forced me to stay in the GREY ZONE, the zone in which I am neither perfect, nor a complete monster. Where I am not clinging like a maniac and acting impulsively just to confirm this or that limiting belief about myself. My partner unknowingly broke the all-or-nothing pattern of thought that got me into so many f***ed up drunken or binge eating conundrums, where one tiny “fuck up” or imperfection leads to “ok, I fucked up once, might as well have one more”, and before you know it, you’re facing a catastrophic loss of control and you’re a) drunk b) binge eating c) using another substance or addictive behavior d) probably stuck in (or going to face) a wave of depression, which is NOT FUN.

Tonight I was spared all of that cycle. And the relief at the prospect of NOT feeling guilty tomorrow is weirdly outweighing the (manageable) frustration of not rewarding myself with that beer.

As I type this I am also realizing that I have been working for 3 hours straight and have ingested no liquids whatsoever. I am actually thirsty, for WATER. My craving for a beer could be in most part due to the fact that I neglected my physiological needs while I forced myself to work. This would never occur to me if I was drinking alcohol.

In a couple of days I am going on a two-week long vacation – that will probably be a whole different story. I am going to try and enjoy myself in moderation, and not feel guilty. I will eat good food and I will drink. But I will not self-destructively drink, or drink to prove to myself that I am a horrible, weak person with no willpower. Nope, I am going to ALLOW myself to experience pleasure, and do my best to STOP once pleasure turns into excess. And then I am going to get on a plane on September 4th. When that plane lands and I step onto firm land (that’s perhaps more of a getting off a boat image), I will be home. And it will be Day 1.

For “real”.

As if reality wasn’t already happening right here, right now.

I am SO NOT READY and yet I know I can do this.

And if I can, believe me, SO CAN YOU.

Five things I learnt after 11 days alcohol free

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It hadn’t happened in a long time. For the first time in years I made a daily choice to live without alcohol, and 11 days later, here is what I have learnt.

  1. Drinking takes up way more time than you would expect

Planning it, doing it, regretting it, recovering from it, planning it again, resisting, doing it anyway…. Buying it, choosing it, thinking about it. SO. MUCH. TIME of my life has been dedicated to the art of pouring ethanol down my throat. After 11 days with alcohol off the table – and recently, off of my mind- I feel like my days have been extended by 30%. This can be liberating (yay, new hobbies, productivity, free time), but also anxiety inducing, depending on what kind of person you are (gaaaah, boredom, the void, having to face the potential meaningless blob that your life has become and/or that you drank to forget/sugar coat). (In case you were wondering, I am a mix of both^^) When you are sober on a daily basis, you have to fill your day, not your glass, and do it with yourself, for yourself, by yourself, no excuses. And no more alcohol to soothe that unpleasant feeling, or cover up the fact that you’ve just been sitting in front of a screen for 5 hours. You own your actions, you can’t blame them on the booze. Sober life is a life that you compose, and stares right back at you and looks you in the face. You can’t run away from what you do with it. 

2. Hello emotional rollercoaster. 

After years of numbing my feelings with alcohol (and despite five years of therapy and working hard on myself) it was no surprise that my affective highs and lows got more extreme when I removed my favorite anesthetic from the equation. Yes, drunken drama is a thing, and can give the impression for some people drinking means being more emotional. And I must admit that drinking often allowed me to express feelings that I kept bottled up while I was sober. Most of this emotional turmoil however tended to disappear and be forgotten the next day. Regular drunken drama (liquid courage) is NOT the same thing as working though your sh***t (real courage). For me, druken emotionality was mostly just another form of entertainment, which distracted me from my core problems (like my alcoholism and alcoholic family, for starters).  Without liquid lubricant, FEELING things feels completely different. Sober emotions hurt, burn, itch, and -urgh- stick around until you actually address the problem. That’s definitely one of the more difficult aspects of being AF for me. The lows were definitely more numerous during the first few days of not drinking, but once the physical and emotional hangover was over (after about 4 days), I started to feel calmer. Now, despite all the unpleasant emotions that I have to face, I also feel more solid, and capable of dealing with them, of sitting with them. I’m learning that I don’t need to run: feeling shitty is ok. and temporary, like everything else. (Prepare for a lot of shit to come to the surface if you have been avoiding it for a while. The good news is that this will give you something to do! See number 1^^)

3. Sleeeeeepy

I had always thought drinking made me sleep more, given all the time spent sleeping off the painful hungover headaches until noon. I imagined that being sober would magically involve me waking up at 6:00 and doing all the stuff that productive people do. #miraclemorning … WRONG! I found myself sleeping much better (yay deep sleep, yay REM), but also about 2 hours more every single night so far.

4. The magical world of (sugar free) soft drinks.

I realize now that I have spent the last ten years mostly drinking coffee and alcohol, and called it “hydration”. The only times I would drink water would be after exercising, and before bed after an evening of heavy drinking, to limit the pain of the next day. Now I find myself dying of thirst pretty regularly, and gulping down seltzer water -or regular water, or tea- like my life depends on it. I also got into brewing Kombucha, which is just as delicious as beer, and FUN to make at home.

5. Surf those cravings.

As the days go by, I am able to better identify the triggers which make me want to drink. My main triggers are: needing a reward after making an effort, feeling nervous, and feeling lonely. Now, I must find alternative ways to reward myself, soothe/encourage myself before I step out of my comfort zone, and give myself self-compassion/care when I feel alone in the universe.  I find that H.A.L.T. (Hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is always a good reminder when a sudden longing for beer appears : making sure these four aspects of life are taken care of solves the problem 80% of the time. This is good because it means my cravings were 80% of the time related something other than alcohol: now I can actually tend to my REAL needs 🙂 

– trigger warning for those who are on a “permanent” sobriety journey and still feel fragile – maybe don’t read this last paragraph – If you have read my previous posts, you will know that these 11 days alcohol free happened somewhat by chance, in an unplanned manner. I have set a date for my “3 month sobriety challenge” (that I might extend to an undefined sate once I am done, we shall see), which begins on September 4th. Tonight, I am going to dinner at a friend’s house, and bought a bottle of wine. This means I will be drinking, which makes me feel nervous and a bit guilty. On the other hand, the addict part in me wants to do SOME drinking before my official quit date. #FOMO This guilt and anxiety is making me crave a beer BEFORE going to the dinner party – but thankfully I am now able to identify the sneaky little bastard of a craving and I will NOT indulge in it.

I am worried about whether I will be able to moderate, and whether it will mess up my day tomorrow. Removing alcohol altogether has had the advantage of making things easier to deal with. But I am still obviously terrified that sobriety means “missing out on life”, since I could very well not drink tonight, but have still decided that I would. 

We will see how it goes. 

A part of me is eager to start practicing sober social life : I realize now that my 11 days of sobriety have mostly been spent at home or with my partner, who barely drinks at all. I don’t feel ready to attend a small event like an intimate dinner party where drinking is involved without participating. Being sober in a crowd at the couple of music shows I went to recently was on the other hand very easy, because I went with my non-drinking boyfriend. I HAVE announced my quit date to these friends however, so when September comes, there won’t be a problem with me being on my “sobriety challenge”. Rather, it’s making sobriety a (permanent?) lifestyle that is MUCH harder for me to accept. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now I will focus on being as mindful as I can in the present.

Wish me luck!

Day – 27. Feeling sad

 Wow, today was a strange one. Being sober 100% of the time. SO MUCH FREE TIME. And empty space. Strangely, I am sleeping WAY MORE than when I woke up hungover. That’s not what I would have imagined, what about you?

Here comes the first “hard” part of these last few “practice” sober days. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. So many blogs say to be careful, that the real s**t starts after the first 2-3- days, not to get too exited.

Tonight I feel sad. I’ve had a productive day, but coming home and having nothing special to do after 8:00 pm is showing me how much empty space there is. I also saw a photo of my partner (who is on tour for a few days) in an intstagram story where he is at a bar having fun with a drink sitting in front of him. Yeah, he is not addicted to alcohol, he can have a drink once in a while and not want another straight after. For the five years that I’ve known him, he’s turned down the second drink that I would be dying for, 90% of the time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him drunk. Before starting our relationship, we would go for a beer sometimes. I would be craving the second half way through the first, would finish mine, then be about to order another when he would just hand me his half empty glass and say : “here, do you want to finish mine instead? I’ve had enough”. Hah. Enough. I wish I knew how that felt. For me there was either never enough, or enough was  too much, i.e., stumbling into bed. 

Tonight I feel like I am missing out on life, though, locking myself up by myself to be sober. This I know I will have to deal with during my 3 months sober: the impression (hopefully, the illusion?) of having a boring, lonely, empty life. One of my greatest fears. 

OK... EMOTIONAL REGULATION TOOLBOX, here we go! Whassup?

 I feel miserable. That’s ok. Let the wave pass, it’s ok to feel this way. Now, time to examine your thought patterns.

What is REALLY going on?

FACT. Actually, for the last three weeks I have locked myself up alone to be able to drink in the evening.

FACT. Today, I went out and saw a friend. Yesterday I went out and saw a different friend. Tomorrow I have plans to see another, third friend. That’s more people than I’ve seen in the last month, where all I wanted to do was be by myself so I could “unwind” and have that beer. So technically my life is LESS lonely than when I was drinking every day. My feeling of loneliness and missing out has more to do with the fact that 1) I have FOMO from the boyfriend being on tour 2) I am sitting here with myself, with nothing to numb my feelings. I’m trying to remember that it’s ok to feel raw, and it will pass. I WILL NOT DRINK TONIGHT EITHER, despite feeling sad. And it’s ok. 

ps. I also started learning to play the Djembe today, which I NEVER would have done that if I’d been drinking. Sobriety toolbox will have to include new enjoyable activities to do sober.

pps. Emotional regulation toolbox number 2. I texted boyfriend (about unrelated stuff), who responded 3 seconds later. He is emotionally available. I am only alone if I make myself alone. 

Day – 28: telling people

All this secrecy is making things complicated. Today, I told my partner I had set a quit date, in a month. He didn’t really understand because I thinks I am already 99% sober. I told him that the cravings (I didn’t mention the actual drinking) happen when I am alone, not when he is around. He understood and was supportive, and told me that “I was already doing it”, which in a twisted way is true as far as the three last days are concerned. Anyway, now he won’t think it’s weird if I suddenly become obsessed with sobriety. I’ve been talking a lot about it for the last 3 days. Today I noticed that the irritability of the last two days has transformed into a high sensitivity and tenderness. I am also on my period.

Also, today, out of the blue, my mother called.My mother is a heavy alcoholic, and a retired addictologist… Sigh. We live on different continents- both physically and emotionally. I spent most of my life angry at her, but now we keep things civil. Mind you, I suppose we did even during all those years when I was angry. We are one of those families that doesn’t talk about stuff and keeps it all nice and repressed. My sister smokes a ton of weed. My brother goes out and drinks and does Molly regularly. My other brother is a workaholic. I am the only one in the family to have EVER gone to therapy. My sister is still too afraid to go.

Today, on the phone my mother was drunk and slurring her words, it was 10 pm where she lives. But at least she seemed in a somewhat ok mood. When I announced my desire to be sober for 3 months, she asked if “this another one of your starvation meditation retreats where they only give you vegetable juice?” (This, I believe, is a reference to the 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat I went on last summer, where they serve plenty of delicious vegetarian FOOD, and there is absolutely nothing involving starvation or vegetable juice, in case you were wondering). She then asked me if I was sure I was not being paranoid about being an alcoholic. Ahem. This, I know, is coming from her own denial and need to protect herself from guilt and aggression. I get it. I also made sure to make the whole conversation about me, not about her. (I even refrained from laughing when she said “I am your mother, Lucy, not your addictologist, so I am not the person to give you advice”… I refrained from saying that I didn’t ask for any advice!). To her question about me paranoid in my desire to stop drinking (i.e. her denial of my, and therefore her, alcoholism), I responded that drinking every day, finding it VERY hard to not drink and drinking in secret were all probably sufficient red flags to justify a break. She had no counter-arguments. My mother drinks to “deal with her anxiety” and pours her first glass of wine at 11:00 AM. She doesn’t stop until she goes to sleep. She literally does nothing else but drink and sit in front of the TV now that she is no longer working. When she worked she would drink about two bottles of red wine every evening. I have given up on trying to change/help/save her. Her drinking has always been a huge taboo in our family, For years she couldn’t even deal with talking about it. Once especially difficult year (I must have been 18), I told her how I really felt. I let it all out. My outburst caused a huge conflict, lead us to drift apart for a couple of years, but made no difference in her drinking. I have known her to drink as early as 7:00 AM during especially difficult times of her life, like when her father died. She is a sad woman. She has made a lot of people around her sad too. But at the age of 31, I have reached a point where I am sad for her, for us, but not angry anymore. It’s still hard – watching her carry her wine box and glass into the passenger’s seat of the car because she can’t sit for 30 minutes without a drink – watch my dad pretend everything is normal – watch and say nothing either, except maybe a sigh of disbelief and anger. This is how I grew up: say nothing, keep quiet, don’t make things worse).

By the end of our phone conversation this afternoon, she was drunkenly ranting about something else, and I was fighting back tears of frustration at having to JUSTIFY myself about being sober instead of finding some kind of support. When we hung up she was encouraging, though. She even said something about me being an “extraordinary person” (in response to me reassuring her and saying that apart from the meditating and the sobriety, I would still be a “normal” person). Maybe she was worried that I would cut myself off from the family – my cousin who is in AA refuses to see anyone who drinks (too bad our whole family drinks)… more on that another day. She said “I love you” and I muttered “I love you bye” before hanging up. I said it to her for the first time this year, on the phone. It was a big step. It’s still hard for me to say. I have never said it to her (or to my father or siblings) in person. Yep… nice and repressed, that’s how we do 🙂

Naively thinking that I might find support in people my own age, I texted a friend from abroad who had expressed worry to me last year about her drinking habits. I told her I had signed up for a 3 month sobriety challenge. Well guess what… she was ALSO SKEPTICAL ! She warned me to “avoid extremes”, cause those are “always bad”. It’s as if the people I told today were clinging to their desire for me to keep drinking, JUST A LITTLE BIT. After feeling sorry for myself, then remembering that I am not doing this for other people (or to get their support/approval/validation), it hit me: some people might want their friends and loved ones too keep drinking because that keeps the problem (their own problem) buried under the surface. Maybe they want me to still drink, but moderately in exactly the same way that the alcoholic part of me keeps begging for JUST ONE DRINK. Which is almost never just one. Anyway, whatever their motives are, I know that I just want to spend a significant period of time WITHOUT having to think about or fight against the desire for MORE alcohol. It’s so exhausting to have to say “no” once you have had a bit. I don’t want to live with the constant need to control, to moderate, to refrain, to feel frustrated, to be unsatisfied. With alcohol off the table entirely, I am FREE from that nagging desire. I can free up mental space and emotional energy for other stuff. This is why I wanted to call my blog “There is more to life than just beer” (and not “stop doing this really bad thing, you bad person”): I want to explore the multiple things that life has to offer once I get rid of this thing that had become my single object of obsession and used up SO MUCH time and attention that I literally was not interested in anything else. Oh, and THIS IS THE THIRD DAY IN A ROW without a drink, the second by myself. I feel vulnerable and also kind of proud.

No matter what you are trying to do, remember, you can do it!

Day – 29

Whassuuuup U.K. and South Africa !!! The two visitors from yesterday 🙂 I appreciate it ! I don’t know if you ever came back and are reading this, but it warms my heart to know that the void out there is peopled with you guys. Yes, you whoever you are. If you are reading this, in a strange way, you are my friend and I am grateful for/to you.

Weirdly, this could be day 2 for me. Yesterday I was SO hungover from downing a 6 pack of heavy IPAs the night before — just because I was alone, because I could, because anything less didn’t give me a real buzz, because I felt like shit–, I felt like shit, from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. Ah, the physical pain of a hangover which subtly intertwines itself with the moral pain of guilt and shame… I will not miss you !

There was still hope for me that morning, though, as I tried to sip coffee and survive the pounding headache / assaults of internal dialogue on my poor, damaged brain. I knew that I would see my partner in the evening, that he was coming to the city where I had been for the last 3 weeks, and that we were going to see a music show. In other words: I knew that would be the opportunity to have a sober evening. Yep, weirdest paradox EVER: Staying home = being drunk, and going out = a chance to be sober. Who would have thought I would end up like this! That day, I was feeling pretty depressed, and had been all week (underlying depression + secret drinking + telling no one = low self esteem/feel like shit, duh!), so needless to say that the sober evening at the show was strange. Under the headache and nausea from the hangover, I think I also had withdrawal symptoms, and at some point, experienced what felt like the beginning of a panic attack. But my partner was gentle and supportive. It’s so strange how I was able to be both very honest and very dishonest at the same time: I basically blamed most of my mood, behavior and appearance on “a wave of depression”, explaining that I was WORRIED about being an alcoholic like my mother, confessing to having daily cravings for alcohol, announcing that I want to try being sober for an extensive period of time. We have spoken about these things often before. But what I DIDN’T tell him was the shameful part (the part where I sneak around and drink and keep being a slave to my addiction, as opposed to the part who is aware, and has insights, and knows what to do to get better). How almost every night when we are not together I drink/get drunk/secretly plan more drinking around our schedule. That my shitty depressed mood is probably mostly due to the drinking, and not just the other way round, not what I had been telling myself for years: “I drink cause I feel depressed”. For the first time in 15 years of almost daily drinking, it is only just dawning on me that drinking is perhaps not merely self medicating. Drinking is perhaps by now the CAUSE of my depressive episodes. If anything, it is definitely neither helping me learn how to feel things and deal with my emotions, nor how to improve my self esteem. Anyway, I made it through the music show and the evening without a beer, despite everyone else around us holding pints. Strangely, I didn’t feel deprived at all. It was easy, because I was with my partner (who was drinking water, as if that’s a “normal” thing to do). I have gotten used to this “sobriety when in company” mode. Today however, I am back home, in the small boring city where I live. Alone, with nothing to do except “unpleasant” things like work, exercise, “be healthy”. BORING! But I want to prove to myself that I can be sober for a second evening in a row. Which is actually the first evening on my own. In two weeks I am going on vacation, and I know ( also, I hope) that I will be drinking with family and friends. So this is not Day 2 yet. It’s just a break in the daily drinking I have been doing recently. I’m thinking things like “this is practice” for when the big day comes in a month”. Or “all the sober minutes I can string together are already a form of victory”. A part of me is TERRIFIED at the thought of never drinking again. A part of me is still fantasizing about drinking in moderation, cutting down. Like “normal” people. But I know that this is the part of me who is in denial, clinging like crazy, and holding me back from giving sober living a real chance.

Sometimes, I wish things were black or white, it would make things easier. Strangely, a part of me wishes that I would just drink myself to death every day before my quit date, so that all this time would count as “BAD” and all the future, sober time, would count as “GOOD”. But it is precisely this “all or nothing” mode of thinking that gets me into trouble when it comes to compulsion and addictions in the first place. I think it is an inability to accept the “messiness” of reality. That wants things to be nice and neat, in a well-identified category, so that there is no pain or discomfort to deal with. But I know that Life is not all good or all bad, it is a complicated mess. I also suspect that sobriety will have a lot to do with accepting this complex, imperfect mess, and finding a way to surf the waves every time without a bandaid or an escape-drink. I have been listening to a GREAT AUDIO BOOK on getting sober, called “Drinking, a Love Story”, by Caroline Knapp. As a 30-something woman with a tendency to overanalyze, who has never been taught how to feel emotions or inhabit her body, I really identified with her experience. https://www.amazon.com/Drinking-Love-Story-Caroline-Knapp/dp/0385315546 The sentence that struck with me the most from it was: “The only way out of a ‘bad’ feeling is THROUGH IT, not around it”. I was on the subway while I listened to it and though I don’t believe there are “bad” feelings (only unpleasant ones), it suddenly struck me: despite what I like to think, I’ve been going AROUND, not through, all of my unpleasant emotions for years. Or most of them. Or consistently. Solitude being the feeling I am most afraid of. The idea that I might be a sad, lonely person with a pathetic life. (When in fact it is drinking alone that makes my life lonely, sad and pathetic. HOW CAN I NOT HAVE SEEN THIS BEFORE?). For the first time in my life, I want to be brave enough and face reality AS IT IS, not as I want it to be. I know this sounds cliché, but there are so many layers of depth in ways of understanding of this idea, over and over again. There is so much resistance in me. I want to learn how to stop flighting. And I am scared. I wonder if there is an end to this exhausting learning process.

So yes, I have been sober for ALMOST two days, a whole month before my set date. Things are not perfect. But I am not putting pressure on myself. I neither have to get shit faced drunk, nor to be absolutely completely sober forever. I can just BE, right here, right now, and forget about the future and about BIG decisions. The only thing I know, then, is that I WILL NOT DRINK TONIGHT: I will not honor the self-sabotaging voice in me that wants things to go according to plan, that wants me to fuck up, just because it is “not the proper date”. There is no “too early” when it comes to being healthy. We can be healthy any time we choose.

Stay strong !

xoxo

4 weeks until day 1

Photo by Ingrid Santana on Pexels.com

So I’ve set a date: September 4th. I’ve started this blog. I’ve signed up for the 90 day challenge on OYNB – for some reason (shame? the secrecy that so many drinkers are familiar with? feeling weird about the God stuff in AA?) I want to keep my quit relatively secret. I know that a lot of it has to do with being ashamed of publicly admitting I have a problem.

It’s strange: I quit smoking two months ago and so far it’s working. I used to think it was impossible. I have worked a LOT on myself in the last 3 or 4 years: therapy, meditation, emotional regulation, learning intimacy, to not hate myself, to be gentle, self-compassionate, etc. I also regularly publicly say that I drink too much, that my mother is a heavy alcoholic, that I must be careful with drinking. I don’t know if this makes sense, but despite this APPEARANCE of openness, I feel like I am still hiding my alcoholism. During the last few months, I have been dating someone who doesn’t drink (or hardly at all) and is very intent on working on himself. Though he still has a lot of work to do, he is doing a great job.

In the last few weeks, which I have spent mostly alone (and drinking, almost every day, 1-6 drinks, depending on the evening), I have had several realizations. I feel the need to drink daily, come 4 or 5 pm. This need is overwhelming if I am alone, and I almost ALWAYS give into it. I do most (95%) of my drinking alone. I have started to drink in secret, when my partner is not around. I plan the moments when I can drink. Thank god, when he is around and we spend evenings together, which in the last few months is about 1 night out of 2, I don’t drunk and don’t really think about it. So I am not going into delirium tremens in the morning… physically it is possible for me to not drink and feel fine. We even went on a 3 week vacation a month ago and spent those 3 weeks completely sober.

When I am alone however, I drink. My poison: fruity and citrusy IPAs. I dream of them. I look forwards to them. I am quite particular, if it isn’t the right taste, I get very little pleasure (but I still drink them). I use alcohol as a reward. As a crutch to get my work done if it is particularly distressing (I write for a living). To numb my anxiety. To quieten the loud, horrible craving which screams JUST ONE BEER. Which often whispers “fuck it, have another” one that one is finished. These days I gulp the first one down very quickly. I have also realized: my fears about quitting, and giving up a life of “fun connecting over drinks with people I love” is bullshit: as I said, I do the great majority of my drinking alone. My drinking life is quite boring, in fact. And then the next day I feel physical pain and moral suffering: guilt, shame at being “weak” and lying to my partner, at the secrecy and dysfunctional behaviors (hiding empty cans and bottles, getting rid of evidence, using mint essential oils on my breath to hide the smell, you name it). I get extremely defensive when my drinking is discussed by my partner – like my mother does when we ever tried to talk about her alcoholism.

My partner is the only one who knows – perhaps with my family- that drinking is a problem for me. My friends (most of them drink too, I suppose I chose them for those reasons) don’t care – and I have isolated myself from a lot of them since I moved abroad, started this relationship, and started meditating more. I will write about meditation another time – as my relation to it is problematic, especially these days, for reasons that have to do with my addictive tendencies and fear of getting sober. Weirdly, because my date is a month away, a part of me thinks I HAVE to drink for the whole time before quitting. But that’s insane! Why can’t I be sober today ?

Tonight my partner is in town, so I will probably not drink – the first time in 4 days. Last night I had 6 strong beers. It’s gone from 1 to 6. I don’t want it to keep escalating, and I want to be able to start my day without guilt and before noon. I can do this. Every minute of sobriety even before my quit date is good. And I still have the freedom to drink if I want to. I am going home for 2 weeks (abroad) – I will see my alcoholic family and friends – I will have a “good time”. Day 1 is the day I get back from my trip. I am scared, and excited. I have no idea who I am without alcohol. I am clinging very very strongly to being able to drink.

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