Monthly Archives: March 2011
Two or three times a year I am invited as a guest speaker for teenage girls involved in a local “personal development” program. I love to listen as the young women talk about their goals and perspectives, and I often leave feeling that I’ve learned more from them than what I came to teach.
One such lesson was “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”.
I was a bit taken aback to hear a 13 year old extolling the virtues of “faking it” – wasn’t this program supposed to teach these girls to be themselves and celebrate who they really are inside? Ah, but this wise young woman went on to explain that the process is a means of overcoming fear that holds you back from doing things you want or need to do. It means that when you need to be brave, but don’t feel brave, you must “act” as a brave person would in that situation. When you must stand up and speak, but you don’t feel confident, you must fake it and ACT confident.
Usually, we feel first and then act according to our feelings. Sometimes this works well, sometimes it gets us into trouble.
If our emotions are holding us back from what we need to do, however, we must set those feelings aside and get to the task at hand. Usually once we get going, comfort and confidence settle in.
If I were to go with my feelings right now, I would go straight home to enjoy the InStyle magazine that arrived yesterday and have myself three or four glasses of cold sauvignon blanc along with it. Am I having a diet coke and a salad at my desk instead? Damn skippy! Not because I feel like it, but because that it is what I need to be doing instead.
When it comes to this whole alcohol-free journey I’ve embarked on, I rely on “acting” like a non-drinker (and therefore not drinking) until I truly start to “feel” like a non-drinker (soon, I hope!). I find I have to think about it constantly and I am exhausted by the end of the day. My head aches from the awareness, constantly assessing each situation and protecting myself, reminding myself.
Last night we celebrated my husband’s birthday with a big family gathering in our home. It has only been 11 days since I quit drinking, but for the 4th time (already!) I found myself playing hostess and pouring drinks for others. Not only would I have loved to pour myself a glass of wine along with them, better yet I’d have loved to take the bottle up to my bedroom and drink it all alone watching Survivor and Modern Family.
Instead I had to act like a non-drinker and pour for others while having nothing myself (which, by the way, no one noticed or mentioned). Once I acted like a non-drinker, I started to feel more like one, and I enjoyed the evening.
I hope this comes more easily, in time. I hope I start to really feel like having herbal tea and diet ginger ale.
I do know this much….
When I realized I needed to quit drinking, it hit me like a two-by-four between the eyes. It caused my heart to ache and pound; the desire to become this new me, this non-drinking me. Just recalling it as I write now has caused me to tear up and catch my breath.
And here I am, a go-getter with success in life and in work because I do what needs to be done. If I think something should take place I make it happen. I always say “You can get any ball rolling with six phone calls or less.” Problems fixed, opportunities seized, challenges met, threats faced.
It shook me to know I wanted something so badly it hurt, and I wasn’t doing anything about it. Every morning I woke up and promised myself I wouldn’t drink that day, and then every evening I’d drink.
I could pinpoint the moment in each day when I pivoted and made the decision to drink. I figured all I’d have to do was overcome that one hurdle each day – somehow I thought it would mean changing that one decision a day.
As it turns out, my habit is like a persistent, bratty 3 year old that says, “Can I have candy?” (No.) “Now can I have candy?” (No.) “Noowwww can I have some candy, pleeeeease?” (No.) “I WANT CANDY!” (No, darling.) “Wahhhhh, candy! Candy! Candy! (No, no, no.)
I guess it’s no wonder my head hurts at the end of the day. Wahhhh, I want wine! I want wine now. How about now? Now can I have wine? Please? (No, no, and no.)
That’s okay – I’m making it, even if it means faking it.
I don’t want to mess this up. I don’t waste the efforts of the past week by having to go through it all again, ever.
I’m protecting it like a fragile thing, nurturing it and holding it close. I want to see it grow a little larger and stronger before I show it to the world.
I want to know it will live.
One of my most vivid and happy memories is of the day my first pregnancy was confirmed. It was spring of 1991. My husband and I were in our early twenties, had been married for nearly two years.
Everything in our young lives was in order and all we needed to complete the picture was for the stick to produce that much coveted blue line. After almost a year of trying, the blue line appeared and I ran from the bathroom to wake my husband with the news, “It’s blue! I’m pregnant! We’re pregnant!!”
We lived in a small town at the time, and my boss’s gossip-y wife was the receptionist in the only local clinic. To keep things on the “down low”, I drove to the next town to confirm the news with a doctor there. Walking back to my car, I wanted to hug everyone I passed and squeal, “I’m pregnant!” I refrained, but many smiled back at me as if my joy was visibly contagious.
Young mothers in those days were often advised to keep the news quiet until they were three months along and knew for sure the pregnancy was viable. It was a most delicious secret, and I loved that the most wonderful thing imaginable was happening to us and no one else knew.
So much of that experience comes back to me now, as I nurture this new life I’ve begin, this new me. I can’t wait to share it with my loved ones, but I want it to be so clear, strong and viable that nothing can take it away from me.
I believe part of the reason I continued drinking for so long was because I was afraid to imagine my life without it. My husband and I have had many wonderful adventures together and the mental postcards I’ve collected all include a beverage: Wiki Wackers on Catalina Island, Margaritas by the Riverwalk in San Antonio, PinaColadas on the beach in Dominican Republic, wine at an outdoor café on the promenade in Santa Monica. As we plan and save for our retirement, we dream of vineyard tours in Italy and having a pint in an Irish pub.
Would I have any fun without alcohol? Would I BE any fun? Would my husband dread the rest of our lives together, saddled with a tea-tottling ninny for a wife?
I have replayed those holiday memories, though harder and remembered all the other moments that were wonderful too, regardless of alcohol. Kayaking around Catalina, dueling pianos in San Antonio, reading all day on the beach in Dominican, and watching a tv show being filmed on that trip to LA.
I just needed a new set of postcards.
So now the jig is up – my inlaws noticed at dinner last night that I turned down wine and innocently asked, “What, are you on the wagon now?” I screwed up my courage and admitted I was.
“Almost a week now.”
“What?!” asked my husband, comically. “You mean I’ve been drinking alone all week and I didn’t even know it?” I’m not sure if he hadn’t realized or just wanted to acknowledge to his parents that this was the first I’d mentioned it.
And that was that, for last night. This morning he asked me, “So you’re not drinking at all?” as we were gearing up to go out skiing. “No, not at all,” I replied. “Until when?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I lied. I do know. I already know that I must never ever drink again. It kills me, it breaks my heart but that’s how it’s going to have to be.
So before I tell him, I want to live with it myself a bit more. I need to see for myself that things will be okay. Today we had a great time skiing and then sat on the deck in the sunshine for happy hour – a beer for my husband and a vitamin water for me.
I’m sad, so sad. I miss my dear companion wine. I’d like to get past grieving before I can sell this new vision of the future.
As we continue to rack up happy experiences together (with me in my new unpickled state), I will be ready to tell my dear husband everything.
I know it will be all right. It just needs some time.
Think for a moment of a child you love. Or a beloved pet. Picture them stepping into the path of an oncoming car.
There. You feel it? Your heart leaping in your chest? The rush of adrenaline and the urge to move quickly, to rescue.
It takes a while to dissipate, even when the reaction is only imagined.
6 nights ago I sat listening to a motivational speaker at a fundraiser enthusiastically ask the audience, “What’s your GOAL?! What do you want to ACCOMPLISH??! Let’s talk about HOW you can take some STEPS everyday to ACCOMPLISH your GOAL!!!”
So naturally I turned my thought towards a goal. I expected Machu Picchu to come to mind, as exploring the ancient ruins tops my bucket list. But no, five other words came first, complete with the urge to move quickly and rescue from danger: I need to quit drinking.
Machu Picchu was no where in sight, and the words rang again: I need to quit drinking.
I ignored those words, as usual, because there was still half a bottle of wine on the table to share with my friends, and another half waiting for me in the fridge at home.
But that pounding in my chest would not stop, not at the table, not on the ride home. It startled me, this new twist. It ached like a longing and pulled like an urge.
What the hell…..? So I did what any high functioning heavy drinker would do. I went home and shut that voice up with two big glasses of wine.
The next day it reemerged and I looked at it closely in the light of day. I know this feeling, I thought. This is the pull of the heart my children learned to walk, to ride a bike, and I feared constantly for their safety. And oh, that first time they drove alone, new license in hand, taillights disappearing down the road on that first adventure. “Danger! Danger!” clangs a mother’s heart.
Seriously, what the hell? Am I in danger?
I had to drink red wine that night, because all the white was gone from the night before. The next day was beautiful and bright and full of sunshine-y spring promise. I awoke with a headache from the red wine but I’d made plans to go hiking with a friend so I pressed on. (I always press on, anyway. Most days start with coffee and tylenol.)
I felt a sourness in my belly that seemed to be growing, like a stink I could feel. I’d been noticing it more and more. I recalled a commercial against drinking and driving in which an ER doctor says how disgusting the insides of a drunk smell when you cut them open for surgery. It always bothered me to think I might repulse some handsome ER doctor in an emergency situation. I’d added “stinky inside” to the list of things I didn’t like about myself, right next to arm waddle and bunions.
But the stink was no longer just a notion. It was real. I could feel it, taste it. I was pretty sure I could even smell it myself, and you know you really stink when you can smell it yourself.
I had to quit, I knew it.
And so on that hike, I told my friend. I’ve told other friends on other occasions that I wanted to stop drinking, but they always pooh-pooh’ed it because, as far as they knew, it wasn’t that bad. This time was different because this time I told the truth and entrusted my dear friend with my dearest secret. She agreed – “you need to change this” – and also understood my reasons for privacy. (more on that in the next post)
And that was that. We hiked, we went on to talk about other things, and the ache in my chest continues. I’m not out of danger yet.
But I am on my way.
I decided to blog because I thought it would help in theory to know that people could read about it and thus I would stand accountable.
I just never thought anyone actually would….
Lo and behold, I awoke to find 13 twitter followers for @unpickledblog and 15 hits on this page. I stood in the kitchen and wept with unexpected relief. Help is on the way…I can be anonymous without being alone.
To give credit where enormous credit is due, I have told one person. The right person, this time. And I told her the whole truth, which made a big difference. She was surprised but supportive, and totally understanding of the dynamic that would make secrecy necessary. If people don’t know how much you drink, they can’t imagine how badly you need to stop.
My friend’s surprise was enough to confirm my suspicions that I needed to stop. That and the fact that she said, “I can see how you need to get control of this”. It was enough to get me through the first day, but I knew from past experience it would take more to keep going.
As a professional musician, I have many times walked out on stage and felt relieved to see an audience. There is always that worry that an event wasn’t well publicized, or that even the people who bought tickets won’t show up. A performance is always better with a nice audience, and I guess I expected that blog readers and twitters followers would be similar.
I was wrong.
It is a thousand time better than that – because this isn’t a performance, and folks aren’t following for entertainment. They are here to help, to care, to cheer, to encourage.
I thought “followers” might be a helpful concept, but I never realized how WONDERFUL it would be to feel their support. My heartfelt, joyous thanks to every person who takes a moment to read this. You are getting me through this day.
I got through last night thanks to one vitamin water, diet ginger ale, mint tea, water, more stinkin tea, a handful of cheezies, two oranges, more water and finally a melatonin to put me to sleep. When it was really getting to me, I did 30 minutes on the eliptical and gave myself some “FUN!” choices with the oranges – I peeled them instead of cutting them. Wow, good times. (I caught my husband looking at my mug a little funny, like he expected maybe I had my wine in a mug instead of a glass. He does not know I have quit drinking and must be wondering where my ever present wine glass has gone.)
Like I said, I’ve made it to this point a few times before. It’s pretty easy to remember not to drink when on a quiet weeknight, especially with no white wine in the house. No stress (big trigger), company (must be a good hostess!), or celebrations (how can you celebrate with herbal tea?).
The real challenge will come this weekend. We are off on a family ski trip and that means beer served at lunch (which I usually resist anyhow), 4 pm happy hour, which leads into wine with dinner, and nightcaps in the hottub. Usually a ski weekend means I have 6 or 8 drinks a day, instead of my usual 3 to 5.
My husband always contends that as long as you pace yourself at 1 drink per hour, you don’t get drunk. This is true, I find. I would normally drink wine from about 5 pm – 11 pm, and could easily enjoy 5 glasses and not be drunk.
It should be noted that when my husband mentions this 1/hour guideline, he is referring to having a light beer or two on the golf course, and not my evening marinade.
I have been planning two trips – a romantic weekend away with my husband in May and a girls’ getaway in June. Both have me anxious about maintaining my cover as a new secret NON DRINKER. How is THAT going to fly? Romantic weekends mean candlelit dinners (with wine) and jazz music (and wine) and wine and wine and more wine. Girls weekends mean cocktails and laughter.
And I don’t want to stop them from enjoying that. I don’t. It is going to take a lot of strength to learn to be around open alcohol and not have it. To be handed and drink and not drink it.
Strategies, anyone? Remember, I don’t want to make a big “I’m not drinking” announcement, and don’t want to be a fun-sucker. For now, I’d rather it go unnoticed.
No one would ever call me a failure. Not even myself.
No one would ever guess that I was hiding a problem, either. I’ve kept that to myself.
My husband of 21 years knows I like a glass of wine in the evenings. He knows I prefer white – Sav Blanc or Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay in a pinch, red if there is nothing else in the house.
What he doesn’t realize is that I often slip to the fridge quietly to top it up – not too full, which would make to easier to notice and count the glassfuls – I like to keep it half full so it appears as if I’m nursing it – maybe even indifferent. It’s gotten easier since I started buying wine by the box, since there is no tell-tale visual of the diminishing bottle in the fridge door.
My sons – three of them, teenagers – know it is normal for a glass of wine to sit on the counter as I cook, or beside me as I watch tv. They hate the smell of it. I hate that they think it is normal for a mother to drink every night.
You wouldn’t guess to see me – fit, healthy, successful in my field, well-known and respected in my community. A leader, a role model. Other women often approach me for guidance or to say that I have inspired them. I am driven, friendly, cheerful, mostly happy, and I always look the part.
But here’s the thing. I jump out of bed each morning and tackle the day. I can’t wait for each new turn, each new challenge. I do love my life and give it 110%. At the end of the day, I used a glass of wine to shift gears, to signal a slow down. It worked, at first. One glass did the trick, then two. After a few year the numbers crept up.
My wine is my way of putting a brick on my head to slow me down at the end of the day – physically, mentally. It’s my off-button. WAS my off button.
Until the other day, I ended each day with 3 – 5 glasses of wine. Last night was the first night of this journey. Hopefully tonight I can be just as strong.