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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Adjusting

It has been five weeks now – thirty-five afternoons and evenings of saying “no” to myself repeatedly.  I am starting to find my groove and feel comfortable with my decision.  Fear is waning and confidence is soaring.  The daily chest pains from anxiety have quieted to butterflies.  I can send them away with a few deep breaths.

I am letting my guard down a little – I don’t feel the need to focus on this constantly.  I know I must be growing familiar with it because every once in a while I remember, “Hey! I’m a non-drinker!” and then I carry on folding laundry or writing ad copy or whatever task is at hand.

I’m not gritting my teeth.  My nails are growing again. My bowels are regular.

To be fair, I haven’t had any major challenges or upsets, either.  I know those will come eventually and I will face them as they do.

The Internet has been such a help on this journey – there are tremendous bloggers to follow, incredible support through the folks I’ve found on Twitter, and encouraging, informative comments on this blog.  Clearly, connecting with other people is key in recovery.

Just as I was surprised to find so many people like me who were steps ahead in the journey and could offer guidance and advice, I am equally surprised to find others in need, a step behind me.  Wait, oh –what? Now I am someone’s role model? Holy Dinah.  Never saw THAT coming.

Some of the comments on this blog have been so moving that I’ve contacted the contributor directly to offer support.  Oddly, the song I posted the other day is a song I don’t know well at all.  It just popped into my head – complete lyrics to a song I hadn’t heard in many years – along with the notion I should record and post it.  To say I felt moved to do so would be an understatement.  How interesting then, to read the comment that this song meant an enormous amount to a reader. Hmmmm. Coincidence? Nah, I don’t believe in coincidences.  We have been in contact via email and hopefully she will find the strength to begin making changes.

Thank you to all who suggested drink alternatives!  I have made some pleasant discoveries and am incorporating many of your ideas.  Seriously, did all the wine kill my imagination? I can write music and design buildings and decorate a Christmas tree to rival Martha Stewart’s but I can’t come up with a refreshing drink? These are the mind contortions we create in order to keep drinking.  “Wine is the only thing I want right now” was a fib I told myself.  I am actually enjoying trying new things and look forward to trying the Grapefruit Perrier that I’m saving for Easter dinner tonight. (Hah – take that, Brain.  Now who’s in charge of delayed gratification?)

Most importantly, I am starting to feel comfortable with myself again.  Right now I am alone out at our cabin and I do mean ALONE.  The cabin is at a small ski hill and since the hill is now closed the entire community is deserted.  I drove out last night so I could stay over and spend this morning painting and doing a bit of light maintenance before driving back for the family dinner at my folks.

It’s dark here at night and quiet and frankly a little scary.  5 weeks ago I would have used that as a reason to drink more – easily a whole bottle of wine would have been gone.  Last night I watched 3 episodes of Mad Men (talk about drinking!), read a magazine, ate a little more than normal, and then I pushed myself…..just before bed I went out to soak in the hot tub.

Little me all alone at the foot of a mountain in the dark – I felt small and vulnerable.  Also insecure because of the swimsuit I was wearing – imagine that! Scared because I am all alone and still worried how I look in the dang swimsuit.  (“What will the squirrels think?”)  I briefly wondered how long it would be before I was discovered if a bear ate part of me and left a limb or two on the deck.

All of that vanished from my mind the moment I looked up.  Oh, the stars are something in the mountains on a clear night.  So many of them I could actually see them without my glasses.  Dang it! I’d forgotten to wear my glasses. I braved a run back inside and out again for the sake of improved vision – I wanted to see everything.  Further fleeting insecurities about wearing my glasses but forget that as well – the sky was spectacular!  I could hardly discern the constellations because of all the extra starts visible in between.

I knew that on such a night it would only be a matter of time before a shooting star appeared.  I leaned back and started to count – counting helps control my thoughts from racing and also it kept my mind off the bears and cougars and body-conscious squirrels lurking in the dark.  Sure enough, a shooting star appeared between “88….89….”.

What did I do next?  What would you do? Without even thinking, I started counting back at “1” again.  By “10” I realized what I’d done.

I’d failed to acknowledge that I’d just gotten exactly what I wanted.  I’d failed to enjoy the splendour of that shooting star because I moved right onto wanting to see another one.  I forced myself to stop watching the sky. I closed my eyes and remembered the shoot star I’d just witnessed and I gave thanks for the gift.

“What if there’s another one and I don’t see it because I have my eyes closed?” asked the bratty voice in my head.

“Then you have the memory of the star you did see,” came a gentle answer from the motherly part of my brain. “Think about it and be glad.”

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What Do I Drink If I No Longer Drink?

Earlier this week my husband visited this blogsite for the first time.  In his typical fashion, he read thoughtfully, gently stroking his finger up the iPad screen as he moved through entry after entry.  In my typical fashion, I scurried about the house gathering laundry, changing sheets, and doing everything I could to stay busy until he finished.  I would have appreciated some token feedback – a little “whew”, “wow” and “gosh” go a long way.  But no, I know him well enough to know he would need to process it on his own for a while.

That night before bed he hugged me and said he thought the blog was wonderful (*sigh of relief*).  A few days later we were at work together, wrapping up a meeting in his office.  With just the two of us and a rare moment of privacy, he did something we seldom do at work – shut his office door to discuss a personal issue.

“I want to be respectful and supportive,” he said. “I want to understand how to do that, but at the same time I would still like to be able to have a beer in the back yard on a nice day.  What is that like for you? Is it harder for you if I do that?”

I explained that I don’t expect anyone else to stop drinking, so I would happily join him in the yard for some sunshine and erm…..um….tea? Diet coke? Nothing really sounds all that appealing or appropriate to me, either.

I have yet to find anything that really replaces the wine for me.

The only drink to rival the anticipation and enjoyment of my (former) evening dose of wine was and is coffee.  I open my eyes each morning at 6:30 and cheerfully stagger to the quiet, empty kitchen to fill my favourite mug with strong coffee and fat-free cream.  Mmmmmm.  On weekends I return to bed with the coffee and paper to spend a leisurely hour or two.

The first person I take care of each day is myself and I cherish the luxury.  Having had three children in four years, I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades looking after everyone else from dawn to dusk.  There is a lot I miss now that the boys have grown, but there are a few things I’m happy to leave behind as well.

I have adored raising my sons but oh, it’s so hard to wake up each morning and still feel tired.  Starting my day rested and enjoying a bit of solitude is a lovely reward for making it through the more demanding years of motherhood.

Morning coffee is on a mental pedestal for me.  Funny though, how after two or three cups – that’s it! No more for the day.  Offer me coffee after 10 am and I will look at you like you’re a maniac. (What? Coffee now? At this time of the day?)  10 am – 4 pm were the “buffer zone” in my day.  Water maybe, possibly a diet coke with lunch.

Then came the blessed hour at which I could begin the next phase: happy hour.  Or, as I downplayed it: having-a-little-drink-while-cooking-supper hour. 

Drinking while cooking was entirely justified to me because:

a) chefs do it on tv

b) I’d had a busy day and deserved a little treat

c) I was going to pair a glass of wine with dinner anyways so I might as well just have a few sips of it beforehand and

d) I didn’t really want a big meal but was preparing it for my family’s enjoyment therefore I was self-sacrificing, which always calls for a drink.

I would often joke with my friends that my health plan included a strict daily regime of coffee to power up and booze to power down.  As an otherwise fit and health-conscious person, this statement was so silly it always got a laugh.  Only I knew the truth of it and on looking back, I think saying it aloud was an early attempt to be honest.  A weak attempt, but at least it was the beginnings of being honest with myself.

Simply put, coffee and wine were two of my great daily joys.  No wonder it has been so difficult to quit the wine – it left a big hole in my self-care.

Around 3 or 4, I start to get a little antsy – this is the part of the day when I would begin looking forward to a drink after work.  Now what do I have to look forward to? Often I now come home and have a small sweet or bit of ice cream plus a mug of tea.  (Note: it seems important that the tea mug is large, lovely and exclusively mine.  I seem to be transferring the attachment I had to the wine glass as an icon of….what exactly? Indulgence? Reward?)

I have also started scheduling a pleasant activity for this time of day to give me something else to look forward to instead of wine. So far this week, the replacements treats have included a visit to the bookstore, a 30-minute neck massage, a manicure, a hike, a People magazine. Dinners are getting later and later in our house as I battle through the much-less-happy-hour.

With supper I will often mix a concoction of juice and pop, which my family calls “Juice Pop” – clever, inventive bunch that we are.  The juice helps replace the sugar cycle my body has been accustomed to over the years of wine before, during, and after dinner.

That’s the day to day but what about social situations? If we go out, I have been ordering a cranberry and soda, which may or may not look conspicuously non-alcoholic.  I am noticing that busier bars are more likely to serve non-alcoholic drinks in large, tacky glasses branded with a soda company – I’m guessing that helps the servers keep the order straight.  The more elegant the venue, the more likely it seems that a “virgin” order may fly below the radar.

A great suggestion for handling things within our regular circle of friends came from one of my dear confidants, who says that it can make a host feel awkward to hand you a plain old glass of tap water when all of the others guests are being treated to special beverages.  She noted that it makes the host and other guests more comfortable if you also have something “special” so bring along a bottle of Perrier or imported soda and allow the host to feel they are pampering you as much as everyone else.  Eventually, your circle of friends will incorporate your drink of choice into their household selections.

All of this swirled through my head as I sat in my husband’s office. I was so thankful for his acceptance, so touched by his desire to be supportive.  I thought about everything from coffee to Perrier as I considered our situation.  This is a new normal for us and we are embracing it together.

I thought of the many times my husband had gotten home from work before me and started supper.  When he’d hear my car pull into the garage, he’d pour a glass of wine and set it out for me to see as I walked in.  A thoughtful gesture that said “welcome home” and “good job today” and “I am here for you” all at once.

I think what he is wondering is how to show the same consideration now.  I’ve taken away the “sure thing” and while he is incredibly proud of me for this, it also leaves him without direction.

We agreed that the wine on the counter was an important symbol but could be replaced with something else. Something special.  We decided to make it a mission to discover a special drink for me that isn’t a “mocktail” but that requires a bit of effort.  Something more than the coffee, tea or diet soda I drink constantly. It will be our summer project: try new things, find new favourites.

So you see, I’m learning.  This week the lesson extended beyond myself, as I learn to be considerate for others and understand that someone’s discomfort with my alcohol abstinence can come from their desire to be a good host, friend, or companion.

Expectations and Surprises

Tomorrow will be 3 weeks into my life without alcohol.

I expected it would be hard. It is.

Sometimes I crave a drink so *&$&^$ badly I want to scream and kick like a toddler in the cereal aisle.  I’m more of a composure freak than an actual control freak, but either way it’s unnerving to face how powerful I have allowed alcohol to become within my body and mind.

I expected I would feel better quickly. I haven’t.  I had completely underestimated the effect and length of the detox process – most mornings I feel worse than if I’d had a bottle of wine the night before.  At least I know the process is temporary, though.  Clearly my body was affected by my drinking much more than I had realized.  I thought I was “quitting while ahead” of any real damage but my body is now telling me a different story.

I expected to feel triumphant. I really thought that the success of each day without alcohol would make me happy.  Instead I am grieving the companionship of a glass (or four) of wine.  Rather than grieving the “old me”, my overwhelming sadness is for the lovely bottles and pretty glasses and sophisticated shops and selections and pairings – all the swirling and anticipation and oh, I must stop.

I miss it so much it hurts me physically.  My chest aches and I have a lump in my throat.  I never expected I would be so sad, and the misery further confirms that I needed to quit. I know that feelings pass and all I have to do is breath and wait patiently.

I thought more people would notice. I thought I would drop a few pounds. I thought I would drink sparkling juice from a wine glass.

No one has really noticed, expect my in-laws.  And I haven’t lost weight because eating sweets helps with headaches as the body adjusts to the radical drop in empty carbs consumed nightly.  I allowed myself the forbidden indulgences of chocolate and ice cream during the transition out of drinking but now I am weaning myself from those as well.

Instinctively I have stayed away from “faux” or virgin cocktails.  I suspected they might be helpful in terms of blending into social situations, but also feared they would weaken my resolve.  I posted the question on Twitter (@unpickledblog) and received overwhelming response opposed to drinking fake beer and cockatils:

“You are teasing yourself”

“Those drinks create unhealthy illusions…Very dangerous for recovery”

“A slippery slope”

“I don’t tease my disease”

Twitter has proved to be a most effective tool in my recovery – another thing I did not forsee.  At this moment I am connected with 60 or so others who follow and encourage one another.  Most are anonymous, as am I.  It is an absolute Godsend and I would not have made it this far without the readers of this blog and the encouragement from the other folks on Twitter.

Which brings me to my next surprise:

I thought I was in an unusual situation that would be hard for others to understand. This is just plain willful self-deception on my part.  I am amazed by the stories, blogs, webpages, and books devoted to people just like me – overachievers who substitute attention and approval for self-acceptance, working moms whose evening glass of wine evolved into a larger problem, people who drink a little extra before bed in hopes of falling dead asleep before having to be alone in the quiet of the mind. High-functioning. Haven’t hit “rock bottom”. Promising oneself every day not to drink and then later choosing to anyway.  All I had to do was look – it is as easy to find online as any other interest you might search.

I couldn’t imagine telling anyone I knew. I have finally made some decisions about this and selected a few special people to trust with the whole truth.  My husband only four of my close friends who I knew would understand and be supportive. I have told my three sons, ages 19, 17, and 14, although I’ve spared them the details.  Otherwise, I don’t think too many people will need to know or even care.  I don’t want to share everything with my sisters and parents, even though we are a close family.  They will just realize over time that I show up with a bottle of ginger ale instead of wine. (No one really liked the wine I’d bring anyways.  They don’t drink much and so prefer the sweet wines of a “beginner”. I am pretty sure I consumed most of the wine myself that I’d bring to family dinners.)

I thought time would go slowly. It hasn’t – the past three weeks have flown by.  I catch myself wondering sometimes if I have really quit or if my mind is playing games on me.  I can’t be three weeks already!  I thought I would have trouble sleeping – Lord knows I would often have more wine at bedtime in a near-panic that I would never fall asleep without it.  Possibly the most delightful surprise is how well I sleep, how happy I wake up – even if a detox headache persists, I know I have made it to another day.

I feared judgment from others in recovery. This has been the sweetest surprise of all to me – the warm welcome and support from the recovery community.  In an earlier comment I said I was afraid I wasn’t “broken” enough.

A few years back I attempted to help my mom achieve her weight-loss goals by joining a women-only circuit gym together.  We went several times and I was so uncomfortable to be fit and healthy in a room full of women struggling with their bodies.  This was supposed to be their “safe place” away from people like me – sporty people who actually “like” working out.   I dropped my membership and my mom, I suspect, enjoyed the gym more herself without me.

Forgive me, forgive me.  I am ashamed to say I thought the recovery community would be the same – a bunch of sad sack washed-up drunks trying to get their shit together and resenting my utter fabulousness.  Instead I have encountered kind, funny, smart, generous souls who cheer for one another and care so deeply about each journey.  Fabulous themselves, and sincerely concerned for me as much as anyone else!

Telling

Having a secret is as uncomfortable for me as a panty wedge.  It alters my body movements, causes me to glance sideways constantly and seek out dark corners to back into.

My acting skills are roughly on par with the kids in the Barney videos.  When combined with my inherited Catholic conscience, I have an amazing ability to physically display the possession of a secret.

I slump and slink in a way that causes mall cops to follow me for hours.  They can see I look guilty and since I usually carry an oversize bag, clearly I could be swiping designer jeans or small appliances at any opportunity.

Naturally mall security would assume that taking twenty minutes to decipher all the choices of K-cups in Bed Bath and Beyond is a cover for sizing up the expensive knife sets across the aisle. No one could take that long to choose between medium roast and decaf.  Obviously I’m up to something.

I know I am being watched and want so much to wave the mall cop over and explain, “Hey I’ve recently given up drinking and the evenings at home are a bitch.  Do you think a dark roast would keep me up at night or should I just go decaf and maybe splash in a little flavoured syrup? Also I’m finding the detox headaches in the morning a bit much and caffeine helps.  Lighter roast has more caffeine but I really prefer the taste of medium roast. Hey, did you know Safeway has a really great fat free cream?”

Much as I know this conversation would end the mall stalking and possibly even kindle a new friendship, I sigh and resign myself to being tailed all the way to my car.  I’m not telling this guy my secret any more than I’m telling the rest of the world.

I did, however, finally tell my husband.  It was a relief to me, and his kindness and support make me love him even more.  We are one of those couples who dated in high school and managed to have a long happy marriage in spite of ourselves.  I think one of the challenges for couples that start their lives together at a young age is that life’s changes can cause them to grow in opposite directions.  We have made a conscious effort to grow together, but each change brings challenges.  New directions we take as individuals must be discussed and decided as a couple, and sometimes this means compromise.

In typical “man” mode, sharing a problem with my husband always means getting his specific solutions. You should just…. This is a common male/female communication challenge – women want to explore feelings and be heard; men want to find a solution and act on it.

I might say, “Uck. I am having a fat day.” This should be the cue for him to rub my back and tell me I am beautiful.  Instead I hear, “You should just watch your portion control” or may favourite: “You should just buy bigger pants.”

So for years, when I’ve half-heartedly said “I should really quit drinking,” his suggestions have been “You should just drink on weekends” or “You should just have red wine on occasion because it is still good for you,” or even just “You should.”

All of these are perfectly good and valid answers.  Most folks can drink on weekends or special occasions. Most folks can manage a healthy amount of red wine. Most folks could just quit.

As I’ve said in other posts, you can’t ask for viable solutions if you aren’t honest about the problem.  And since I wasn’t prepared to admit the seriousness of my situation to anyone but myself, my God, and the kind readers of my anonymous posts it really wasn’t fair to expect a useful conversation.

Ten days into my new life, I opened up over a bowl of WonTon soup and shared the essence of the story.  It wasn’t exactly a heart to heart.  More like letting out blobs of truth in spurts, the way a repelling rock climber is issued line from a spotter below. A bit more. A bit more.  Until there it was, and here it is, and here we are.

Unburdened of my secret, I feel myself standing straighter and breathing normally.  It’s such a relief to be my whole self with the most important person in my life.  I can’t imagine telling others, but last week I couldn’t imagine telling anyone at all.

It can only get better from here.

 

 

Of Candles and Wine…

Raising three sons has been an exercise in food management.  Boys are always hungry and will often return to the kitchen looking for a snack before you even finish cleaning up from the last meal. And no, they never want leftovers from that meal. 

Each week I’d shove my overflowing cart through Costco, proud of the heaped contents that offered proof of my demanding brood and therefore, my achievement as a mother.  That heavy cart showed I was important, needed, and since most of the contents were clearly not for me, a bit of a martyr.

I’d often hit the grocery store straight from work, my smart suit and heels further evidence of my superwoman status.

As the boys got older, we developed an evening routine:  After doing the supper dishes, I would light a candle on the stove and turn off all the lights in the kitchen.  This signaled to the ever hungry snack-seekers that “the cook” was off-duty.  They were welcome to come and get themselves whatever they wanted to eat, as long as they cleaned up after themselves.  Otherwise, the kitchen was closed for the night.

It was brilliant and worked well, at least for a while.

Eventually lighting the candle was accompanied by pouring a glass of wine as a signal to the end of my day.  Then it evolved further — the cook poured herself glass of wine while cooking, and then another with the lighting of the candle.

Finally, I forgot all about the damn candle and just tucked into the wine.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not saying in any way that my kids are the reason I used to like the vino so much.  (Actually, I still like it, I just don’t drink it.) If anything, the boys (who are now young men) are probably the main reason I didn’t drink a whole lot more than what I did.

But as I look back now, I am retracing all those small shifts that led me to where I am.  What can I learn? What do I want to return to? To stay away from?

I still like the idea of the candle in the kitchen. It’s pretty and cozy that way. I can’t see the stains in the aging grout or ring of schmag around the bottom of the tap. Presumably, even my own flaws and cracks are softened in the flickering light.

I can putter through the semi-darkness and make a cup of herbal tea, which I am hating ever-so-slightly less.

Instead of saying “Kitchen closed, Cook off duty”, the lighted candle whispers, “Good job, cook. You made it through another day.”

Hurrah for coffee!

My new sober adventure!

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