Monthly Archives: July 2011
4 months into recovery, I feel a strange mix of comfortable familiarity and exhilarating newness. I no longer feel hyper-aware of every moment without alcohol, yet I still encounter many “firsts” – the first trip to the lake since I quit drinking, first performance since I quit, first time I went over to my sister’s for a late night chat that didn’t involve wine. Soon we’ll enjoy our first anniversary since I’ve quit – our twenty-second and yet our first.
A new pair of jeans start to get really comfortable around this time, even thought they still look nice and new. After 4 months or so a new romance starts to blossom into a “relationship” – where self-consciousness gives way to showing your true selves and passion becomes intimacy. Around 4 month a new pregnancy starts to show. It’s enough time to build a house or grow a garden or lose 50 lbs.
I see parallels in all of these things to my new life of recovery, but the most curious analogy of all is to new life itself.
The new me is 4 months old.
At 44 years of age, it’s been a long time since I had to admit I didn’t have all the answers. As my sons become independent young men, I’ve taught them to drive, do laundry, fill out their own taxes, and wipe the gunge out of the microwave – all the essentials for independent living.
It’s easy to start believing I know it all when I constantly have the pleasure of imparting my great worldly wisdom on the less established.
Yet when it comes to my sobriety journey, every day brings something new.
A quick internet search of what to expect from a 4-month-old baby shows startling equivalencies to my current experiences:
A 4-MONTH-OLD BABY IS…..
“FEEDING LESS FREQUENTLY” (I’ve given up “Dibbs” altogether although they certainly got me through detox. I still allow myself snacks to help with occasional cravings but there are actual pauses between all the eating)
“REACHING OUT” (I’ve become less introspective and started to notice the world again. I’m taking an interest in things!)
“ABLE TO PLAY ALONE” (I can stand myself. I enjoy myself. I am not trying to escape from myself!)
“BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND LANGUAGE” (I have a whole new toolbox of ideas that are new to me)
“SEEING COLOURS” (The world has become more beautiful and alive – I stop to see and feel the beauty around me and give thanks on a regular basis)
“GETTING MORE SELECTIVE ABOUT PEOPLE” (Wow, that’s a big one. I’m getting to know myself, starting to understand my own motives and see things more clearly. This means I am rethinking my inner circle and carefully choosing who I draw in close and trust.)
“LAUGHING AND SOCIAL INTERACTION” (After weeks of dealing with the demands of a newborn, it is such a treat when that little one starts to smile at you and reward you for all that hard work! I feel like I am there with myself – I am loosening up and catch myself having fun and laughing without guarding it all.)
Let’s not draw the parallels too much further or you know I’ll be tempted to throw in a diaper joke and well, then I’ll have gone too far.
Suffice to say, at 4 months I am in a very good place.
If you are drinking more than you’d like and are thinking about quitting, 4 months can sound like an impossible amount of time. It’s flown by for me. The beginning was the hardest and once I got through it time seemed to speed up.
If you are in recovery yourself, perhaps you know this feeling of hitting your stride and feeling strong. Either way, I think we all agree that the beginning is the hardest.
There have been many challenges and difficulties, especially this past week when I was feeling the pressure of the “sandwich generation”. However, my recovery seems to be giving me added strength to get through things, and I am keeping on carrying on.
Does anyone like to be criticized? Even constructively?
I’ll admit I hate it. Even the constructive stuff.
Before you hit “comment” and start extolling the virtues of criticism, let me say that I know I’m wrong. I know it is good for me. I know I improve because of it. I know how to step back, let the ego-hit pass, and then actually use the advice or discard it.
I just hate the initial slap! of it, the same way I hate a jolt of cold water even though I love a good water fight.
Being an approval junkie involves staying a step ahead of criticism. If I volunteer enough, donate enough, am thin enough, pretty enough, organized enough, recognized enough, and generally moving fast enough I am a difficult target to hit with the stun-gun of criticism.
That twisted thinking wormed its way into my life and motivated my self-conscious, exhausting quest for perfection. It has caused me to do silly things, like change outfits over and over again because nothing less than perfect allowed me to feel comfortable and confident. It has caused me to do dangerous things, like diet my 5’8″ frame down to a bony 118 lbs. (Fret not, I’m a muscular, healthy 145 again).
It has also led me to achieve impressive goals and receive positive recognition. Maybe it’s not all bad but I have had to sort it out.
One of the most delicious gifts of my journey into sobriety has been a release from this frantic pace. Once I stopped pickling myself everyday, I had an opportunity to face that little approval monster. I was ready to slap her in the face and tell her to shut the F up, but in turned out not to be a monster at all.
Really it was a little girl version of me, frustrated and scared and wanting love. She needed a hug, not a slap. Giving her warm milk and cookies seems so much more appropriate than glass after glass of wine.
When I began this journey, I chose the name “UnPickled” because it represented my goal. I expected to be “done” by now; that after three months or so I could consider it a successful project and I would be able to say “I am now UnPickled. Here is how to do it.”
As it turns out, becoming Unpickled is a process and one I will continue indefinitely.
I opted to quit drinking without a specific program, which has so far worked fine for me. This could be attributed to the coincidental fact that several of the things I’ve done intuitively are similar to AA “Steps”: facing my past wrongs, shortcomings, and resentments; facing and understand bad things that have happened to me; forgiving myself and others; making changes to correct things I’ve done wrong; helping others; spending a lot of quiet time.
An important part of “working the steps” is accepting that a greater power is in charge and surrendering it all. I’ve always had faith in a higher power, always been a spiritual, prayerful, sporadically church-going person. So for me, that first step of recognizing a higher power was never an issue.
I’ve gotten great advice and insights from AA’ers along the way. I appreciate the value of the program and can see in them how it has changed their lives for the better. I’ve also had to look up the 12 Steps on many occasions in order to understand their references on Twitter (“Worked on Step 4 all weekend” or “Step 6ing with my sponsor tonight and I am nervous about it”). I’ve had to learn terms like “moral inventory” in order to understand what the AA experience is all about.
Upon looking into the steps, I have come to realize what it is about AA that hasn’t appealed to me: the very first step, which refers to a powerlessness over alcohol. I believe that I caught myself sliding into addiction before I hit a stage of utter powerlessness. I may not have been far away from it, but I still decided each and every day to drink. I do believe that the burning desire to stop drinking, the fearful survival instinct that screamed “DANGER” to my head and heart was a beautiful gift from God, but ultimately – I believe – I drank by choice and I quit by choice.
I won’t for a minute suggest that “anyone can do it this way” or argue against the value of AA or any other program. It’s just how it unfolded for me and likely because I stopped when I did. “Alcoholism and Free Choice” by John T Marohn (johntmarohn.com/blog) was an interesting read for me this week – a good reminder that it doesn’t happen the same way for many people. Then again, based on the many comments and emails from this blog, many of you have had an experience similar to mine. It doesn’t matter how you get to “sanetown” – just get a map, get a ticket, hitch a ride, and don’t stop til you arrive.
People in the program have urged me to consider my resentments, which play a significant role in healing alcoholic behaviours. I really didn’t think I had any, until I started thinking about things I can argue passionately about – religions based on supposed modern prophets; CBC’s political bias; the importance of using real butter.
I’m recognizing annoyances that never go away, such as the relative whose kids I always seem to be looking after, and long-forgotten but painful instances of childhood unfairness. I’m lining them up like a feather collection and looking at them objectively. I’m realizing that I can’t control these things, only my reaction to them. I’m accepting that maybe, maybe it isn’t my job to single-handedly convince the millions of members of our local cult-church that their theology is deeply whacked. We have police to ticket jaywalkers, so I can stop giving them the stinkeye in hopes they will question their dangerous ways. And really, I can probably stop being annoyed that the best singers don’t always win American Idol.
Another thing I have learned to recognize is all my unnecessary worries. The key to strength and freedom is in the present. I’ve heard before that we are closest to God in the present – that if we focus on past resentment or future worries we take ourselves away from God. I always liked the idea but also somehow believed that the tension in my chest was the glue holding the universe together. If I relaxed everything might just fall to shit.
I’m giving myself a bit of a break and, as you may have noticed, the sun has continued to rise and set just fine without me. I can watch Survivor and not stress about the fact that I would totally fail at the reward challenge. It’s nice to know what books I would want on a deserted island, but the other day I really realized I will probably never actually BE deserted on an island. As dumb as it sounds, that was something that bothered me – how I’d fare.
To recap, the biggest keys to quitting the booze for me have been:
a) not drinking (obviously)
b) building my support network (in real life and on line)
c) continuing to enjoy my faith, however quietly
d) addressing old hurts and forgiving those involved
e) examining resentments and letting go
f) recognizing worry and staying in the present
g) feeling pride in each milestone of recovery
h) encouraging others
In some ways, appreciating the value in the steps and even implementing them is similar to a person who lives by the values of the Ten Commandments without considering them divine laws from God.
I don’t know what lies ahead, or if this path I’ve chosen will always be the one that works for me. But what I won’t do now is worry about that. I will just have to trust that if I ever require additional help in order to continue walking the walk, I know exactly where to turn.
According to my sobriety app, which I fondly refer to as the Dry-Ometer, I am 104 days into this journey. It’s highly likely, although only God has the numbers, that (except during pregnancies and breastfeeding) this is the longest I’ve gone without alcohol since I started sneaking Baby Duck and Strawberry Angel to sleepovers in Grade 8. It was only on occasion at first, but surely it was more than once every 3 months so I think I’ve crossed a new marker here.
Even to me, drinking at 13 sounds awfully young. Not “marrying-your-cousin-Jerry-Lee-Lewis” awfully young. Not “raising-siblings-alone-because-parents-died-tragically” young. Not “Doogie-Howser-MD” young. But still. Young.
To my adolescent horror, at 13 I still woke up occasionally with my thumb in my mouth. Technically, there was a transitional period around that age where I had both habits of smoking and thumb sucking, although never simultaneously. I was in a hurry to grow up and didn’t have time to quit one before starting the other.
I’d always been an old soul and thought it a terrible injustice to not be taken seriously. I knew I was smarter than most adults, yet they were in charge. Tsk. By the time I started drinking and smoking in junior high, I’d already been working on my adult image for many years.
For my Grade 3 school photo, I wore a turtleneck and a broach. A broach. I gazed thoughtfully into the distance and smiled in what I hoped was a self-amused way. If I could have brought in a Virginia Slim and a martini glass for props I would have. I was going for the “book jacket” look. I still think I came pretty damn close.
The following year I grew to full adult size, including size 9 feet. At only 9 years old I had the height, weight and feet of a woman but none of the curves. I felt man-ish and unattractive. Pants were never long enough and my mom refused to buy me those cute ankle socks with the pompoms on the back to keep them inside my boat-like sneakers. Tall, gangly and awkward. Flood pants, ugly old socks, and big-ass “Sonic” runners from Sears clearance table. Only one thing could complete the picture: a retainer.
None of this was helping me to be taken seriously. I needed an image intervention and since I was the smartest person I knew, only I could help myself.
I threw myself into research, watching Charlie’s Angels and Love Boat with devotion and focus. I studied magazines carefully. Ads for Chic Jeans, Breck Shampoo, and Candies Shoes were my guideposts. I spent hours in my room trying out the hairstyling techniques, postures, and facial expressions of the models and actresses I admired. Since my clothing resources were limited to the hand-me-down from my aunt’s foster home, my sisters’ cast-offs, and one annual trip to Sears for a back-to-school outfit, I honed my mix-n-match skills.
By 10 I was crossing my legs and saying “actually” a lot.
At age 11, I had moved on to helping friends improve their maturity index, since it was hard to be considered an adult when kids surrounded me.
It took to age 40 to really feel comfortable with myself. Probably because I’d spent my whole life trying to seem, well, 40. Now people listen because my opinions are backed by experience. Because I’ve messed up and recovered. Because I have lines on my face of both worry and laughter origins. And yes, sometimes even because I have great hair and clothes. Thank you Farrah, Kate, and Jacklyn.
I was wound up tighter than a top all these years, trying to be something I never quite was. Instead of enjoying the journey, I rushed past it all.
Changing my life and taking charge of all the alcohol I was drinking has helped me to see things through a new lens. I am picking at the knots I’ve tied so tight. Control. Perfection. Appearances. I worked so hard to get myself to a place I was headed for anyways.
Maybe my success in life was because of all that effort. Maybe not. Either way I am here now and what I saw when I arrived was a desperate need to change. I was tied up tight and pouring alcohol over it to help feel better. I soaked up more and more as time went on, but that never helped loosen me. It just set things firmer in place.
Now, as I start to free my life of an addiction that was decades in the making, I trace the resentments and heartaches back to their roots. Just a little voice, trying to be heard.
When my parents moved to a retirement condo recently, they sent me a box of artifacts that included that old Grade 3 picture. I wanted to reconcile with that face, to set that little girl on the mantle and let her see that life had taken her just where she hoped she’d go.
As I adjusted the frame, my husband came along and said cheerfully, “Is that you? What a little cutie!”
I stood a little straighter and answered indignantly, “I wasn’t cute. I was stunning.”