Monthly Archives: October 2011
Every once in a while we are asked to consider what we would do if we only had a few weeks left to live.
I thought about this the other day and realized I wouldn’t do much differently. I’d want the usual routine of family life I now enjoy, morning coffee and paper in bed with my husband and our pups, dropping by the office during the day, family suppers, activities with the kids, evening walks, visits with my sisters and my friends.
Interesting. “Nothing different?” I asked myself. “I guess I could start drinking wine again. What would it hurt?”
I caught my breath. Would I do that? Could I do that?
“Why not?” said my Itty Bitty Shitty Committee. “You’d be dying anyway, so what the heck?”
I thought about it.
If I only had a few weeks, I could probably go back to having wine with friends and with dinner, to give myself a bit of worldly pleasure before leaving it all behind for good. If I only had a few weeks, I could surely keep control over alcohol. I wouldn’t even be alive long enough for things to spiral. It wouldn’t matter. It would be so small in the grand scheme of things.
Yep. That’s what it would take to make it okay for me to start drinking again – terminal illness. Good to know.
Some part of my brain sat back and observed “the committee” in action. Some new, calm part of me that inserts itself between thought and deed was adding a secondary assessment of all this.
After a brief pause, she spoke in a warm, assertive tone.
“Really?” she asked kindly. “Is that really what you’d want, to undo this achievement in your last days? To see disappointment in the eyes of your sons instead of respect and love? To fog the mind and avoid absorbing every second of life? To withdraw and comfort yourself instead of reaching out and comforting others?
“Your last weeks should be your best. You must live out all you’ve learned.”
Yes, I thought. If I were dying, it would be more important than ever to stay the course.
“You are dying,” the rich, warm voice continued in my head. “Everyone is. We just don’t all know the timeline.”
What I learned from this discussion between the forces within me is that even after seven months, my patterns of addiction are still bubbling away beneath the surface. Perhaps they are more dangerous there now, because they continue while I carry on above thinking I have things under control.
I used to think it was an extreme position to say that alcohol addiction is a life long battle. I used to think I would get through extricating myself from an unhealthy pattern and be done with it. In truth, I thought by now I would “finished”.
I understand now how the work goes on and on. The individual evolves intellectually and emotionally but so too does the addiction.
I learned anew that my mind was creating limits for itself, and that I mustn’t become complacent.
I also learned that there is a part of me with a voice like Diane Sawyer – an elegant, strong virtuous woman in there who can override the committee. I like her. She wears cashmere sweaters and tasteful gold jewelry. She smells like fresh flowers, and she doesn’t often bake but she always brings a hostess gift.
She can come out and take over anytime.
(Note: Recommended to read Parts 1 and 2 first, so you get the full effect of my cranky desperation)
“Good morning and welcome to day three of our conference,” said the convention host from the podium while the straggling crowd picked over their breakfast. The room was set for all 500 or so who’d registered for the conference, but less than half the seats were full. It’s a fair guess that many delegates were sleeping off their celebrations from the previous night.
Morning has come to mean a lot to me since I quit drinking. I prepare a pot of coffee before bed each night, and waking up to the aroma makes up for the other self-depravation I wrestle with. I’d already had two cups in my hotel room while getting ready for the breakfast meeting, and now I was enjoying the better quality brew in the dining room.
I was looking forward to the morning speaker, former CBC host and social media guru Tod Maffin. I’d heard him a few years earlier and knew he was an engaging, interesting lecturer. This time, he had lots of fresh new ideas and I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. So much so in fact, that I headed downstairs afterward for his follow-up seminar, and perched in the front row.
When he asked for questions my hand shot up. I admit I was star-struck in the way only a Canadian can understand – even a former not-for-profit-radio host leaves us tingling. Maffin is especially deserving, though, as his style is quick and funny and completely accessible. I asked a question about licensing, and he replied with a story (and note: I am paraphrasing to the best of my recollection. Apologies to Tod Maffin if I recount your words imperfectly.)
“Great question, by the way,” he started. (I blushed demurely. I have so many great questions, Mr. Maffin. You have no idea.)
“Let me tell you a story about a funny little video I created last night and tried to upload on my Facebook page,” he said. “I had used a piece of music in the background and Facebook recognized it and prompted me to either purchase the rights or change the music.”
(Fascinating – I never thought of that but it makes sense. Interesting.)
“The music was pretty famous – “Spanish Fly” by Henry Mancini,” he went on. Then seeing that the crowd was wondering what kind of video someone would make alone in a hotel room and set to the song “Spanish Fly”, he realized he had more explaining to do.
“No, no, it was nothing kinky. Your conference organizers very kindly left me a nice gift and a bottle of wine in my room. I don’t usually like to go into this but you need to understand that I am in AA and I have 2 years of sobriety and I really, really want to get to 1000 days so it is very important that I cannot be alone in a hotel room with a bottle of wine.”
Oh. My. God. Did I ever understand! I was making it through the conference okay but my patience for the never ending flow of booze all around was waning and I was already dreading the evening ahead. My ears perked up. I wiggled in my seat. I tried to look calm and politely interested in order to maintain my cover, but inside I was squealing. Here is someone who is in AA! Here is someone famous (Canadian-famous, at least) and he is talking about his addiction openly and it is not hurting anyone’s impression of him – only strengthening it.
“So I took that bottle of wine, and I snuck out into the hallway, and I pushed the elevator button. When the elevator arrived, I set the wine right in the middle of the empty elevator floor and pushed the buttons to send it away. I pictured how happy it would make someone to find it – what a nice surprise for someone who would be waiting for the elevator and when the doors open there is a bottle of wine for them– and also it solved my problem because I really couldn’t have it around me. I filmed the whole thing and turned it into a funny video and that’s what I was trying to post online.”
Then he moved on to answer other questions but my mind was reeling. For the first time ever, I was face to face with another person in recovery. This was my chance to speak to someone, to say, “I’m like you” or “You’re like me” and not even have to worry what he’d think of me because he didn’t know me from Adam. Or, well, Eve.
When the session wrapped up, I waited until the room had cleared and tentatively approached Maffin while he packed up his gear.
“I loved your story about the wine bottle and the elevator. I write an anonymous sobriety blog and I’d love to include it. Would that be alright with you, or would you rather it not be shared?”
My knees were shaking. I couldn’t believe I’d just said that.
He smiled broadly and said I was welcome to write about his story and reference his name. “Are you in a program?” he asked.
“No, but I have 181 days of sobriety,” I said, disbelieving my own courage. It was a relief to say it aloud after a difficult weekend at the convention.
“What?!” he shouted. “Oh, come here and give me a hug! That’s six months! That’s huge!! Good for you!!!”
He zipped around the table and threw his arms around me. It was all I could do not to sob, but I did my best to stay very present in an important moment. Someone who’d been through what I’d been though was listening to me, was hugging me. Someone was celebrating an achievement I’d been keeping to myself. Someone who didn’t even know me was happier for me than I understood I deserved. (And not just anyone. Tod Freaking Maffin!)
We talked for 15 minutes or so and I was utterly invigorated by the encounter. What a gift! It gave me fresh energy to survive the remainder of the convention.
It also helped me understand the power of AA in a new way. I have not gone to a meeting, and although I respect the program and have learned a great deal from some of the principles and strategies used in AA, I am not sure it is a program I need. However, I also held an image in my mind of it as being a group of messed up people trading sad stories and now I know otherwise. There is incredible power in the honesty required to speak from the heart and to listen openly.
I have had many brilliant Twitter exchanges with recovery folks who are both in and out of AA, and their help has been essential to my journey. They told me I needed to find a group, to have someone to speak to. I always knew they meant well, but this day gave new understanding of their words.
I got through the day but later into the evening I began to feel my armour slipping just a little. It was about 11 pm and the delegates were gathered in the soaring lobby of the hotel for cocktails. There was a lot of schmoozing and buzz. Everyone was tired from the weekend’s events yet reluctant to leave, as it was the last night to see each other. I was standing with a group of people who all had a drink in their hands, when one of my competitors approached. This fellow and I compete very strongly against each other in our local market, and we frequently butt heads at industry committee meetings. “Oh jeez,” I thought. “This is just what I freaking need. Here we go. Be nice, now.” I smiled and shook his hand.
“You don’t have a drink! Here let me get you something,” he offered, digging in his pocket for his drink tickets. It was almost too much. After three days of standing tall in the face of all that temptation, I broke. My chin quivered momentarily and my eyes threatened to water. I quickly shook it off, but not quickly enough. He saw. He knew. Shit. He’s one of the people I work so hard to never let my guard down around, and he’d just seen everything.
“I can’t,” I said. “I…don’t.” I forced myself to look him in the eye.
He got it, and he responded with unexpected kindness. “It’s okay,” he said quietly. “I’m still going to go get you something. How about a Diet Coke? Would that be okay?”
I just nodded. I couldn’t speak. (As I write about it now, I am having a good snotty cry. Little gestures. Little gestures…)
I will always remember that conference with gratitude. I am glad it wasn’t easy, because I had to learn to cope. But mostly, I am grateful for the gifts from others along the way – my husband’s support, the openness of a stranger, and the kindness of a friendly foe.
What a way to celebrate six months of sobriety.
The convention was wearing me down. I had my game face on. I looked the part, I felt strong, or at least determined.
I was irritated, though, by denying myself what I wanted: a cold glass of white wine. Wait, no – that’s not true. I didn’t want “a” glass of wine – I wanted all the wine I could have.
I’ve haven’t wanted “just” a glass of wine for a long long time, and that is exactly why I know I need to have none. There is no such thing as “just one” for me. Before I quit drinking, I’d had enough control to drink at a pace that kept me from embarrassing myself. I never blacked out. Never flashed anyone or slobbered emotionally or crashed my car. (Although I definitely, definitely bought some expensive clothes online in the late evening after a few drinks.) I had things under control, but I drank too much, too often. I needed to stop. I need to stay sober.
I was on Day 180 of sobriety according to the app on my phone – it should have been a milestone. I expected by now I would have been stronger and that maybe even would want everyone would know what an amazing SOBER woman I am.
Instead I was at an annual business convention, and I’d hit a wall. I managed through some events by filling my own water glass, and I had ordered the occasional fake beer in the bar.
For the most part, I was doing well and enjoying myself at the convention. I knew there would be challenges and I was right. The good moments were far outweighing the difficult ones, but starting around happy hour each day the challenges began to escalate.
If someone walked up to you every 20 minutes and poked you in the ribs, you’d start to get annoyed after a few pokes. Then you’d get more and more irritated and eventually you’d start watching for the bastard and thinking about breaking his finger next time he tried to jab you in the ribs. My addiction was getting on my nerves. Every so often my conversation would be interrupted by the offer of alcohol like another freaking poke in the ribs.
My husband was being incredibly sweet and supportive – he is so proud of me but knows I am not ready to tell everyone about my journey. Not just yet. If I could figure out what the hell my secret sauce is, he would do whatever I needed. I just have no clear direction to give him yet. I don’t know what I want – only what I can’t have.
“What can I bring you?” he’d whisper quietly. He could see I was struggling. I had no answer, and it was making me cranky. “Water’s fine,” I grimaced.
For over a decade I’ve attended this convention and the white wine was ever-present in my hand. Having quit now, I was afraid someone would walk up and just hand me a glass, and I had to ask myself if I’d be strong enough to handle that. Could I quietly set it aside? What if I held it a moment and absently mindedly sipped it. Oh my God, I’d go back to Day 0. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back and start over.
I knew I couldn’t touch a drink – literally couldn’t TOUCH a glass of wine. If someone attempted to hand me a glass of wine I would absolutely HAVE to say “no”.
It never came to that, although when I was asked what I’d have I noticed a few raised eyebrows when I answered “cranberry and soda” or “diet coke”. “Are you sure?” I was asked. Was it that obvious I wanted something else, or were they all just so used to seeing me drink wine?
(The absolute worst, in my opinion, is ordering a non-alcoholic drink in the bar. I loathe the term “virgin” – I feel like a prude just saying it. It musters a look from the servers, too. They just know you are not going to rack up a good bill or over-tip if you are sipping virgin drinks. I feel like a Victorian spinster, sucking the fun out of the room. But I wanted a damn non-alcoholic Caesar (it’s a Canadian thing – Clamato juice with spices, vodka, a salted rim and a vegetable garnish) so I ordered one. It arrived without the yummy-looking pickled asparagus that I saw going to other tables in their “real” Caesars. The house special version even had a big juicy shrimp n the rim. My sad little virgin had no pickle, no shrimp, no vodka (of course), and rim. Really, if anyone needs a little extra something something on the edge of their glass it is those of us surviving without the booze. Ah, well. The economics of running a bar are not lost on me. Without the booze, the price does not cover the extras.)
Part of the problem is that I simply don’t know what I want. Part of it is the fact that there is no common name for the things I do order – “I’d like a club soda with grapefruit and a splash of cranberry. Two parts grapefruit and one part cranberry. No not that much cranberry – sigh. Oh okay, no don’t worry – that’s fine.”
I mused about possible solutions: laminating a small card to slip to the bartenders with the name and recipe of my preferred concoction (once I figure out what that is!). “BISTRO – two parts soda, one part real grapefruit juice”. Then, when someone says “what’ll you have?” I could simply say, “Order me a Bistro, please” and that would be that.
I considered alternatives to the hateful term “virgin” for alcohol-free cocktails and determined that “flaccid” would be my choice – just as embarrassing but at least humorous, too.
At any rate, I got through the constant poke and jabs of the second day of the convention but I was wearing out. I knew I wouldn’t falter and drink, but I awoke the next morning with a touch of something I rarely ever feel: dread. Another long day lay ahead and I mustered my energy for it.
Fate had a surprise in store for me that morning, one that was worth the wait and effort…..
Each year my husband and I represent our business at the industry’s provincial convention – a four-day affair that includes a golf tournament, networking, trade show, educational seminars, breakfast meetings, pre-dinner cocktail parties, and gala evening dinners (a themed costume night, an awards dinner, and the President’s dinner).
We have been in attendance for over a decade and are well known within the crowd of 500 or so delegates. Both of us are there to ensure our company remains prominent, so it is essential that we are personable and outgoing, that we make important connections and always, always represent ourselves well.
Sometimes this involves hosting great parties, sometimes it means being an excellent guest who is charming and makes others glad they came, too. There’s a lot of buying drinks for others, accepting drinks from others, and schmoozing over the drink already in your hand.
Every event includes two free drink tickets, and some include sponsored bars or trays of champagne circulating the room. Wine is poured at dinner – your choice red or white – and the wait staff is attentive and quick with the refill. In case there wasn’t enough booze already, we also bring a cooler of beer and wine for our room so we can invite guests over for happy hour or a nightcap.
“Holy shit,” I thought as I packed. “Here we go. I can do this. I can do this.” As I bundled my medieval costume, I envisioned myself chatting and smiling with a glass of water in hand. I carefully folded the slim-fitting sheath I’d chosen for the awards dinner and saw myself looking elegant over a cranberry soda. I set in the dressy purple number for the gala and imagined discreetly shaking my head as the server offered wine with dinner.
“I can do this. I can do this.”
We packed our cooler to include regular and non-alcoholic beer (and no wine this time). I’ve found that when entertaining, fake beer is a good alternative for me. Beer was never my drink of choice so I don’t feel like I am tempting myself, and one is enough. I’ve brought it along to a few parties, and no one has ever noticed the difference. (If they were to ask, I’d tell them. But no one has.) I also tucked in an orange Pellegrino and grapefruit Perrier – I save these as treats for special occasions. (Fake beer is okay for some casual situations, but you can’t exactly hold a beer bottle when you’re wearing an evening gown.)
“I’m ready. I can do this.”
After a 7-hour drive, the opening event was great – the costume party was a riot of music, food, and dancing. (Oh, and booze for everyone else.) The first night of a convention is full of big hellos and warm hugs – catching up with the folks you only see but once a year at this event. Since we are all in the same business, there is a lot to talk about (“How are things in your area? Is business good? Are your kids working for you?”). The atmosphere is a bit chaotic. This year, my husband was getting a lot of attention for a particularly ridiculous costume.
I found that the easiest thing was to drink water because I could walk over to the bar, fill it myself from a pitcher, drop in a lemon slice or two and no one seemed to be offering me drinks because I kept a full glass with me. (It occurred to me partway through the night that all that water would have it’s own benefits – I’d be looking and feeling dewy fresh in the morning!)
By midnight, we were still laughing, dancing, talking and working the room. We’d been at the party for seven hours! I realized that had I been drinking at a pace of one drink an hour, I’d have had 7 glasses of wine already. SEVEN!!! I considered how good I felt after drinking buckets of water, how much fun I was having without any booze, and how it didn’t bother me to see others around me in various states of intoxication. I was glad to see them all; glad I came.
The next morning I awoke feeling and looking great, just as I’d hoped. I left my husband to sleep in while I went off to the breakfast speaker. Afterward, my husband played in the golf tournament while I explored the trade show, made some excellent connections, worked in the spectacular lobby on my laptop, and made an effort to see and be seen. I had lots of energy and was in my element. The day passed quickly and soon my husband and I were dressing for dinner.
This event was harder. It began with a champagne reception, so every few minutes a tray appeared in front of me and I had to say ‘no’ to something that appealed to me greatly. Not only did the champagne look delicious, the delicate fluted glass would have complimented my dress and demeanor.
I slipped off and read the Twitter feed for @UnPickledBlog where I follow inspiring recovery people from around the globe. This bolstered me throughout the entire weekend. I looked at the sobriety tracker app on my phone – Day 180. I checked that number again and again to try and feel the power of it, but I was numb.
“I’m good. I can do this.”
Dinner was a long, heavy meal of prime rib. The food was excellent but seriously, red wine would have helped digest it. Water not only detracted from the flavour, but also seemed to impede my ability to eat. Several times throughout the meal our waiter appeared with wine. “How about now, miss? Would you like some now?”
“Yes, I would fucking like some now. Leave me the fucking bottle already.”
Don’t worry, that was just the “committee” (see Itty Bitty Shitty Committee under topics). I heard the committee and acknowledged I was struggling but I persevered.
“I’m fine, thank you. Everything is wonderful.”
It wasn’t wonderful. It was hard. I was hitting a wall. I was a little frightened by the speed with which I’d gone from strong to weak. I was so thankful to crawl into bed at the end of the night. The effort to stay afloat had exhausted me. I was dreading the next day – another day of this!
Little did I know, the next day would be one of the most memorable and significant of my journey thus far….