After more than two years of life without wine, my mind is less focused on constantly monitoring what’s in my glass and instead I notice how I react to various situations and why.
When things are ticking along and all is well, I am a happy girl. Give me a clean house, sunshine, a manageable schedule and a great pair of shoes, and I am my cheerful bubby self.
However it doesn’t take much to knock me off course. I am easily hurt or quickly rattled, and although I press on it isn’t easy.
“You kids pipe down,” my grandmother used to bark at my cousins and me. “My nerves are bad today.”
I never understood what the heck she was talking about – she was just sitting there crocheting, how stressed could she really be? But we all knew it meant stay out of her way or you’d end up getting scolded harshly for some minor offense.
Now, as I am getting upset because my day isn’t going as planned or because people are letting me down, I understand how she must have felt.
Anxiety is woven through so much of my being that I have mistaken it for a personality trait. It fuels my perfectionism (fear of criticism). It feeds my drive (fear of failure). Sadly, at times Anxiety parented my kids, ran my business, pushed me on stage, and even decorated my Christmas tree.
As time went on and I relied more and more on wine to slow me down, I hit some kind of equilibrium between the tension and release – but that was only temporary equilibrium. Soon it was wobbling and the thing that was supposed to ease my anxiety was adding to it.
Now, without my old buddy alcohol, I’ve simply had to learn better ways to deal with anxiety.
It starts with calling myself out. “I am feeling anxious right now because (insert minor crisis here).”
(Here are some of the most recent ones: dog barf on sofa; bangs that are wayyy too short; the guinea pigs my son brought home from college for the summer; same son announcing he is not going back to college in the fall.)
Truth be told, I am one wound up chick and I get shit done. Getting shit done is important, but so is not killing yourself with a wacked out sense of balance. Staying sober is about finding new ways of self-care, and taking off a little pressure so that the need for comfort is not a constant demand.
Recently I stumbled on a Psychology Today article that completely captured what happens in my head. “The Problem With Perfection” by Mel Schwartz explores the motivation behind perfectionism – namely, fear of criticism. This article NAILED me, once again blowing my theory that I am SOOOOO unique and special. Turns out, I am just a normal, predictable human who got herself into a normal, predictable pattern of addiction by living out the normal, predictable outcome of certain childhood experiences.
Here is the excellent article – go and have a read but please come back and share your thoughts on the subject: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shift-mind/201105/the-problem-perfection
And here are some of the things I do to shift gears when I feel my anxiety rising:
- Sudoku – the really hard ones that require serious concentration
- “3,2,1” – focus on 3 different sights; then listen and identify 2 sounds; and then feel 1 sensation (right now: 3 sights – the flowers outside the window, my dog’s cute little brown nose, the grain of the wood floor… 2 sounds – the hum of my laptop, the tv announcer being very excited….1 sensation – my own cold toes against my leg)
- Get outside and move – the sky is big and my problems are relatively small
- Fill an online shopping cart with ridiculous choices and then DO NOT BUY ANY OF IT!
- Brush my teeth. And floss.
- Grab my guitar and try to learn a new song
- Pull up a TED Talk and learn something new
Essentially, engage the body and/or brain in something that is either consuming or pleasantly distracting. Get out of the moment until the feeling subsides, and once the emotion passes take some time to assess things objectively. This is my strategy. What’s working for you?
I am so grateful to you and your insightful blog. I am just beginning this journey but at times I feel like you are reading my mind. The solution to perfection and the anxiety induced by trying to achieve the unachievable is mindfulness. Staying in the moment without judgement. (At least that was what I took away from the article). I love your idea of the 3- 2- 1.
I love the list at the end of the post! I was just commenting on my blog the other day how I start flossing when I am sober hehe.
I have relapsed last night, I drank. After 10 months. It’s ironic, I was just getting happy of how far along I have come. It was anxiety, anxiety, anxiety. The fear of shame, the fear of disappointing, the fear of being humiliated. It was too much to hold inside. I had a major screw up at work.
I went to a meeting after work, I wrote to my “sponsor” I tried anything. At 11 at night I had my first drink. It was horrible, and the anxiety was too much to quiet down anyways, so I didn’t even get a moment of sleep.
I do want to put it down now, I don’t want it to the start of the road to my absolute loss and demise. But what to do? I cried in the meeting yesterday, and asked the same, and all I heard was you should have worked the program.
So, I know now, all I have is myself, and the fact that drinking really does not make me feel better. I hate the taste, I hate the fact that despite how disgusting it feels, I still drank the glass. I will put it down. But damn, does this anxiety suck!! Just like alcohol before, it makes decisions for me. Forced to chose between two evils.
Ladies, stay strong.
Lemon, I know exactly what you mean by choosing between two evils. I’ve been realizing lately that if I’m going to live the rest of my blessed UnPickled life without alcohol, I’m going to need a winning strategy for anxiety.
You drank – that sucks. But you did the right thing by getting yourself right back to a meeting (I’m sorry you weren’t met with more support there but still YOU did the right thing by going back).
Thank you for your brave, honest words and heartfelt encouragement. Xo, UnP
Lemon, Let me start by applauding you for 10 months of sobriety. That is really an accomplishment. You succumbed, as many of us do, to the anxieties that are part of living.. To your credit, you have already picked yourself up..I am sorry you did not receive the support you deserved at the meeting… Stick around this blog, and others on the Internet, that will provide the support and understanding you deserve…Peace!
I read the article and totally agree with perfectionism being an attempt to measure up to everyone else.
I feel so much better without the worries that come with drinking. I actually have had a little money to do some online shopping. Its really something how much alcohol affects so many areas of life. I stayed sober for over a year and damned if I didn’t try drinking again only to find that its seriously a bad idea for me.
All of the ideas I’ve found on your blog are very helpful from use of idle time, coping with anxiety, to various other beverages to try. I really appreciate the feeling that I get of being understood that I get when I read the various posts.
I don’t see quitting drinking as a lifelong struggle, I’m done with it, but I do need other people who can relate to my experience.
For me anxiety comes and goes, and its gone more often than not these days.
Thanks you for taking the time to create this blog, and thanks for keeping it going. It was nice to see some new posts.
Take excellent care, ha, that’s a good place to apply the drive for excellence!
I discovered TED when I saw Brene Brown’s: The Power of Vulnerability, I did learn something new! It’s a powerful presentation, I’ve watched it a few times.
I’m a big fan of her work, too. I have her book on my “to read” pile. Maybe today…in the sunshine…..:) UnP
I can relate to this. I will celebrate 6 years clean and sober on July 4th. I recently married my best friend and get totally stressed (anxious) at even the teensiest, tiniest, slightest complaint or suggestion on how to improve something. Your theory of being a perfectionist and having a fear of criticism seems right on to me! In the article the author talks about the root of this being made to feel “not good enough” in childhood. Interesting. I come from the perfect family. My parents were childhood sweethearts still married today. But it was pointed out quite often how my mom was saludictorian, could type so many words a minute, could take shorthand, constantly corrected our grammer and was taught “proper” manners, speech, behavior, etiquette, etc. and I guess I always felt I could never live up to all that perfection. So, yeah, I guess he has a point. I also think it has to do with a low self esteem, which I definitely need to work on!! Darn stinking thinking!!
Unpickled, hi I heard about your blog through one of my facebook recovery pages. So you are two years alcohol-free? I will have three in October. Not that I am really counting anymore. My life is so much better without being sloshed on wine all the time that I don’t notice. 🙂 I can identify with stopping on your own. Although I attended 12-step meetings the first year, I moved on and have been on my own ever since. It CAN be done, despite what some will try to tell us. I am excited to read some of your previous blog posts! Congrats on your sobriety and best wishes.
Anxiety could be my middle name. I am trying to slow down, live in the moment and actually feel and experience normal emotions, instead of numbing myself with wine. I am actually trying hard to feel calmness and peace, instead of my previous mad rush through life. Not sure what it was that I was running from. My mad dash through life sure didn’t win me any new liver cells. I try and actually listen to people, instead of finishing their sentences in my brain. I try to focus on the beautiful colors and details in photos, instead of breezing over pictures and not even remembering them a year or so later. I try to concentrate on articles instead of rapidly reading through the material and not catching the important pieces. I try to enjoy myself in social situations, instead of imagining cleaning my company’s glass moments after their lips leave the drink, wiping down their place mat, and placing their plate in the dishwasher. I am trying to engage in things like photographing a sunset, instead of my past behavior of whizzing by a person whom stopped on the roadside to capture a rainbow. (I confess that in the past I thought that this roadside mannerism was a waste of time). Peace is a daily journey for me…I have to work at it one day at a time. I am really trying to stop and smell the roses.
Welcome back Unpickled! I’ve missed you! I’m just on day 10, but loving the new me. Thanks go to you for introducing me to this new life. I’ve enjoyed meeting a whole new group of women – my cyberfriends – who support me in this journey. I’ve read the article and see pieces of my family in there. Hate that those characteristics always fall back on parenting. I see some of the perfectionist qualities in my daughter and wonder if we were too critical. I didn’t think so at the time. I’ve never tried to be a perfectionist…always wanted to enjoy life and leave the mess for later. My husband (the Engineer) is the opposite. But we found a good balance. I loved this line: The only perfection is in being present, yet the perfectionist is never present. I’m trying to be present. I let so much pass me by while I was sitting on the couch drinking my wine and the neighbors were outside biking, walking, talking. I was already slurring my words so I didn’t dare join them. Night after night – what a waste. I’ve been up since 5 am, have walked the dog, read some blogs, enjoying my coffee, and planning my day. Loving this new life! Keep writing Unpickled!
Great strategies and great article – I’ve learned that I have to ‘let go’ of the notion of perfection and accept things as they come. In terms of strategies – getting busy by decluttering works wonders for me. It’s like clearing a space for new and better things to come.