I had lunch with 3 beautiful sober ladies yesterday, new friends whom I met through this blog and the “Booze Free Brigade”. What an incredible joy it is to connect with others who understand the journey. I never imagined I would laugh easily for hours with people I’d only just met, and I certainly never thought my recovery peers would be so very much like me.
I also never guessed that I would still be blogging after three years, still be working to change my life, or still be a work in progress. In all honesty, I thought I would be “done” quitting: recovered, emphasis on the “–ed”.
For the most part, I have nailed the “not drinking” part of this deal. My fridge has a selection of non-alcoholic choices I enjoy, and I breeze through most social situations. I order with confidence in restaurants, decline gracefully when offered booze, and generally speaking living alcohol-free is now second nature to me.
I think something clicked partway through the second year; likely the cumulative effect of repeated experiences. Trial and error of what to say, how to act, situations to either embrace and avoid have all added up to a high level of comfort with my new alcohol-free life.
Two of my new friends at lunch yesterday are in their first year of recovery, and to me they seem yonks ahead of where I was at that stage. Ah but we all know better than to compare out insides with someone else’s outsides, right?
The “insides” are the focus of my efforts now. Once we tame the behaviour of drinking we turn our attention to understanding the reasons it was ever necessary. It’s not that hard to see, not that difficult to understand, how things can go sideways. The tricky bit is learning new ways to act and react so that life doesn’t become so painful that we require constant numbing.
This is much more difficult that it might sound. I can intellectualize that I am overly critical on myself; I can understand the root causes of the criticism and identify the patterns of behaviours involved. The real challenge for me is to do things differently moving forward.
It’s not as if I can just say, “I am going to stop being so hard on myself” and BOOM, be gentle. It takes an effort towards awareness.
For instance, last week as I was cleaning my house I could feel my agitation and anxiety rising. The usually euphoric scrub of a toilet was done with resentment; my normally light step was hurried and panic-driven.
In the past, I would have allowed myself to feel righteous anger at everyone else for dirtying the house. This time, however, I was able to realize I was being motivated by a fear of criticism. I was preparing to host a gathering and one of the guests in particular worried me. I was anticipating her critical eye and imagining words she might say if she saw a dusty baseboard or spotted fixture. I was expecting cruelty, bracing for it, resenting it, and allowing myself to feel badly.
On the surface, I was being bitchy about cleaning the house and I was working myself up into a lather. As one of the women said at lunch yesterday, “I just thought that was normal, I thought how I acted was just me. Now I realize I can do something about all that.”
You see, if we just quit drinking and make no other changes, we are stuck with all those old ways of interpreting, internalizing and acting out. This is sometimes called being a “dry drunk”.
If we are going to go to all of the effort of getting and staying sober, we might as well muck through a bit more and change things so that we don’t just end up miserable from some other broken crutch (shopping, gambling, sex, food, and so on).
So while drinking is a long way in the rear-view mirror, I am working on all the other “stuff”, specifically:
I once would have DIED before admitting I suffered from the A-word. That was for weak people.
Oh that shaking? That’s just nerves. Sweating? I am excited. Chest pains? Yes, I have a really stressful life but look at me handling it! Look at me, look at me – look at all the amazing things I can do while I shake, sweat and ignore the pains in my chest!
Now I can call it what it is: AN-fricking-XI-E-TY and I am learning better ways to identify and handle it.
I have had (and hidden) a form of OCD called “dermatillomania” since my early adolescence. It is gross and embarrassing and apparently rather COMMON among those susceptible to addiction.
Please read more about it here: http://www.thefix.com/content/pick-me-baby-one-more-time .
I use behaviour modification and relaxation techniques to deal with it and have had great success.
Many readers may identify with this problem. If this describes you, please understand that the condition has a name, there is help available and, as always, you are not alone. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about it and are uncomfortable commenting publically.
At different times in my life I have fallen into disordered eating patterns – I think that is the right language these days. This partly stems from perfectionism or fear of criticism, and mostly from a desire to exercise control at times when life has felt unmanageable. I have cycled between binge/purge, starvation, and obsessive exercising – all behaviours I expect to leave in my past.
What is the difference between being a high-achiever and an over-achiever? In my experience, it is that an over-achiever is never satisfied because we are driven by shame and fear. I just never felt good enough and thought I needed to do more than everyone else to be worthy of the same level of acceptance.
Anxiety, OCD, disordered eating behaviours, and an insatiable need for success were just other presentations of the same old problems. I had accepted them as normal, as me. I never expected them to change because I never knew they were the outcomes of my own misguided efforts to comfort my old wounds.
So when I talk about recovery, I am talking about getting back to the root of our problems – drinking, yes, as well as other things you and I no longer have to accept as “just us”.
We can do better for ourselves, and just knowing that brings a world of relief.
This is where I am at after 3 years, 3 months, and 10 days of living alcohol-free.
Emphasis on the FREE!