Booze is No Friend of Mine

Drinking scares me.

It didn’t used to. It should have, but it didn’t. I was able to compartmentalize different areas of my life so well that I allowed myself to believe that I was fine… no problem here, sir… keep on walkin’ along.

Drinking didn’t scare me when I got a DUI. It didn’t scare me when some of my friends slowly drifted away, tired of my preoccupation with finding the next party. It didn’t scare me when I spent many mornings and some full days in bed hungover. It didn’t scare me when I was making a mess of my finances because I was drinking too much to act like a responsible adult. It didn’t scare me when I lied about having migraines or food poisoning to get out of going to work or school because I felt too bad to go. It didn’t scare me when I peed the bed because I was too drunk to wake up and use the bathroom.

Drinking didn’t scare me when I had a horrible car accident and spent two days in the hospital for a head injury. Well, that’s not exactly true. It scared me for two or three weeks, but I was 25 and thought that I was invincible.  Eventually I felt better, my head healed, and I began drinking once more.

Drinking didn’t scare me when I had a two-day bender that ended with multiple friends looking for me and my boyfriend breaking it off with me. Actually, that did scare me a little. I was scared of losing my friends and my boyfriend, so I quit drinking for a month. Once I realized I still had my friends, and the boyfriend was history, I had no problem slowly returning to my previous consumption of daily booze.

Lately, though, drinking has scared the hell out of me. Even though I quit without problems during my pregnancy, it felt like I started right where I left off when I returned to it after giving birth. A glass of wine to “celebrate” or a beer to “relax” soon turned into anywhere from two to ten on each occasion. And the consequences just kept getting worse. Did I need to lose my husband, my family, my life in order to learn my lesson?

I knew then, and know now for certain, that that is exactly what would happen if I were to continue on a drinking path. I would be placing everything I hold dear in jeopardy. I feel grateful to be looking at the situation clearly for the first time in my life. I feel grateful that I finally scared myself straight, without having my life go up in flames. I feel so thankful for that little voice that told me it was time to stop for good.

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Is Alcoholic a Bad Word?

There seems to be a lot of controversy over the term alcoholic. For some people it is a dirty word, while others use it constantly to define their relationship with alcohol. I think “alcoholic” and it’s parent term “alcoholism” generally follow the disease model of diagnosis and treatment. Some people find it helpful to believe that they have a disease, while others find it limiting. I am still deciding where I fit on this spectrum. Whatever works for you… I think that is my stance. Being an alcoholic shouldn’t be an excuse for bad behavior and a lack of personal responsibility. It does help explain some behaviors, though.

I have referred to myself as an alcoholic on this blog. Not so much because I think I have a physical disease, but because I drink in a dysfunctional and unhealthy way. I haven’t found another word that describes my relationship with alcohol very well. Problem drinker doesn’t quite cut it for me. Drunkard isn’t very nice. Lush, maybe? Boozer? Umm, no way man.

Alcohol issues run in my family, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that alcoholism is a disease that I inherited. I could have learned things from living in a dysfunctional drinking environment while I was growing up. Who is to say what exactly happens that causes one person to drink problematically and another person to be fine with having one or two? My paternal grandparents both had alcohol issues in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, but they eventually quit drinking altogether. My father is an alcoholic who tried to drink moderately for decades before finally giving it up last year, hopefully for good. His long-term struggle with alcohol is something that I do not want to repeat, and is a huge motivating factor for me to quit forever. Let’s say that while I was growing up he was a functioning alcoholic who didn’t always function so well. My maternal grandfather spent half of his days at the local tavern in his small town, but nobody remembers ever seeing him drunk. My mother drinks three to five beers almost every night, but has no physical addiction, and does not believe she has a problem. My brothers both have serious alcohol problems. I have traits from both sides of my family, and they fall on various sides of the “alcoholic” continuum.

So am I an alcoholic? Yes, absolutely, I am sure of it. Do I wish there was a better word to describe me? Yes I do. But the main thing is that I am sick and tired of alcohol being such a big deal in my life. Absolutely done with it. So whether I refer to myself as an alcoholic or not, I am committed to quitting for good. I would rather not have the stigma of “alcoholic” on my back forever, but at least I am a sober “alcoholic” today. 14 days!

What are your thoughts on the term “alcoholic”? How do you describe yourself?

Case of the Mondays… and Tuesdays?

Welp, I made it through my second weekend alcohol-free. That hasn’t happened for awhile. I feel good about it, but I also experienced a mild case of the Mondays yesterday and seem to be heading for a case of the Tuesdays today. I think I like having my husband home over the weekend. I also think that regardless of whether or not I am drinking, I get kind of depressed during the early part of the week. I always thought it was related to too much partying over the weekend, but I guess there is other stuff going on. The fun of the weekend is over, blah blah blah. Yesterday I snapped out of my funk by deep cleaning the kitchen. Today I might conquer the bathrooms. I’ve always felt that organizing my exterior spaces helps to keep me mentally balanced. Good old Virgo self.

Sunday evening was difficult for me. I really wanted a beer or a wine or something to take the edge off of my day. Not that my day was particularly bad… it was a totally normal Sunday… but I still experienced some cravings. I think alcohol had the ability to make boring, regular days seem more exciting in the past. It provided a sense of adventure… a feeling that anything could happen… even if all that normally happened was a hangover, a blackout, a sense of numbness, or a rare (and quite likely embarrassing) outing.

Luckily, the feeling passed. We put the baby to bed, grilled some burgers, and watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad. It was a nice, relaxing night with no regrets the next day. Yesterday I didn’t have the desire to drink.  I think I am craving excitement and need to work on adding a bit more to my life… in a way that doesn’t include alcohol. Or maybe I just need to focus on NOT DRINKING and be kinder to myself in the process. Excitement can wait. Not drinking is the important thing right now.

I have been thinking about writing a post about my history with alcohol, but the thought of doing so overwhelms me. I have been drinking in a  dysfunctional manner for SO LONG. There are SO MANY reasons why I drank. My family is a mess when it comes to alcohol, I have social anxiety,  etc. I’m not sure that writing it out all at once will really help me to heal. Maybe I will simply share a few examples (every once in awhile) why alcohol is no longer a part of my life.

Exhibit A:   I went to NYC on a college trip for a class that I was in. This was 10 to 12 years ago, I believe. We basically visited various fashion places during the day as a part of school (I was a fashion major), and then got completely loaded at clubs every night. Well, at least I got loaded… One day I was so hungover that I had to excuse myself to throw up during presentations by Vera Wang bridal, Liz Claiborne, and a few other major players. I basically spent the whole day being sick in the bathrooms at these places that I was hoping to learn from… maybe even work for one day. I thought it was funny at the time but now it strikes me as sad and pathetic. Why was I wasting my time in school in the first place? Why wasn’t I taking my life more seriously? How much of my life was I not showing up for because of drinking? I was definitely not ready at that point to admit that I had a serious problem with alcohol.

This is a very minor incident in my drinking career, but I think I will start small and build up towards the bigger and more humiliating stuff. Some of these things are difficult to write about, or even think about sometimes. But hey, my case of the Tuesdays is receding slightly. Thanks blog!

On A Positive Note

I thought I would make a list of the benefits of quitting drinking that I have noticed so far. You know, to keep my motivation high, to remember WHY I am doing this, to work on cultivating gratitude. I was worried about not drinking this weekend, but it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. I am really beginning to believe that working at maintaining a positive attitude is helping (and it IS work sometimes…). Also helping this weekend: reading lots of excellent sober blogs, commenting on said sober blogs, writing everyday, reading books, and staying busy DOING FUN STUFF THAT DOES NOT INCLUDE DRINKING. So, here goes.

Positive things that I have noticed so far about not drinking:

-Loads of energy every day. I mean, wow! I don’t feel the need to lie down with the baby every time he naps anymore. I am getting more done, even if it involves not getting anything done and just being zen. Not that I’m usually very zen. If that makes any sense.

-Waking up more easily and being nicer in the mornings. I am NOT a morning person, but my grouch level is definitely lower than it was when I was tired and hungover in the mornings. I might actually say hello instead of just grunting at you, for instance.

– My skin looks great!

-Saving some lettuce. It hasn’t added up to much yet (it’s only been 9 days), but our household budget is not straining from purchasing too much booze. I am sure this will be a HUGE benefit in the future. Like, hello travel!

-I have less anxiety. First of all, I think that drinking too much creates a cycle of anxiety and depression in people that are prone to those mental health issues (such as myself). Second of all, I don’t have to worry about blacking out, doing dumb stuff, or saying embarrassing things to others. Relief!

-My overall health is improving. I find that I am eating healthier, drinking more water, walking more, etc. because I am no longer harming myself through drinking so much. It is the avalanche effect that occurs when I do one good thing for my health, and it ends up leading to many more good things.

-My husband and the few close friends that I have confided in are proud of me.

-Increased self-esteem. I feel proud of me for not drinking! Plus… my skin looks great. 🙂

I am sure there are many, many more. I will make these lists once in awhile to see where I am at. Have a great day.

AA

I went to my first AA meeting last night and am feeling pretty confused by the whole experience. It was interesting in a lot of ways, and I think I am still processing everything that I saw and heard. It was a relatively small women’s discussion group, and the women I met were very kind and welcoming. It made me extremely anxious, however, and I craved a drink and a cigarette more than I have since I quit. After the meeting it took me an hour or two of relaxing at home to feel calm again.

I am an introvert- this seems to be the case for many alcoholics- and being put on the spot makes me nervous. I was not forced to talk, even though I did introduce myself briefly, but it felt like the women were speaking directly to me the whole time. This was both compelling and extremely intense, both good and bad. Many of the stories were very sad and some of the ladies were still drinking, or had drank the day before, which was depressing. I like the fact that the group seems to be accepting of imperfection, but I really need to feel like drinking is not an option in my life anymore. I am sure that many members of AA feel that way, and I just need to get to know them better. I felt very drained by the end of the meeting and was glad to get the hell out of there, even though I appreciated the effort to keep me engaged, as well as the honesty of the group.

I am going to go to more meetings, but I am not entirely sure that AA is for me. I know it will get easier if I keep going, and could end up being a valuable part of my sobriety if I give it a proper chance, but it felt like I had to expend a lot of mental energy to be there. Maybe that is the case with most people’s first meetings? I am relieved to know that it is available if I need it, and now I have a list of phone numbers of recovering alcoholics that I can call if I need to talk. That might come in handy.

Getting to the meeting was ridiculous, though. I think I texted my husband five times telling him I was going, not going, maybe going, maybe going to try a different meeting this weekend. He came home from work a little early to watch the baby while I was gone, and probably thought I was losing my mind by the time I actually left the house. He is not a huge fan of AA (he knows some of the members in our town and is not religious at all) but practically forced me out of the door to give it a chance.

I am going to continue to explore support groups, and different methods for recovery, in the meantime. I like the tenets of Women For Sobriety better than AA’s 12 steps, but there are no local meetings that I can attend, only an online presence. I also like the ideas behind the group Rational Recovery, but I don’t think they have any type of support groups. They believe in a self-recovery approach that does not include any “steps.” It is kind of confusing, and people in the recovery community seem to believe strongly in one approach over another, to the point where they say that you WILL FAIL if you don’t follow them. That is pretty scary. I don’t want to fail, but I also don’t want to feel intimidated.

Maybe a mismatched approach would be best while I figure out what I need to stay sober. This weekend I am going to check out a book about Rational Recovery at the library, attend an online meeting of Women For Sobriety, and think more about AA. Maybe I will call one of the women that I met and talk a bit more about it. I feel open to doing whatever it takes to change my life. The weekend is hard for me, as drinking has always been front and center, so having a few different plans is helpful. I am also going to spend LOTS of time snuggling with my baby and my husband, and maybe getting outside for a hike or a yoga class or something. Life doesn’t stop just because I am no longer drinking (it helps to remind myself of that). Happy Friday.

Living Anxiously

Anxiety has been a problem for me since my early teens. Coincidentally, this is around the time that I first began “experimenting” with alcohol, cigarettes, and pot. Drugs and alcohol used to ease the anxiety that I would feel in social settings. It also helped with the stress of watching my parents’ marriage fall apart (in part because of alcohol-related issues). Over the years my skills for coping with stress and anxiety have not improved much. Drinking helped to soften the emotions and hush the anxious thoughts that were often racing through my head.

In the past few months my anxiety has been off the charts. I think it was a combination of post-partum related anxiety and depression, and the horrifying way that my drinking continued to spiral out of control after the birth of my child (I quit while I was pregnant with him, and somehow thought that this break would solve everything). Alcohol was no longer helping the symptoms of anxiety, but rather making them worse. Luckily, after being sober for a week, the symptoms of anxiety are starting to ease up a teeny, tiny bit.

In the past week I have been placing myself into a protective little cocoon that doesn’t feel too scary. My husband decided to quit drinking to support me, which has helped a lot to make our home feel like a safe place. I don’t even know how to express how much this means to me, how lucky I feel to have a partner who would do this for me.

I know that I won’t be able to live in this self-made cocoon forever, and these thoughts trouble me. How will I handle the Holidays with my actively drinking (and often alcoholic) family? Will I ever be able to go out again? What will people think when they see that I don’t drink anymore? Will we be able to entertain at our house in the future? Am I still going to be a fun person? Was I EVER a fun person? What should I do when I get an invitation somewhere? And on and on and on…

When my thoughts go out of control like this I try to stop them by taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the here and now. I am trying really hard to live each day “in the moment.” I am fighting the anxiety that usually leads me to drink. I am spending time praying and trying not to think too much. I am eating healthy foods and getting as much sleep as I can (I haven’t really had a full night’s sleep since the baby was born). I am trying to meditate for at least 5 or 10 minutes each day. I am going on lots of walks. I am spending time laughing and talking with my husband and a few close friends. I am going to attend my first AA meeting tonight. I am taking steps that I HOPE will help in the future even if they are not necessarily helping too much right now.

It all just feels so shaky, like alcohol could just jump into my system with one wrong move on my part. I am trying to remember to be patient and to have faith. When I successfully quit smoking (my only other experience with addiction) it took a long time to feel normal again. I have to live one day at a time. And so far, even with some anxious thoughts and a lot of uncertainty, today is a good day. I am sober.

Motivation to Quit

I have spent a few weeks trolling the web for sober stories and reading memoirs of people who have succeeded in becoming sober. I think that this is what finally gave me the motivation that I needed to take the plunge into sobriety. It is absolutely amazing how different everyone’s stories are… yet they have that sameness that brings us drinkers (recovering or not) together. I want to thank everyone who has shared their stories in a public realm. Reading these stories has made me realize that I am definitely an alcoholic.

I have never, ever been a normal drinker. I think this is kind of unusual (maybe not so unusual, though?). Some people seem to gradually slip into alcoholism over many years of hard drinking, but I am pretty sure that I drank alcoholically and blacked out the very first time that alcohol touched my lips. When I tried to control my drinking, as I did many times in the past, I could only do so a small percentage of the time. And it was a total crap shoot whether I would be able to control it or not on any given occasion.

There are many drinking behaviors that I didn’t exhibit in my lifetime. I focused on these in the past when thinking about whether or not I was an alcoholic, and rationalizing the reasons why it was okay to keep on drinking. I wasn’t a morning drinker. I didn’t hide my consumption from others. I was able to keep a steady job most of the time. It was other people’s problems, not mine, that were getting in the way of my chosen lifestyle.

In reality, however, I HAVE drank in the mornings, just not all the time. I’ve called in sick to work, or didn’t always do my best, because of being hungover. My relationships with friends, family, and romantic interests suffered. I have had legal and financial ramifications from drinking. I was lying to myself so that I could keep my addiction to alcohol alive. What a realization. I’m sure it was obvious to other people at times, but I chose not to see that.

Reading different sobriety blogs, forums, and memoirs have shown me that alcoholism has many faces. Denial and rationalization are tools that help you avoid dealing with your drinking. If you think you might have a problem, you probably do. And this has helped me so much. I am honestly looking at myself for the first time in years.

This is Day 5 for me. So far every day has been a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions. One minute I believe that I can do it and I’m all fired up to quit forever. The next minute I feel like there is no way in hell, and what exactly was the problem with my drinking anyway? Ugh. I am trying to stay positive and focus on the benefits of quitting. I am telling myself that it is no longer an option, and that I can never have the life that I want if I continue down that road. Most of the time I feel pretty good, but it definitely feels like work! Writing about it helps. Talking helps too. I feel lucky to have a few people in my life that I trust enough to share with. The sober blogosphere seems pretty cool and supportive, and I’m so glad that I found it. Thanks for stopping by.