Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer, or Four Seasons of Sober

Yesterday I reached my first soberversary. This has been one of the weirdest, most enlightening, most frustrating, and generally coolest years of my life. It doesn’t all have to do with being sober, but sobriety has been there the whole time, weaving its magic into each day of my life, doing its sparkly and magical thing.

‘Cause being sober makes things possible. It changes your daily intention, if you are into that ‘law of attraction’ stuff. You manifest differently sober than you do when you are drinking.

It was really, really hard at first not to take a drink. More than that, it was unbearably hard to imagine a life without alcohol. None ever? Whaaaat? How is that even possible?

It gets easier, it gets better, and then it gets hard again. PAWS is real and it beat me up a little bit. It might not be done beating me up. But the hard times have become fewer and further in between and I’ve started working on the stuff underneath. The stuff that makes me want to drink in the first place. That is where I am now. Finding out things about myself that make me slightly crazy, and figuring out how to manage them without an escape.

But honestly, if you are thinking about sobriety and feeling unsure about the hugeness of it all, you don’t have to worry about that stuff yet. There will come a time when you naturally begin to feel more clarity about who you are and what you want out of your life. You will understand better who you were when you were drinking. It just happens…. and it’s not really all that scary when it comes down to it. In fact, not drinking is much less scary than drinking if you have a drinking problem. So, there is nothing to fear.

Even after a year there are still some hard times, but I don’t sit around thinking about drinking very much at all anymore. I know for a fact that drinking did not contribute anything good to my life. My friends have accepted the fact that I don’t drink, and many of them are back in my life after an initial period of protective space- the sober bubble that I needed to keep myself safe from temptation during those tender early months. Now I decide who I want to see and whether I can handle a specific event or not. I’ve (sort of) learned how to say no to protect my sobriety. I dropped some folks who drink way too much and are bad influences for me to be around. My life is precious and it comes first.

In the past few days I have felt a niggling frustration that things haven’t changed enough in the past year. I have been feeling impatient. I am still the same person, with many of the same problems.  Life didn’t magically shape up just because I quit abusing a drug. The difference is in how I handle the problems, as well as the good times. I hold my head higher, face my fears more directly, and practice gratitude. Life used to be a constant game of comparison where I always felt lacking. Now I know that I am loved and cared for, and I feel cocooned in the of safety of being sober. I am no longer fighting an internal battle about drinking, with the drinking side winning. I am no longer engaging in self-defeating behaviors. The end result is a safe feeling, a feeling of belonging in my skin and in the world, at least most of the time. Sometimes frustration and impatience is a part of life, sober or not.

The past few weeks have found me exploring vegan cooking, something I never have had an interest in before. When I first quit drinking I needed the snacks and sugary mocktails to get me through the witching hour. I craved my pieces of chocolate at the end of a tough day. I am finally getting to a place where I don’t need those outside comforts as much. That’s the weird thing about recovery… it shifts and changes, and in the end you change, too. I am realizing that I am a totally different person than I thought, while in many ways still the same. It is massively comforting.

Last week a new friend offered me a beer from her six-pack. I tell her no every time she offers, but she keeps offering anyway. I finally got up the nerve to be honest with her, and said that I hadn’t had any alcohol in almost a year. She was really and truly surprised. People really don’t care what you are drinking most of the time.

Yesterday I spent my official soberversary acting as the designated driver for a good friend’s bachelorette party (the last of the year). A couple of the girls brought non-alcoholic champagne and gave me and my one year anniversary a little toast, in the midst of the wine tastings scattered throughout the rest of the day. It made me feel good to be acknowledged, and I genuinely felt happy to be sober and capable of helping my friends by ensuring their safety. This weekend my husband and I will celebrate properly with good food, chocolate and naps. I feel like I have accomplished something this year, and I am proud of that fact.

On to year 2. I can’t wait.

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I Aim to Please

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A new friend recently asked me if I would be interested in nannying for her toddler, since I am home with my little one anyway. My brain was telling me to get as far away from the situation as I could (run! run now!), but I told her I would think about it. And that I would be happy to help the following week while she and her husband were working on some home renovations. No problem! I told myself.

The thing is, I am not really a kid person. I value my alone time, which often coincides with naptime in my house. Getting two toddlers to nap each day is a lot different than getting my own son to sleep. Basically, nannying is not something that I would ever, in a million years, be interested in doing. If my husband and I decide to have another baby we will figure it out as we go, but it will be our baby, and I will be willing to make sacrifices because I love my family fiercely.

It turns out I am not capable of saying what I really think when someone asks me for help.

Hi, my name is Jen, and I am a people pleaser. When someone asks me for something, I try to do it even if it isn’t good for me, isn’t what I want, and possibly interferes with the healthy functioning of my life. I try to solve their problems even though they aren’t mine to solve.

In the end I watched my friend’s son for one whole day, from start to finish. It went well, I thought. I got both toddlers to sleep at naptime, after some struggling and crying, but nobody died or got injured. When my husband got home he asked me about my day, and I started crying and couldn’t stop, thinking about doing it again the next day. It turns out I was doing something that I didn’t want to do, and I had rationalized it to myself by saying that it was the kind and unselfish choice. Really, I just didn’t know how to tell my friend no. I wasn’t being true to myself.

In theory, I like the idea of being a person who has a home open to kids. Where people can drop by whenever, stay all day, and enjoy themselves. I also like the idea of going to medical school, or living on a commune, or opening a nursery for plants, but that doesn’t mean that my personality is suited to those things, either. I am happy to host play dates, help friends in emergencies, and go out of my way for the people that I love, but I get to decide when and with whom to do those things. It is okay to say no, and to let other people solve their own problems in life.

I am now on my way to becoming a recovering people pleaser.

Reflections

I haven’t been too keen on writing lately, and I have been having some wicked drinking dreams. These things might not seem related, but I know that they are. The dreams are coming up because I haven’t been taking good care of myself. I have felt tired when thinking about blogging here, and tired when thinking about the new site that I want to use for non-recovery related writings that I have not yet started. I am a jumbly, bumbling, grouchy, cross person when I don’t practice self-care. This needs to change, as I need a decent amount of alone time to feel like myself. My little family’s travels are over for the summer, additional family has visited and left, and now I have the space to take some alone time. All is well. The road to relapse is slippery, but I know what needs to be done from here to get back on sure footing.

I have been reflecting a lot on life in general lately, and the future, and the past. One year ago I was a total mess, on the inside for sure, and maybe on the outside a bit, too. Maybe that’s a huge understatement but it sure is hard to see yourself clearly when you are drinking every evening, and the past is gone forever, so all I have is memory and other people’s versions of the truth. I know that I was wearing yoga pants a lot and I was constantly freaking out that I wasn’t doing a good job at being a mother. The guilt and shame of parenting is amazing. I didn’t think it would happen to me- the guilt and fear that I was doing everything wrong and damaging my child at every turn- but it did. Parenting is a truly humbling experience, as is battling an addiction. Both are right up there in the category ‘life experiences that will change you forever’.

This year is different. The guilt, shame and fear has receded into memory-land, at least for the most part. I sometimes worry about my son, but I have a deeper sense that things are okay, and that I am mainly doing things right for him. I realize that everything about who he is and how he turns out is not my responsibility. Drinking is also a memory now. Some are good memories, but a lot are bad ones that hold the power to make me cringe when I think of them. They aren’t so present anymore, even though I can see them with a kind of clarity that only comes with time. They are wispy things, and for that I am grateful. I hold tight to them because they remind me that I never, ever want to go back to the dark place where I was living. No thank you very much.

On the other hand, I am not sure that my pink cloud of love for everything mundane and normal is going to last forever. Look at me! Living in my own house! Gardening! Eating a dinner with fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market! Paying my bills on time every month! Buying gifts and cards for people in a timely and appropriate fashion! Being normal!!!!

I know that not all of you relate to this sentiment, as your lives stayed more ‘normal’ during your drinking days, but mine was really up and down while I was drinking. I never quite had it all together, even though I tried reeeallly hard. It seems like I was always juggling everything and dropping balls, picking them back up only to drop another one. I was really proud of the balls I managed to keep in the air, though!

I can’t predict the future. I don’t know if ‘normal’ is going to be exciting enough for me forever. It is for right now, and I can keep building my life in the meantime, finding new and different things that I love to fill me up from the inside. Thank you all for following along and offering support to me over the past 11 1/2 months. It is so wonderful to know that this space is here for me when I need to work some stuff out. I follow many of your blogs and reading your stories helps a lot, too. Keep doing your thing.

 

Do No Harm

Hi folks! I am back from a fun but stressful trip to visit family (aren’t all family visits kinda stressful? Is it just me?), and I wanted to pop in to say hello. It was a scary trip for me; I saw family that I haven’t seen in years, and I don’t think I would have planned it or gone if I had been drinking this year.

Stress still makes me want to drink in an abstract kind of way, but luckily it is getting much easier to see what is going on in my little lizard brain. Whenever I begin to think that drinking is a good idea, or that everyone drinks and why can’t I, or some other version of “poor me”, chances are that I am stressed or tired or sick. Once I talk about my feelings, or get some rest, or get away from the stressful situation, or practice some sort of self-care, I stop thinking that drinking is a good idea. Pretty simple, right? Yet it is amazingly difficult to remember sometimes, especially when in the thick of the bad feelings. Keep going going going, stay sober, and those tricky drinking thoughts get easier to recognize for what they are: bullshit. So that’s a cool development.

I am fast approaching one year of sobriety and I am pretty happy about it. I get discouraged sometimes that I am not moving fast enough in recovery, doing enough for others, actualizing into super-Jen, or making and achieving big goals. Yep- I still doubt myself and the path that I am on. BUT- and this is big- I am not hurting other people so much anymore, my goals are clarifying, and I am learning how to be happy with who I am, where I am, what I have, and what I am doing. I would say sobriety is a general success for me so far. And this is just the beginning! 

When I was a drinker I hurt people through my thoughtless actions, or brainless actions, as I did a lot of mean/stupid/careless things when I was blacked out. I still hurt people sometimes, especially those close to me, but the amount is so much less than it used to be. I can guarantee that if I had been drinking this year there would have been more fights, more hurt feelings and more tears. More DRAMA. And who freakin’ needs that? It is worth going through this tough transition- from a drinker to a sober woman- to hurt people less often and less severely. Do no harm. It is a good motto, I think.

I am finding it less necessary to delve into the past these days. I can hold my head high knowing that I am doing the right things for myself and the people that I love. That sounds pretty smug, but it just feels good. I don’t feel better than anyone else, I just could care less what others are doing most of the time (especially about drinking) as long as I am taking care of my own stuff. What YOU do doesn’t lessen ME. Who knew it would take almost 35 years to realize that? This vacation that I took with my family gave me a slight shift in perspective- a good reminder of the power of travel- that I needed to hopefully make this next year the best yet.

 

 

A Thicker Skin

Living life as a sober person requires a sense of humor and a thick skin. To fully integrate into everyday life you have to have the ability to laugh things off and not take everything so seriously.

Many people like to drink. While I sometimes wish this wasn’t the case, the world isn’t going to reorganize itself to suit my whims (or diseases). If I want to reintroduce myself into parts of my old social life, I have to be the one to adjust.

So, a lot of people like to drink, and they also like to talk about their drinks.

Friend: This wine is so delicious. Did you know that Australian varietals are really in right now?

Jen: ……No, I haven’t bought much wine lately…always good to know, though. Thanks.

Friend: So-and-so brought this fantastic pepper beer over recently and we all had a taste! It was weird…hot but cool, if you know what I mean.

Jen: ……

And then the subject changes and all is well in the world. I wouldn’t have been able to handle this at first, which is why I pretty much stayed away from all drinking events, but it is more manageable now. I feel awkward, try not to take it personally, and then move on and talk about something else. I even try to laugh to myself at the whole situation.

I mean, I already drank a whole life’s worth of drinks, so I know how to talk about them. I think that the more comfortable I get in these situations the more comfortable others will be. I want people to feel comfortable around me, yet at the same time I don’t want people to talk about their damn drinks all night long. Seriously. That would make for a pretty boring conversation.

It just is less important now, which is really cool.

I read an article about ego-depletion somewhere recently. Ego-depletion is the idea that your self-control is finite; you only have so much willpower. Once you use it up, you use it up. This really spoke to me about addiction and placing ourselves in difficult situations that require the flexing of our sober muscles. We need to do it a little at a time and then have activities that fill us back up in between, like sober blogging. Or AA meetings. Or whatever makes us feel powerful and in control instead of deprived and sad that we can no longer drink.

Laughter helps to fill me up. When I can see the humor in a situation I am able to defend myself better against ego-depletion. I don’t feel like I am using so much self-control to avoid drinking, instead I feel happy that I am making good choices for myself.

300 Days

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I’m going through a really lovely rebellious period right now where I feel happy as hell to be doing my own thing in life. Being me. Sober and proud, baby. I spent some time feeling sad that I wasn’t like everyone else anymore, but now I am happily living my nonconformist, sober life. Time to explore some uncharted territory and find ways to be high on life- real, unfiltered, and raw.

I love this article by Prince Rama’s Nimai Larson about quitting drinking. She is a badass and I admire the shit out of people who make positive changes in their lives. I don’t look down on her, or the countless other amazing people I read about who have quit drinking, so why feel less than myself?

I think it is badass to take control of your life and stop doing something that is hurting you!

Notes From a Good Day

Life has been good lately, and I know that it is because of sobriety. I am enjoying living more than I used to… genuinely appreciating the small things. The everyday things. Taking my son swimming. Drinking a delicious cup of coffee in the morning. Going for a hike and really noticing the trees and the sky and hearing the birds, and just feeling happy and content. Feeling joy bubble up inside when I hear a good song on the radio and can’t help but smile and dance around. I look silly, but I don’t care. My son dances, too, and I love how unselfconscious he is. I want that for myself.

It seems that my thinking has shifted. I used to feel fear and pain so much of the time. I thought constantly about drinking, even if I didn’t realize I was thinking about it. Everything revolved around numbing out my fear and pain, because then I was able to laugh and relax for awhile. Drinking was my constant reward for having to deal with life, which I found to be terribly hard and strenuous most of the time. Life wasn’t fair. I didn’t always get what I deserved. People could be so mean. I felt left out and left behind and so, so scared.

This is so much better. The true relaxation and happiness that comes with thinking things through, talking things out, feeling all the feelings on the spectrum, processing the happenings, and really and truly living life on life’s terms.

My family-of-origin has been helpful to me in letting go this past week, as they are nowhere near close to accepting the alcoholism that continues to warp and damage their lives. I have been hitting my head against a brick wall trying to get them to see the truth. Gah. I am realizing how hypocritical I have been by doing that, and therefore feel able to let go of it all, at least for now. Finally. I am sending them love and light from afar.

They aren’t all good days of course, but the good ones are really good. I am grateful to be here, writing to you all and myself, enjoying this glass of iced pomegranate green tea. Now I am off to clean the house and get prepared for a fun play date this afternoon. xo