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.

I Aim to Please

Recovering-People-Pleaser-Is-that-OK

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.

Feed the Soil

I think about this phrase a lot for my son. My job as his parent is to create an environment that can help him grow and thrive- to feed the soil not the plant. I don’t need to worry about every little thing, or react to every small daily incident, or worry worry worry about how his childhood is going, as long as I remember to feed the soil around my sweet little one. He needs to be surrounded by people who love him, books, toys that interest and challenge him, a variety of people, nature, and new experiences.

The same thing goes for my sobriety. I don’t need to worry about it so much anymore, as it has pretty much become second nature for me not to drink, at least most of the time. I still need to feed the soil regularly to stay fully committed to this path in life. This means reading sober blogs to hear about other people’s struggles and triumphs, reading uplifting materials (even just a few good quotes can do the trick), and spending time with positive people who help me feel good about life. I need to travel every so often to widen my perspective, to interact with people who challenge me, and to learn about new ideas. I need to write. I need fresh air, good food and exercise. I need hugs- so many hugs! All of these things feed the soil of my sobriety so that it can continue to grow and thrive. These things are important for everyone, but particularly for us sensitive-alcoholic types. I think many alcoholics are highly sensitive people, but that is a post for another day.

The opposite is also true. If I surround myself with downers and heavy drinkers, and don’t do the things that I need to stay healthy, then my sobriety will wither away.

Remember to be aware of what you are feeding your soil, is what I am saying. I will keep working on mine right alongside you.

xoxo

 

No Drama Here

My good friend is now hitched, and I made it through the wedding festivities without drinking, so I am feeling good about things. Tired, but good. I was the matron of honor in her wedding, which I have never done before, and turned out to be a pretty fun yet stressful experience. I freaked out last minute about giving a speech at the reception and told her I couldn’t do it, because it was making me feel like diving into the closest vat of champagne (and there was plenty of booze available), but she said one of the other bridesmaids could do it and all was well. I am glad that I spoke my mind, even though I probably should have done it earlier. Public speaking on top of a sober wedding turned out to be a bit too much for me to handle. Maybe after a year of sobriety it won’t be such a big deal… I don’t know. I feel a little sheepish about being so afraid of speaking in front of the wedding, but I am trying to honor my fears and understand when to push through them and when to walk away. No need to push myself too hard too fast- I think it’s self-care to say no when I feel pushed to the edge to the point where my sobriety is in jeopardy. In the end nobody gave a speech at the wedding at all, at least before I left, so I worried about it for nothing. Such is life.

The rest of the festivities- rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception- went fine without booze. The main difference is that I get more tired now…or maybe I just truly feel when I am tired instead of masking it with fake drunk energy. I officially feel like one of the old married ladies, but then I remember that I am part of an old married couple. I did a little dancing, ate some food, chatted with friends, and tried to keep my little guy from having a meltdown. We left at around 10pm and were in bed by 11:30, sober and happy.

My attitude continues to shift… slowly at times, but surely, towards this new sober place of being. And the beauty of waking up feeling good, albeit with a slight emotional hangover, but no shame (from doing something stupid like talking to my friend’s relatives and not remembering what I said, or acting inappropriate and flirty with someone while my husband stood and watched, or any number of other embarrassing possibilities) makes me feel happy. Oh, and being a sober role model to my child. I just LOVE those things. They seriously do not get old.

I have been thinking more and more about life and sobriety being big picture, so whenever I start to worry and doubt myself I try to take a step back. From there I can see that I am on the right track, and that there is no need to worry about anything all that much. My child is not going to be hurt by the effects of parental alcohol use/misuse as long as I stay vigilant, and as an ACOA, I feel so proud of that fact. My life is not going to be hurt by alcohol anymore.

Onwards to the rest of the summer. We have a trip planned in July to see some family on the West Coast, but no big plans otherwise. Time to settle into my new life even more fully as I approach one year sober in August. It sounds good to me. Not dramatic, not particularly exciting even, but nice and wholesome and WHOLE and happy and good.

 

 

Ups, Downs and All-Arounds

I was worried there for a bit, but things are starting to feel better. Life was beginning to feel really hard without alcohol. Like, really damn hard. I was feeling left out of activities because I no longer drink, worrying about meeting new people sober, and thinking that my husband would probably want to leave me because of how boring I have become since we were married, due to the lack of alcohol in my life, of course. My thoughts and reactions have been totally overblown and my paranoia has been in full effect. Last night I started thinking about why I have been feeling this way, and alas, I just passed 9 months sober last week. That significant trigger of a date plus a yucky sinus problem that felt never-ending pushed me over the edge, I think. Or triggered a PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) episode, more accurately.

Luckily yesterday, when I was beginning to think that I couldn’t take the stress and strain of it all anymore, I found some really reassuring reading about getting back to normal in sobriety and how at 9 months, it probably ain’t gonna happen. Not yet. But I am on the way there, and that makes me feel better. Just knowing and understanding that I was having a PAWS episode helped make me feel better. Like, right on. I’ve dealt with this before… I can handle this. Just ride it out and see what I can find out about myself in the process.

One thing I have learned from this rough patch is that I need to have a better plan for rough patches. Until today, I could feel myself slowly slipping down the path of relapse one negative thought at a time. I feel lucky to have found something- grace perhaps?- when I did. I was pulled up and out of my negative thinking at a crucial time. What will I do when something really bad happens? I don’t want to sit around waiting for my life to go to shit, but based on the fact that shitty, sad, scary, and bad things happen to everyone, I think I would be remiss not to make a plan for this eventuality. I am not sure what my plan is exactly, but working my atypical program on a regular basis is vital. The problem, I believe, is that relapse creeps up like depression and hits you when you are at your worst, when you’re weak and feeling less-than-able, so some of my program needs to be built into my life. Routine. Support people. Sturdy things that are there no matter what during those rough times. I need to work on structure.

I also need to remind myself to have more patience. I am thrilled to be free from alcohol for 9 months, but I am still learning about myself and my limitations. In order to stay off the booze I need to be careful with how I choose to spend my time, who I spend it with, etc. My ‘old normal’ just isn’t an option anymore, even if I feel left out of activities sometimes. I don’t get invited to bar outings anymore, which makes me feel sad and left out and bereft, but do I really want to go, anyway? Should I go? Probably not, to be honest. As much as I admire the cool sober chicks who are fine being at bars on the reg, I am just not there yet… and I might not ever be there. And that’s okay. Sobriety isn’t a one-size-fits-all kinda thing. It isn’t even a one-size-fits-all thing for me. It changes regularly.

I think I am finally-sorta-kinda-maybe beginning to understand that self-care is doing what feels right, what I can handle, and what is good for me on a day-to-day basis. I have always admired it in theory, but am pretty self-care challenged in everyday life, as much as it pains me to admit. In real life sobriety with real life things happening, there are ups, downs and all-arounds that you have to deal with. Luckily, it seems that the answer is pretty simple. Don’t drink and eventually you will be okay again. I was going to say don’t drink, do some processing, and eventually you will be okay again, but I am not sure that is accurate. Sometimes the processing just seems to happen with time. I have been dreaming crazy dreams like a madwoman the past few weeks, and I think my mind has been doing some subconscious processing… with or without me.

So, in summary, life is a mystery, but it is also amazing to be able to really and truly experience it without booze. Thanks for reading, my friends.

Sober Biz

It’s pretty exciting thinking about all of the opportunities I have now that I am no longer chugging down booze every evening and feeling sickly every morning. All this free time gives me too many options, perhaps, as I am having a hard time deciding on one thing that I want to do FOREVER. Thinking about forever is a real mind fuck, isn’t it?

I mean, I can’t think about forever when it comes to sobriety. Why should I think that I can do it about anything else? Who cares about forever, anyway? I am certainly not going to live forever, so why worry about it?

So I am trying to rein it in a bit. Focus on what I want to do today or even next year, but not five years down the road, or forever down the road. I like that I am thinking bigger now that I am sober, once I get past the negativity of not being able to drink ever again, which ebbs and flows.

I want to do things with my life, like start a business. Drinking allowed me to procrastinate doing that for way too long. What kind of business? Well…that’s where the indecision comes in. I have a new idea every few weeks that I get super excited about and then let fizzle away.

To be honest, I have always done this. I have always had a hard time making up my mind, and have looked to others for answers as to how I should live my life. I did it once again a few weeks ago when a friend complimented me on a design I had made for a friend’s bridal shower invitations, and then again on her wedding invitations. She told me she thought I should open a business designing wedding invitations and things. I immediately mentally dropped the career plans that I had been making and thought “yes! that IS what I should do!” without realizing that I was doing it again- letting myself be guided by another in a direction that wasn’t of my choosing.

Of course, it was nice to hear that she thought I was a good designer. But I already KNOW that I have a bit of talent there. Sorry for the humblebrag. Does that mean that is what I should do with my life, though? No… I mean, I am not even a huge wedding person. I didn’t want a wedding. Why would I design wedding invitations for the rest of my life?

So I eventually realized this and moved on to another business idea. Sigh.

Sometimes I wonder if I am looking for another outside thing to make me happy. Work. A career. A business. Is that the same as filling up with booze? They are different, of course- it is necessary to have money, and working is healthier than drinking- but am I searching for an outside solution to an inside need? Work won’t make me whole, even if it can help make me feel fulfilled.

I think it is okay to be unsure for now. I am going to be kind to myself. I don’t have to decide anything today. I can let my mind travel through the possibilities of this new sober life until I feel ready to commit to something. The answers are here, within, if I give them time to incubate properly. They were soaked in booze for so long.

I like it when I feel flowy and good, so I am going to feel flowy and good today. Worrying about my future non-existent business makes me tense, and is pretty silly if you ask me. Life works out nicest when I have patience, think the best about things, take things slowly, and feel my feelings. When I let things unfold naturally instead of forcing things to happen.

 

Friendships and Life

I am working on building, or rebuilding, friendships in real life because I haven’t put much effort there, aside from the bare minimum, for the past 8 months. Getting sober has been my main concern- not friends. But obviously, friends are great when you have something to talk about, like old hook-ups, that leaves you feeling icky, icky and more icky. So there it is – lesson learned – we need people in all areas of our lives. We are not islands. Staying on my little sober island was good for awhile, but now it is becoming a hindrance to growth.

I don’t feel comfortable discussing certain things with my friends right now, though. When I say that I want to work on building friendships I mean the really deep kind where you can truly share yourself- even the icky, embarrassing parts. This makes me think that I might want to reconsider AA, because alcoholics are probably able to understand better about doing stupid stuff when blacked out, while moderate, normal drinkers don’t have those types of experiences often in life. I am expanding all the time… I can feel it. My life is getting bigger, and maybe AA should be a part of that. I am less scared (of everything, pretty much) than I was at first, so I might be able to handle going to meetings without feeling so shaky and close to drinking.

Sometimes I think that the friends that we attract mirror who we are, or how we are feeling, on the inside. When I am being judgmental or gossipy I notice those qualities in the friends around me. When I am feeling worthy and whole, I notice the best qualities about my friends. This is why I am going to work harder on developing friendships by being the best version of myself. For this introvert, that sometimes means staying home when I am feeling bad. That’s okay, though. It is all about knowing your limits and being comfortable in your own skin. Loving yourself.

I hate when I feel needy around friends. My people-pleasing, approval-seeking, perfectionist self comes out and wants my friends to tell me that I am doing everything right. That never happens, and is a ridiculous desire, so I need to keep seeking that approval from within. Loving myself by accepting that I am okay right now, as is.

Relationships can really push our buttons, can’t they? I think they are meant to sometimes, but sometimes you just want to have a few laughs and feel accepted. This happens to me more often around certain people than others. What I am trying to figure out now is how much judgment I am placing on friends, and how that is affecting the way that I feel around them. I want to be free from judgments as much as possible. Since I used to plan my social life and friendships around opportunities for drinking – instead of figuring out who gets me, inspires me, motivates me, challenges me – this is a whole new ball of wax. Like anything, when it is viewed as a fun experiment that cannot go wrong, it works so much better.

Enjoying life means enjoying people. I think recovery means figuring out how to be my genuine, social self in the world sans alcohol (like my tagline). A little at a time.