A New Story

I am realizing that continued sobriety is all about changing the story of my life. When I first quit I couldn’t see this story very clearly, just hoped and prayed that there was SOMETHING, ANYTHING, better than what I was doing. When I think of those times, those desperate days, months and years leading up to my quit, I still feel a familiar tightening in my gut. A familiar fear and anxiety that I never want to experience again. When I quit I was afraid that I was going to die from drinking, and none of my dreams would ever come true, and I would live out my days in fear that my life had become something ugly and that it was going to end that way, too. 

Quitting was a huge leap of faith, but there was some sort of inner knowledge, an intuition, telling me that there was more for me if I stopped sabotaging myself. Now that I am creeping slowly upon two years of continuous sobriety, I am seeing more and more of what that might be. The universe is a mysterious place, and my new story leaves plenty of room for wonderful surprises. It’s not all perfection, of course, life is hard sometimes sober or not, but I am so much more open to my truth than I once was. I am becoming more and more aligned with my values and creating a life that reflects that. It just keeps getting richer and deeper. I am excited about what is in store for me, while constantly working to be present, grateful, and authentic in the moment. Not easy, but so much easier than it was at first. 

I still struggle with negativity sometimes, it comes in waves every few days or weeks, but in my new story this negativity no longer defines me. I am not an egomaniac with an inferiority complex anymore…I think I am finally feeling something close to right-sized. I am truly comfortable being social, in the right circumstances, at least. It took over a year and a half, but the transformation happened, just like others said it would. 

I feel like my story is wide open. Instead of being a victim of the shitty circumstances of my life, I am the creator of a beautiful life. It’s all in perspective, and time, and healing the old wounds that drinking simply covered up or exacerbated for years and years. Again, it is not perfect by any means, but so much different and better than I could have imagined. 

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Facing The Past

I have a criminal record. A rap sheet with quite a number of charges on it, from three different states, spanning twelve years of my life. Most of the charges ended up being dismissed, but there are two misdemeanor DUI charges and a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge that are convictions.

I have spent a lot of time sidestepping this fact, or pretending that it didn’t matter, or denying that it would affect my life. Something happened recently that changed my mindset. I got sick last month. Weirdly sick with some kind of urinary tract infection or kidney infection, or something else perhaps, that my doctor couldn’t figure out. I was in some pain, and scared, and I spent a lot of time thinking about my life and the way I live it. The illness went away after about a month, but I am left with the feeling that I want to do more with my time here on Earth.

While I was actively drinking I let a lot of things fall through the cracks. I dropped out of graduate school after making a big mess of my master’s program, got into legal trouble in spurts from the time I was eighteen, and let my finances crumble to the point where there were legal implications as well as some damage to my credit. I denied that all of these things were problems. Or at least, they were problems that were inexplicably happening to me even though I was living perfectly. I was a victim. I denied alcohol’s role and took no personal responsibility.

It’s not my fault that cops are assholes. It’s not my fault that my professors hate me and don’t want me to succeed in this stupid program. It’s not my fault that the credit system is made to only help rich people. It’s not my fault, you see. None of this is my fault. 

Good news: I am finally facing my record. At least I think it is good news… a step in the right direction towards making amends. I am trying my best to clean up the messes that I made during my drinking years. Some of it can never be cleaned up and will haunt me forever, but I am not scared of it anymore. I will no longer lie about it or try to hide it or hope that my records are somehow destroyed in a freak fire. No, it is a part of me. A scar from my past that has made me stronger today. A good reminder that I can never go back down that path unless I want to completely ruin my life. A reminder that I don’t ever want to go back down that path. I like living free of fear and feeling happy with myself when I wake up in the morning. I am grateful for the ups and downs of my life.

Recovery is possible, friends. It might take vigilance and time, but it is possible.

Regrets

What will I regret at the end of my life? Living sober?

I don’t think living a sober life is something that I will EVER regret. Does it feel sort of lonely and flat sometimes? Yes. Do I have cravings for booze sometimes? Yes. Do I feel like I am missing out on fun sometimes? Yes.

Do I regret getting and staying sober for the past six months? Hell to the no.

I have been realizing more and more that experiencing life without tamping down my emotions is really fuckin’ worthwhile. I am feeling more creative than I have in years. I want to add to the world. I didn’t add much when I was drinking, even though I wanted and planned to, because I was stuck in a foggy rut of alcohol abuse. I did okay some of the time, but I was never even close to reaching my potential. Yikes.

I think people who abuse alcohol on the regular do not experience life in the same way. I was caught up in a cycle of ups and downs, highs and lows, hangovers, depression, anxiety, anticipation, being buzzed, wanting more, more, more and experiencing full-on drunkenness and blackouts. The next day the depression, anxiety, guilt and shame would kick in and the craving for booze would begin all over again. I would feel happy when I was drinking because it gave me a brief respite from feeling bad about myself and thinking about my life. I also spent a lot of time planning and thinking about drinking… when, where, with whom, how, on and on. All of that takes a lot of time! Hours, days, weeks, months, and years of my life spent thinking about, engaging in, or recovering from drinking! Fuck me sideways!

I have spent a lot of time in the past six months getting some balance back in my body, mind and spirit. I have had many negative thoughts. I have been scared shitless of living life without any alcohol in it. I have also learned how to be more kind to myself… to set boundaries and say no and tell myself nice things and let go of bad shit that keeps holding me back. I was really, really bad at all of that before. The fog of 20 years of alcohol abuse is slowly lifting from my brain, and I am beginning to see things much more clearly.

I love how this keeps happening… this clarity. It just keeps on coming!

I see that giving up alcohol is something I will never regret when the end comes and I am looking back over my life. Those hours, days, weeks, and years devoted to just getting by through a fog of addiction are now being spent in other ways. Better ways. Ways that fill me up instead of bleeding me dry. I have grabbed the reins and am learning how to be the curator of my life. I am shedding anger and sadness over the past and trying to view the future without fear.

Is living sober perfect? No. I still feel crappy sometimes. I don’t always like myself, sometimes I absolutely hate other people, and I still feel unsure of pretty much EVERYTHING at times. But one thing is for sure- losing the booze has simplified my life by leaps and bounds over the past six months. I like simple, so I am going to stay here.

Extinguishing Triggers

When I quit smoking for the first time I was absolutely astonished by the process. I learned a lot about addiction and why people smoke, and was able to kick that ugly habit to the curb for five years. Of course, when my life got hard after five years I began smoking again, every once in awhile, until I gradually became just as addicted as I was in the first place.  And oh boy, was it ever hard to quit the second time. It took me two years, a bazillion tries, and finally becoming pregnant to give it up. And then I started again after the baby was born! Once again it was a little at a time, with long quits for weeks in between, but by early summer last year I was smoking every day and hating it. I quit again in July and haven’t looked back. I am SO happy that I do not have to deal with that addiction anymore. It totally contributed to my overall feeling of being OUT OF CONTROL.

There are a lot of similarities in the addictions to cigarettes and alcohol that I have observed so far in the quitting process. With smoking, I learned that the more times I met a trigger head-on the faster my brain would rewire itself. Not smoking would become the new normal in the same situation…where at one time not smoking would have been unheard of. It is the same with drinking! Once you encounter those tough situations a few times it becomes normal not to drink. The witching hour comes to mind. Or on a Friday evening. Those were my biggest triggers when I first became sober.

Now my triggers for drinking are sneakier. Holidays! Come! Out! Of! The! Blue! Since holidays only happen a few times per year it takes time to extinguish those triggers and make being sober the new normal. No wonder it is hard at first! Plus add all of the pressure from society and the world and family and the Internet to have FUN FUN FUN and CELEBRATE. No wonder it is hard for many of us not to drink!

I felt some cravings this Thanksgiving. I felt flat. Bored. I wanted alcohol to liven up my day.

Then I realized…I NEED TO LIVEN UP MY DAY! It is my responsibility to make it more fun. Alcohol would have numbed and masked reality, but it wouldn’t have changed any important parts of the day. In the end, it just would have made me drunk and full of regrets. I isolated myself this year because I was scared of what might happen if I didn’t, and because it is my first year sober and I wanted to meet my triggers head-on in a safe environment. I had a nice time with my little family, but it was a tad boring (sorry husband, if you are reading this) because I didn’t leave my comfort zone.

Next year, it is my responsibility to create the holiday that I want. To make it more exciting without booze. I am up for the challenge.

I learned things this year. I learned that A) the upcoming holidays are not going to be super easy, but they will be okay as long as I stay sober. They will pass. B) I have a lot of support and am doing exactly what I need to do. If I need to stay home this year it is perfectly fine. C) It might take a few years for holidays to become easy sober because they don’t happen very often and they are more charged with emotion than normal days. They WILL get easier one day. D) I love being sober and I love not smoking anymore. I feel free a lot of the time, and it is really wonderful.

I loved reading all of the holiday posts from sober bloggers. Thanks for all the tips, strategies and personal anecdotes. That info helped a lot and will continue to help over the next month. xxxx

**I used the website whyquit.com to help quit smoking. It has a lot of good info.

Is it True? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind?

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I had a big falling out with a friend a few months ago. She approached me for a serious discussion about my drinking, and it made me really upset. Sounds like a classic case of an alcoholic in denial, right? Well… yes and no. She told me some things that were true, but she did it in a insensitive and hurtful way.

I quit drinking a month later, and I am still trying to figure out what it all means. I had been thinking about quitting drinking permanently for awhile at that point, so she doesn’t deserve the credit for all of my hard work. Her words did trigger something, though. I mean, I pretty much obsessed over our conversation non-stop for the next week, at least. Letting our friendship go has saved me from drama and stress that she brought into my life. In fact, I think it has been easier to stay sober without having her around. But she helped me see things more clearly about my drinking… things that I was trying so hard not to see.

I am so, so grateful that circumstances in my life have changed since then. I have examined my priorities and am working on being my best self, sober. I feel much more confident than I did a few short months ago when it seemed that if you looked at me too hard you would see all of the holes I was trying to hide. Holes in my confidence, holes in my story… you get the picture. This situation is a good reminder to me to be mindful in my communications with others, because you never know what they are going through. You have to be careful how you approach people when it comes to delicate situations, like confronting alcoholism or whatever the issue is, or it could just make things worse. There are ways to approach people that are helpful, and ways that are not so helpful. And always remember to be kind. It is so, so important.

** I edited this post on 10/11/13. For some reason it made me really uncomfortable in its original form. I think I shared too much, too fast. I will return to this subject at a later date.

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?

Layers of Denial

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently. –Pema Chödrön

Denial = Alcoholism. Lesson learned = Today.

I started drinking ages ago. I was 14, I think? My 34th bday is next month. So… almost 20 years of time served. I am sick and tired of letting alcohol control so much of my life. As of today, August 16, 2013, I am done with it. Goin’ on the wagon.

This blog is a way to help me work through the process of becoming sober.

I gave birth to a little boy nine months ago. He is my everything, my raison d’être, the love of my life (aside from my wonderful husband, that is). I want to give him more than I was given. That’s every parents goal in some way, yes? Instead of more money, or more education, or anything like that, I simply want to provide my little boy with a stable, happy home where his parents deal with their problems, and the stresses of life, head on.

A home where alcohol is not an issue. The wounds end with me.

I come from an alcoholic family absolutely FILLED with denial. When I called my Mother to tell her I thought I needed to quit drinking she said, “Well, have you tried drinking water in between drinks?”

Really?! I guess I never thought of that in my 20 years of hardcore, rockstar-ish, ridiculous drinking. I just needed to drink more water in between drinks! That would have definitely saved me from all of those shameful, humiliating, soul-crushing experiences. Or… yeah, not done that at all.

I love my Mom, and I know she supports me, but for some reason she doesn’t see alcoholism as a big problem. I don’t mean to poke fun at her, though. She has her worldview and I have mine. They are just not very congruent right now. Maybe if I deal with my problems she will come around. I can always hope.

So, to go ahead and use an overused metaphor… I am an onion, and I am just beginning to peel away the layers of denial that I have been working hard on building for the past 20 years. I have to say I am scared witless, but I am also really looking forward to the trip back to my authentic self. I just hope I can do it.