Monday, 3 November 2014

300 days sober. I'm not always OK, but I'm not going back.

Something strange has been happening these past few weeks. I'll have a hard day--just being tired and busy and trying to work out how to do all these things that are new to me, which I know many people have worked out years ago and yes, trying to figure out how to do well in grad school is a first world problem, but this is my life and this is my problem and it's real, and sometimes it's really bloody hard.

OK. So I'll have a hard day, and I'll come home and think, "I would love a drink." Or, "Man, a glass of wine would be just the thing right now." Or, if I can slow it down enough to get hold of the thought, I'll think, "This is exactly the kind of time I would have looked to wine for comfort."

What's in those moments? I find it hard to describe. Usually, I feel sad and lonely and empty. I'm not sure if I'm enough for the world, or if the world is enough for me, and maybe those two feelings are the same thing anyway. I feel hollowed out, disappointed and disappointing, and lonely. The loneliness is curious, because I'm not actually alone. These moments hit me when I'm just through the door, just come home to my partner, and he's wonderful, and in all those times I've been talking about, he's in the middle of making some yummy dinner for us, and he stops that to welcome me and make me something nice to drink. So it's got something to do with closing the door against the parts of the world that I find difficult. And it seems like having a glass of wine is part of that, part of closing off the hard old world.

Some of this comes from being tired. I don't cope well without enough sleep, and I have had some short sleeps while I've been meeting some of my weekly deadlines. My sister was in town for a short visit, and although I love my sister and I was very pleased to see her, my family throws me into a tailspin of not being good enough, and even though I know that and I can feel it happening, I can't always make it stop when it is happening.

Last year, when I was about three months into my first serious spell of quitting drinking, I noticed something that amazed me: I was, sometimes, easy with people.

To know how big a deal this is, you need some back story. In my day to day, no one would ever call me shy. I'm not talking about being shy. But I have a kind of background assumption that people hate me and don't want to talk to me. I (mostly) know that's not true. It's just an old story left lying around from some old ways of being. It runs pretty deep, though. And it hurts. Usually, what I do is make a kind of triangle around it. I accept that I am feeling something awful based on something that probably isn't true. I can't convince myself it's for sure not true. Maybe some of the people do hate me. And I know that denying my feelings altogether is a bad road for me to go down, so there's no point pretending I don't feel what I feel, or telling myself feelings aren't real. They may be misguided, but they are real. So I decide to go agnostic: maybe people hate me, maybe they don't. Who knows? And then I try to work out, if people didn't hate me, how would I feel? How would I act? And  then, even while I have something that's a bit like screaming voices telling me that all the people think I'm an idiot/loser/jerk/pick-your-insult, I can (partly) act as if things were fine, and that often gets me through the worst of it. It works, mostly. But that stuff is hard. Right?

So last year, I found that quitting drinking quelled a lot of that trouble for me. (Then I drank again. But then I stopped again, this time for good.) That particular kind of trouble isn't  gone, but it settled down a lot. Except lately, it's back. Because I've been in what for me is a bit of a pressure cooker of new situations, and I've been tired, and feeling the stress. And I am a bit intense. I'm really serious about this school stuff, so I would prefer to debate a point to figure it out rather than take the easy way out and agree with what seems obvious to many people but seems wrong to me. If I didn't want to be a critical thinker, I wouldn't be in grad school. And in that, all the old, "Everybody in the room hates me," voices some back.

And they are partly true. When you disagree with a widely held point of view, there is real tension in the discussion. And some people probably wish you would just get with the program. Groups have their dynamics, and even in discussions that aren't obviously personal, often people don't like disagreement. It doesn't mean the people actually hate me personally. But in those moments, they think I'm wrong, and maybe a bit of an idiot, and they wish I would shut up. The thing is, I won't shut up.

So here's what I realized. Not drinking gives me a huge amount of help with this stuff. But it doesn't solve it. And when I get that awful feeling, that's one of the times I am really and truly back to longing for a drink. Because alcohol will make me feel different. It will, for a while, restore  the disconnect, and let me wrap myself in a safe place where the world can't get me.

Instead, I've been trying something else. In those just-in-through-the-door moments, I say, "Oh shit, I really want a glass of wine, and I can't have one but I want one." And I cry and hug my partner and sit and sip whatever he hands me--it will be cold and fizzy, and it won't have booze in it, that's all that matters here. And I just feel bad for a while. Really bad. But only for a while.

But also, I've been talking more with people about this sort of thing. The other day, I had a conversation with student whose feelings had been hurt in a class discussion--not anything to do with me, except that I'd heard something said to her that she didn't, so she asked me about it. And when we talked, I said, "Sometimes I get my feelings hurt because of some mishearing or misunderstanding, and then I feel like everyone in the room hates me, and it's really hard to get past that and stay with the discussion." I don't even know her, we've only spoken once before, but we had a really great chat about being sensitive, and how that's not always bad because it does mean you notice a lot of things that other people miss, but it can make for some terrible moments. We both felt better after our talk, I could tell. A few days later, sipping soda water at the pub with some students after a school meeting, I had another conversation with a student I'd never met about the same sort of thing. These hyper-sensitive folk are everywhere, apparently. And I can talk to them.

It does me no good to tell me I'm not chronically unique, or that I need to kill my enormous ego, or whatever. That just feels like being berated, like some mean coach is yelling at me to get over myself, telling me I don't matter. And I need to matter to me.

What does seem to work is talking with people, trying to be open and connected enough that I don't feel hated (or not for long), but I don't deny either that there is some tension in the room and it's directed at me sometimes, and I can stay with the conversation despite that tension. And other people feel that too, sometimes.  I don't have to go make up a wine-cocoon for myself to hide in. I just have to keep on going out into the world, even when it doesn't seem friendly. As I write that, the rain is whipping against my living room window and I can feel for a moment what it's like to be out walking by the sea in the roaring wind and driving rain, and my face stinging from the cold. I love being out walking in a lashing storm. It makes me feel like I'm alive. And maybe, I'm starting to think, that the pain of that particular loneliness that I feel when I'm in a group and it's not going well, I can take that like the feel of cold wind and rain on my face in a storm, something fierce and wonderful, proof that I'm alive and life is a grand, glorious, and sometimes painful mystery. That's the joy of it, right there in the pain.

Yesterday was my 300th day without drinking. Hooray for that!!! Sometimes it gets easier, this sober gig, but it's hard some days, too, that's for sure. But I am NOT going back to drinking. I have not been blogging much but I think I might be staying a bit closer to the sober hearth now that the days are grey and the rain is lashing again. It will be a nice place to come into after I've been out walking in the blustery world.

Wishing you all a peaceful and happy November. xo


24 comments:

  1. Wow .. not sure why but this post just hit me and I cried.. I feel like you're getting to some deep awakening or something and I can feel that it's uncomfortable and difficult but I just love love that you are not racing away from it .. wow… I'm so with you and if you were here right now I'd give you a big squeezey hug xxx

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    1. Thanks, Mrs D. I was crying when I wrote it, too, and crying is like yawning--it's almost always contagious. But yes, this does feel like a deep sort of learning, or awakening, or something. And I'll happily accept a virtual hug from you! Thanks for your warm, ongoing encouragement. I could never do this alone. xo

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  2. I love that image of pulling up a chair to the sober hearth and warming up… sounds good! And I know what you mean about the wonder of being out in a storm… but make sure you are well wrapped up first! I have no advice to offer - you seem to be moving forward in an incredibly positive way with some difficult and deep stuff. The fact that you are able to connect with other students of the very issue that is the hardest one to deal with is just brilliant. And makes, I am sure, for a much more meaningful connection than one you would make talking shop over a glass of wine in the pub.
    I am looking into new work and re-training myself - I am scared at the prospect, and sometimes wonder whether I am up to the challenge, emotionally… might have to get back to you for some advice when the time comes!
    Good to hear how things are going with you, and thanks for your wonderful post - thought provoking as ever. Wishing you all the best. xx

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, MTM. I'm always glad to provoke! And now I'm curious about your retraining. What are you doing? The thing is, doing all this new stuff is scary but it's great, and it feels worthwhile to have taken the booze out of the way so I can get on with living a bigger life. I bet you're finding the same thing. But it's tough! Do get in touch if you need moral support when you're in the thick of making the changes you're talking about. And I hope you're feeling better after your rough spell last week. Funny how it gets easier but then it bites some days, isn't it? Take care. xo

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  4. I think it is wonderful that you are allowing yourself to open up more to some of the people around you. I always enjoy reading what you have to say- when I read your posts I usually have at least one "I do that too!!" moment. Congrats on 300 days!

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    1. Thanks Jen. It's always nice to have a visit from you. I know what you mean about that "I do that too" thing. What a relief, to find other people doing the stuff we all thought was our own private crazinesses! I hope all is well with you. xo

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  5. I do understand this feeling of disconnect and have too found that not drinking pulled me out of myself and helped. I have a thicker skin these days because it clicked that no one really thinks about me like I always worried. They're more preoccupied with themselves, just as I am, though I am happier when I'm not. It sounds like you have a lot going on, and stress and lack of sleep are my top 2 sources of anxiety and restlessness. 300 days is awesome. Congratulations and keep going.

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    1. Thanks, Kristen. Yes, I get it that people are more preoccupied with themselves. But sometimes we are in competitive situations and there is a lot of inchoate tension, and I'm sensitive to that. It's not a bad thing, I think. It's just not a lot of fun. But I'm getting there. Keeping on is the thing, for sure. Thanks for kind words. xo

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  6. Congratulations on 300 Days! Your post is so moving. I also do not do well without sleep. I have learned that the hard way the past 6 months. On days where I don't get enough sleep, I just become so irritable. I used to always blame that on hangovers but now I realize sleep-deprivation equally causes the irritability. And as I approach 6 months, I am learning, life is still hard, and tragic things still happen, and I still get mad, but I have to work through it. And if I have regrets I know each day is a fresh start. I say, "I'm sorry" more; and I try to think of what other people must be going through too before I get frustrated with them. I try my hardest not to take things personally. Anyway, this is a post I will come back to read many times.

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    1. Thanks for visiting! I'm glad to hear you were moved. And congrats you on 6 months! It's good to see that people do figure out how to get through things. Though, Like you and Kristen (above) I happen to need a lot of sleep to do it well. Take care. xo

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  7. What a beautiful, heartfelt post. You're so much more self aware than I was at 300 days!

    I love the sober hearth thing...I'm going to hold on to that one if it's okay. ;-)

    Sherry

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    1. Thanks, Sherry! Yes, the hearth is big enough for all of us, so share away. Lovely to see you here. Take care. xo

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  8. 3000 days I hreat. Those odd self conscious thoughts continue to plague me as well. And I really notice when they don't.

    Although I get more and more comfortable in my own skin, I get shaky if hungry or overly tired.

    But it also makes me more open with others and a lot more willing to be vulnerable.

    All these changes take time, I guess.

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    1. Hi Anne. Comfortable in your own skin is great! Some days I get that, some less so, but yes, I'm also closer than I was. Luckily, time is something we have, right, and we can use it well. I'm really pleased to hear from you again. Take care. xo

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  9. Oh, that cocoon, the fuzzy soft blanket that wraps around your brain and makes all the thinking go away, and the horror when that blanket is ripped off at 3am and you are raw and frightened and the thinking is so much worse...

    I went on a course recently, Springboard (which I generally refer to as the pull-yourself-together-for-women course but that may be unfair) which I found extremely helpful. The first thing I noticed was that I was surrounded by clever, pretty, successful women who were all better than me. Then I realised that they all felt the same. In fact they all thought I was better than them. This was curious, and really very very sad. One said "I've achieved everything I've ever dreamed of, I just don't know what to do..."

    I knew at that point that somewhere something had gone very wrong for all of us. We are conditioned to think that whatever we achieve we have not done enough, whatever we say people will shout us down, wherever we are in life we must not be content, we must always be striving even if we don't know what for or why.

    My group all decided to take a step back and work out what we needed to do to enjoy this short life, to be happy. To see being happy as a productive end in itself. Just allowing ourselves to think in that way made a world of difference. It's difficult, because even thinking about what it is that I want sometimes feels like a chore, one that I'd rather blot out. Yesterday the answer was a crossword and a bit of chocolate. Simple pleasures.

    Anyway, I've gone on quite enough! Well done, new you x

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    1. KT, thanks very much for your thoughtful comment. Yes, your experience on the course makes one think, doesn't it? I read a great article this morning in the Guardian (Suzanne Moore writing on "The selfie school of feminism") about how women get caught in this nonsense. And she talks about the importance of sharing stories but the power that's lost in over-sharing, focusing on ourselves when there's a whole world out there to go and live, and (hopefully) change up because it bloody well needs it. I think I'll write about that soon. And yes, sometimes a wee break is the best you can do. Me too . I think we're doing ok though. At least we're looking at some of the problems, and that's a start, I think. Nice to see you here, Take care. xo

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  10. Dearest Thirsty Still, thank you for sharing this fabulous post with all of us (hyper-sensitive or otherwise!). I've been away from the sober hearth for the last month or two (what a perfect image you created there) but this evening I've finally given myself the time to pull up a metaphorical chair. It feels like a real treat. You sound so connected to life - the good, the bad and the ugly - so good for you, really xx.

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    1. Thanks, sobergarden. Nice to see you back online. xo

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  11. Oh Thirsty, how lovely to read your wonderful long post. I've been so busy over at Living Sober that I've been missing doing my usual "rounds" out here in blog world. I've missed you! XXX

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    1. Thanks, Sue. How lovely to hear from you! I had wondered whether the blog world had lost you altogether to the busy hub at Living Sober. I hope you're well. xo

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  12. That must’ve been really upsetting for you. But I think you don’t have to feel that way, as you’ve already gone through three-hundred days. It only means that you’re totally in control of yourself. I believe that’s a good indication that you can live as you were before.

    Donnie Benson @ Midwest Institute

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  13. Sober Companions are there to hang out with you to help you stay away from these influences. They can be hard on you at times, but after all, that's what you are paying them for.sober transport NYC

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