Monday 29 July 2013

Surprise visit from Mr. Wolf

This evening is shaping up to be a tough one. Work was hard. I got sworn at before I even started on the clock--some guy sitting in the doorway, wouldn't let me enter the building, colourfully told me what I could do to myself. (I politely declined.) Another guy, later, when I asked him to wait in line for a moment, shouted, "What are you some kind of schizophrenic!" I work in a rough part of town, and every day I deal with lots of people who are facing poverty, addictions, and mental health problems. I like my job, but even at the best of times, it's exhausting. There are plenty of fantastic people, but often I get yelled at and sworn at, and really, no one likes that sort of thing. Some days I cope with it better than others. Today I am not at my shining best. I had a little cry as soon as I got home, not too long ago. Right now I am just plain feeling sorry for myself. Yes, I am thinking that an evening drinking wine is the only thing that would make me feel better, at least for the evening. No, I'm not going to do that, much as I feel like I want to. I know it will pass. And I've had it mostly easy for a while--this is my first really bad "feels like a truck hit me" urge to drink. I'll tough it out. I knew it would happen, sooner or later. But holy, it's hell in the moment.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Rage against the drunk

I have a bit of a rage problem. It's one of the things that made me realize I had to quit drinking, and quit for real.  I am not an angry drunk. No, I am a happy, kissy, "I  love you all and life is beautiful" kind of drunk. It's the next day, when my head hurts and my blood sugar has crashed and every sound is magnified and every material object in the world conspires against my sorry attempt to get through until the evening when wine will calm me once again, that's when I have to watch out for the rage. I didn't usually lose it, except at inanimate objects when no one else was around. But I felt it more and more frequently, and it was getting worse. Now that I'm not drinking, I'm not angry. For 23 days, it's been as simple as that. Oh, the relief!

So I was surprised when last night, on my bike ride home from work, I completely lost it at some guy. It was a busy Saturday night: plenty of drunk people tottering on the sidewalk, hailing cabs (at least they weren't driving), singing off-key, yelling at each other, doing the culturally accepted weekend rituals that count as fun. I'm especially watchful biking on those nights, since cabs can be erratic, and there are always some drivers or passers-by who get their kicks yelling at cyclists. Still, cycling keeps me fit and sane, and I ride carefully. Halfway home, I had just zipped through a green light when a man stepped onto the street in front of me. I braked quickly, and called out, "Hey buddy, watch out." Then I saw that he was massively drunk. Plastered. Incoherent. He looked at me blankly, and when I asked him to get out of the road--he was now standing in my way, and I was stopped--he said "You almost hit me." I repeated myself. He asked where he should go. I pointed to the sidewalk. Then he went all moony-eyed and propositioned me. I asked him again to get out of the way, and he said he was coming with me wherever I was going. By then I was getting pretty pissed off, and probably I was more than a little unsettled. I am fit but small, and suddenly there seemed to be no one else taking this in, and he was a big man, drunk enough to be unpredictable. Suddenly, all the rage I haven't felt in the 23 days since I quit drinking all reared up. I yelled at him to get out of my way. He got angry and started yelling back, "What's wrong with you, crazy lady?" We stood facing each other, shouting, until I got off my bike, walked around him as quickly as I could (hoping he would just let me pass), and got back on my bike to continue home. As I was cycling away, (and here I see my immature rage-monster still has legs, and is no more articulate than ever) I yelled back, "Go fuck yourself!" The last I heard was him slurring back at me, "I don't do that kind of thing." Which made me laugh, but only after I got home safe and sound and calmed myself down. 

It was an ugly scene, but it reminded me of a dream I had a few weeks before I quit drinking, when I kind of knew I had to quit but was still trying (with almost zero success) to keep myself to one or two a day. One night I dreamed I was at a huge party in some kind of auditorium, and I wasn't drinking. (This is a dream, remember. In real life, I would have been drinking.) The lights were coming up, and I was making for the door, when a large man with the brick-red complexion and nasty demeanour of a scary drunk came up to me and said, "You're coming with me." I said I wasn't, and he grabbed my arm and said, "Come on. Everyone else is going home. They're boring. We're going drinking. You know you want to." I argued, but he held tighter. I called for help, but no one was really paying attention, and the room was emptying out. I started shouting, "Somebody help me! Call 911. This man wants me to go drinking!" Finally someone came and pried the man away and he slunk off, and I was able to leave. When I woke up I was kind of amazed. I thought, holy shit, is that what it's come to? Am I as afraid of the drink as that? 

I'd kind of forgotten about the dream, but the drunk man in the road reminded me. (I know it's not safe to yell at oversized drunk strangers, OK, so please don't worry that I have a new bad habit!) Still, I guess it's good to personify what you're fighting against. And it's good for me to remember that rage can be a strength as well as a liability. I haven't been much tempted to drink these past weeks, but I'm not deluded. I know I will be tempted again. And when that comes, I'll picture the drunk man in the road, or the red-faced dream-monster man, and I will summon all the rage I have and call for help, and I will yell at what is really only an apparition, "Go fuck yourself!" And he will slink away, hurt and offended and less of a threat for the time being.

That's the plan. And other than that, when it's no use to me, I'll let the rage sleep in peace.

Friday 26 July 2013

Day 21: Seven jars of sunshine

Today is my 21st day of signing off alcohol, and I feel fantastic. I am sleeping a solid eight or nine hours a night, and what I thought of as an ever-present nagging anxiety seems to have receded. It's not gone, but it doesn't take up quite so much of the mind-space.

It's been sunny and warm here, and though I would love to go to the beach for a swim today, I have a paper to write. Instead of biking to the ocean, I've been standing in my living room, feeling a slight breeze from the open window, sipping a chilled dandelion, lemongrass, lemon balm tea, working on a tough but interesting paper. The class has been interesting, and the paper is due in a couple of weeks, so I have to get on it. And that's not so bad. My usual black-and-white thinking seems to be shifting, and I am about a thousand times calmer. In fact, I usually only get things done by funnelling the anxiety and terror into a ferocious drive that leaves me altogether burnt out. And today I do have an inner voice telling me that without that tension, I will be lost and disoriented and never meet a deadline again. (But I'm talking back: "Hello, monkey brain. Welcome. Have a seat and jabber, I'll listen later. Right now I have to get to work. Yes, over there on the couch is fine, thanks. No you can't have a glass of wine while I get started. Cup of tea?")

Instead of being driven by anxiety, I'm going to see if I can use the Anne Lamott "Bird by Bird" method. But first, I will remind myself that I can and will accomplish things while sober:

Yesterday, I had a small success in starting and finishing what was, for me, an ambitious project. I made raspberry sauce and canned it so we can taste the sunshine when the grey days come. And I made a jar of raspberry cordial, adding to the number of tasty, non-alcohol drinks I've figured out how to make. (I'll do a post on those another day, because there is so much to drink besides booze. I had no idea!) Without ever having made raspberry sauce or cordial, and with only one vague memory of canning preserves around fifteen years ago (I followed a recipe precisely, and I burned by arm), I wasn't sure what to do. But I googled recipes, called my sister for advice, made three trips to the store for jars and supplies, and leaned a little on my partner for moral support when I was a little scared of the big pot of boiling water. Here's the result:

I know I'm not a great photographer. But imagine the taste! I'm calling it seven jars of sunshine. I'm proud of myself for getting it done. If I were still drinking 1-2 bottles of wine an evening, I wouldn't have had the time or the energy, and I might not have been able to afford the canning supplies! So I'm proud of myself for this, a sober accomplishment. I'm tempted to say I would like to bottle the good feeling, but I think the trick is to do the opposite, just take the feelings as they come and then let them go. I'm giving that a try, though I suspect canning raspberry sauce is a little easier.

OK, I'm off to write that paper. Happy sober days and nights to you!


Tuesday 23 July 2013

Day 18: Tense and weepy

I had a tense and weepy day today. Too many things I didn't want to deal with landed on me all at the same time, and I didn't know what to do. This is the exact kind of thing that would usually send me to a bottle of wine because "I need to relax," and as it was a day off, that would probably have meant wine at lunch, meaning I'd lose the whole day. (Of course, I didn't used to think of drinking wine all day as losing a day. I thought it was an excellent way to spend a day!) Today I absent-mindedly thought of that, but really I had no intention of drinking. Instead I lay around reading a mystery all morning--yes, it's checking out of the world, but I don't think I can go from checking out every evening to 100% present all the time. Later, when my partner came home, I had a good old-fashioned weep. But then I felt better. We made dinner, went for a walk, sat out drinking tea and watching the moon rise, and now off to bed. I'm sober, calm, and all in all pretty darn fine for what started out as a crappy day. So, a lesson in feeling the feeling for me. It might sound banal, but for me, this was an accomplishment.

Sweet dreams out there!


Saturday 20 July 2013


Today I'm 15 days sober, so "freedom" might seem like a funny thing to talk about. But I think it's the word I'm looking for to explain these strange pangs of relief I've had all week.

One was Thursday, when I called for a hair appointment, and the only one available was 7:00 PM Friday night. My first response was, "Oh, I don't think I can make that..." until I realized I didn't actually have a plan, I was just so used to being well into my cups by seven, so I would never, ever, ever schedule an evening appointment for anything. It was a relief to say, "Yes, actually, seven would be fine, thanks." I know it's no big deal. This happened all week, and none of these moments were a big deal. But they all felt like teeny little "aha!" moments. I don't have to drink wine all evening, every evening. I can do this, or that, whatever it is, any evening at all. Read a book at night? Sure, and I'll even remember what I read!

In a few weeks, my partner and I will be taking a bicycle trip to visit his parents. In the past, we have loved to have long dinners together, which includes drinking plenty of wine. They are not heavy drinkers, so that means they will have two or three glasses of wine, tops. Usually I have managed to limit myself to the same, probably squeezing in a few more with wee top-ups and so on, but I was always aware that I had to keep a sharp eye on that. Sometimes, when I had too much, I had to brave out the next headachey morning, smiling brightly at what a fun time we all had, ignoring the significant glances that came with the "How are you feeling this morning?" and vowing silently to myself to be more careful next time. As I got more and more comfortable with them, careful got harder. So I had been worrying about this upcoming trip. And then, when I committed to myself that I would go 100 days without drinking, that meant I just won't drink on this trip. To me, that thought should be super-stressful, but it feels like an enormous weight taken off. You mean, I can just enjoy the evening and not watch every glass to see how much everyone else is drinking and whether it's time to have more?

So it seems to me like making the commitment to not drinking is a kind of freedom. I've always thought of wine as one of my greatest pleasures, and whenever I've even contemplated moderating, or when I've struggled through quitting for a few days here and there, I've thought of it as giving up on an irreplaceable kind of joy. This time is somehow different. I have a sense that I'm getting a whole lot more than I'm giving up. The whole "romance of alcohol" is starting to feel like one giant scam that I fell for hard, and for years! I'll think about this. For now, the new sense of freedom feels mighty fine!

Thursday 18 July 2013

Day 13: hello from me, plus some thoughts on gratitude by Neruda

Like many people who know they may (or may not! I was so hoping the answer was not!) have a problem with alcohol, I have had had spats of going without drinking. Usually after a few days, I would feel great, and I wonder what the problem was. If I felt this OK this quickly isn’t that evidence that there is no problem? What a relief! Now that’s worth celebrating with a nice glass (read bottle) of wine!

Many people who drink too much recognize this pattern. Even I recognize it by now, and I was highly motivated not to.

A year ago, I started what I called my booze journal. In it, I attempted to write about drinking: why I did it, why I thought I should moderate or quit, and how it was going. The notebook is a sad record of five attempts at quitting "just for a few days to clean up," or of moderating to do the same thing. Each one starts with high hopes and determination, quickly trailing off into some version of, “I had a little wine last night and it was so good, but I am going to try to keep a lid on the excessive drinking.” Then no entries for weeks or months, until the next round of “moderation.”

This time I am trying to do things differently. For one thing, I started to see a counselor, so I admitted to a real live human being that there is a problem and I need to get it sorted. For another, I tried to frame this as a present to myself, not as some punishment for innate failings. So the first week, I announced to my partner that I was having a Spa Week. Sadly, I can’t afford to go to a spa for a week, and I’m not sure I would even like it if I could. But I could treat myself really well for a week. Lots of fresh blueberries and raspberries, sparkling water with lime or lemon, homemade herbal teas, fantastic meals like fresh poached salmon on braised fennel, time to read whatever I want to read, plenty of walking and bike-riding—the list goes on. And oh yeah, by the way, no alcohol. 

It turns out the time to read was a huge help. I tripped across a sober blog, “unpickled.” (I don’t know how to link blogs yet, but I will come back and link it when I figure that out). That led me to the fabulous Belle’s “Tired of thinking about drinking,” which resonated, as I was sure tired of that! Then onto Mrs. D, so many more. I’ll do a list later, but it sure was a whole lot of reading. I was amazed to find so many women (many around my age) who have faced the same problem: drinking far too much, but still holding onto work and home and relationships. Not society’s image of a skid row alkie. Food for thought, that is. 

During my spa week, I started to feel pretty good, so I decided to keep the non-drinking going a bit longer. Maybe until mid-August (I have a big deadline then). The end of the year? A year? I settled on Belle’s 100 day challenge, because it seemed doable, and I like the support of people from all over doing this together. Because, despite feeling good this week, I know this is hard, and it's going to be hard, and though I am used to projecting an air of confidence and competence, man do I need help!

So that’s me. I’ve gone from drinking between 1 and 2 bottles of wine a day, blacking out evenings, waking up miserable pretending to feel great, and all the rest that goes with the drinking life, to feeling pretty darn OK most of the time. Happy, even, in moments. It's not easy, but it's better. The other day, I came across a short, untitled poem by Pablo Neruda that inspired me several years ago when I was going through a rough patch. (It's from his book "The Sea and the Bells.) Here it is:

I am grateful, violins, for this day
of four chords. Pure
is the sound of the sky,
the blue voice of air.

Today is Day 13 of 100, and I am grateful for that.

And to all the sober bloggers who helped me by writing, here's a huge and heartfelt thanks.