Sunday 29 September 2013

86 days: quieting down for a while

For almost 3 months, I have found that the world of sober blogging has been a tremendous help to me. Finding other people online who are sober, or struggling to be sober, has been a big part of my being able to make the changes I've made, and I'm super grateful for that. But now something needs to change. I'm starting to feel unbalanced, and I think it's got to do with the energy I'm putting into online support for being sober. As a result, I'm wondering whether new practices might be more truly nourishing for me.

So starting today, I'm trying something new. For the next week, I'm stopping all internet use that's not necessary for school. (I do that once in a while to reorient myself away from the computer, especially when I feel time slipping away, as I do now that classes are clipping along into week 5 of the semester.) I'm not announcing this because I think there's any great drama involved, just reminding myself that I sometimes need to set limits on things so what's helpful doesn't become unhelpful. I can read sober books, go for walks and runs, ride my bike, and write for myself, but I won't interact online for a week. I'll see how that goes.

I'm not planning to drink, or to rethink being sober, or anything like that. I'm just going to be quiet: not take in so much, and not talk so much, about all this. Whish't child, whish't.

So ciao for a week. Hope y'all keep well. Happy almost October!

Thursday 26 September 2013

Thank you, fellow sober bloggers!

Today it's been 83 days since I quit drinking. I'm doing fine. Great, actually. Feeling better, clear-minded, just all around good with it. Not drinking again is the plan. I look at the sober people and I think, yes, these are my people. That's how I want to live. All good.

Yet I've started thinking, well, OK, I'm doing really well, but I didn't really drink all that much and now that I'm doing so well it will be nice when I can get back to having an occasional drink. Wait! What? No no no! I'm not really thinking this, not in any meaningful, planning-oriented way. I've just noticed that thought slipping in once in a while, and I root it out and go on. Still, it's persistent. My usual, old-me way of doing this would be to go with it. I'm so used to trying to be smarter and better and all that, and of course I would have thought I'd one-upped this booze problem, and then started in again. That's my old pattern, anyway.

But I have to say, so many excellent people have written about about exactly this, how at about 80-something days they started thinking, "Oh, maybe I wasn't so bad" or "what if now I can try having a drink once in a while" or some such. I read those when I was in the full pink blush of newly sober, say at about two weeks or three, and I thought, no way, I will not be so silly as to think that. And now here I am, noticing myself having those same thoughts. Who's silly now, I wonder? I know, because I know me, that if I hadn't read so many smart people who had wrestled with the same thing, I would not have seen this as sneaky addict-mind talk. And I would have fallen for it. It's seductive, after all, thinking I can do it differently, my way, because I'm stronger or smarter or craftier or whatever-er.

I'm not, though. I know that, too, by now. Reading other people's stories, I've been able to see that this getting-over-drinking thing has a pattern, and when I think like this, it's just me in that same pattern. So I can shake off those thoughts, and quietly remind myself how much better life is now. Last night I wondered whether I needed a full list of the gory details of how bad the last days of my drinking were: blackouts, panic, sweats, puffy eyes, despair. I don't think I want to detail it any more than that. I just know I'm not going back, and when I start to think those seductive, addictive thoughts, I'm immensely grateful to all you who have gone ahead and then told your stories, so I can avoid at least some of the holes a person can fall into. I like this being sober. Like it a lot. And at 83 days, I know I couldn't have done it without all the help of a whole lot of fantastic people I've never even met. Thanks to you all!

On a side note: last night was my first fancy restaurant meal out since I stopped drinking. And it was beautiful. We arrived early, and I ordered sparkling water in a wine glass, and when the rest of the group showed up and wine was being ordered, I just smiled and said, "None for me, thanks," and that was all I had to do. The food was great and the conversation wonderful, and I didn't miss the wine one bit. Another wee accomplishment on the way to staying sober. Hooray for that!

OK, that's my story. So far so good. Good night all, and sweet dreams.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Holy emotional rollercoasters!

OK, so I'm being as zen as I can here and I'm not planning to go out drinking after work or any such thing, but man am I ever getting hit with the emotional ups and downs. Yes, I know this is all part of the process. Any chance I could be spared this part though, please, because I really don't like big emotional drama? Apparently not.

Yesterday I snapped at my partner because he suggested we eat dinner and I pointed out that eating dinner was a bad idea because then the whole day would just be over and what was the point of that. Admittedly not the most rational response. We made dinner, and ate it. It was good. There was still an evening. Crisis averted. ( I apologized today, and he didn't even remember. So he's wonderful. Which should help, and it does, but still.)

Today I'm at work, and my lovely, really lovely coworker, who I rarely see because of schedules, chatted with me while I was on my break. I made polite conversation, but in my mind I was yelling, "WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME NOW? IT'S A BREAK, DAMMIT!" Later another colleague did the same (aka actually spoke to me) when I was on lunch break. OK, you people, I'm thinking, do I look like someone who wants to have a pleasant conversation? Can you all not go away and let me sit silent? (Of course, if they did, I'd find that irritating. There is no winning in this little racket!)

Every day, at some point in the afternoon, I get a whopping big dose of "Get me out of here!" Some teeny thing happens and I want to yell, or I snap at someone, or I start crying for absolutely zero reason. It's all OK, I'm not planning to drink, (repeat as needed: not planning to drink, not planning to drink) but holy mother all this up and down when there is absolutely nothing wrong is a bit much! Is this what we're avoiding by drinking? Could I just stick my head in a paper bag and avoid it? Would the paper bag thing go over well at work? I'm thinking that's a no.

It will go away, I expect. Running works, and riding my bike, and eating chocolate isn't a bad substitute sometimes. But sometimes those aren't an option, and waiting out the eternity of the crazy up and down minutes or hours is a weird new hell. Ack, I say. Ack.

OK, this is me yelling and screaming like a wee spoiled brat, and that's all for now. Seventy-eight days sober, not exactly sane but that's still pretty darn fine. I'll try to take the Mary Oliver advice Christy posted earlier today. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. I'm going to look around here and find something to pay attention to. Come on world, astonish me. I know you can do it. Here goes!

Thursday 19 September 2013

Listen. What do you want?

Lately I'm not finding that not drinking is a big problem. Yes, once in a while I want to, and no I don't, and it plays out more or less the same way. But I'm noticing some new patterns that parallel my troubled drinking pattern, and they need attention.

The other afternoon, reading in my study space after a good day of classes, I found myself a little bit hungry, so I ate some chocolate. Actually, I ate the whole bar. First three blocks, then three more, then the rest of the first half, and I put it away. Then, I took the bar back out of the drawer and ate the rest, voraciously. I want to say mindlessly, but it wasn't quite that. It was a weird combination of mindful and "who cares" that I recognize from pouring myself more wine when I knew I had had enough. It was really good, dark chocolate. I can't say I enjoyed it, nor can I say I didn't. It was more like the chocolate happened to me.

Some background on me and food: like many women, I have had a troubled relationship with food. I went through a lot of the usual: chubby 12-year-old became a dieting 14-year-old, then a skinny, occasionally fainting teenager who thought I was fat. I have dieted and exercised, been fit and fat, and left off the whole thing many times. Almost three years ago, I changed to eating a kind of paleo diet, which I still do in a modified sort of way. It didn't solve everything in the world, but I felt a lot better. I wasn't tired all the time. I could go a few hours without food and not have a shaking, weepy meltdown. No more massive mood swings, a lot less anxiety. I lost some weight, and kept it off without paying much attention. I was physically and emotionally a lot more stable. (It's hard to imagine doing all this and letting the alcohol problem creep back up and out of control, but I did.)

When I quit drinking (almost 3 months ago, hooray!) I didn't have the big booze cravings a lot of people talked about, and I didn't seem to have the same huge sugar cravings either. As much as there's cultural pressure to drink, there's also a lot of pressure to be kind to yourself and have cake, reward yourself with sweets, not worry about the sugar when you're tackling the booze. And yes, I did that a few times. The cake (and pie) was good, but I didn't fall into a cake-frenzy. I could see that pressure for what it is, and mostly it didn't get to me.

Yesterday afternoon, I was once again sitting in my study space reading after some long school hours. And I got a bit antsy. It was the kind of shifty feeling I would have answered with wine, and I'm getting better at recognizing those spells. No wine then. But that turned into, well, maybe some chocolate. I had a little talk with myself about having had the whole bar the day before, and what was all this about, but I remained antsy, so I decided to pack my things and go do something else. First I was heading for a coffee, but the coffee at my campus really is terrible. Then I thought I might just go home and have a coffee at a cafe near my house, and have something sweet along with it. There were lots of tasty possibilities. I put my bike on the bus for the first leg of the trip--it takes just over an hour, part busing and part biking. So I had some time to think.

What is it? I said to myself. Do you want cake? Another whole chocolate bar? And since I was trapped on the bus, I gave myself permission to have whatever it was I wanted once I got home, as long as it was really what I wanted. I thought about cake, and pie, and all the sweet things I might have, and I knew I'd feel kind of awful if I ate any of those. I thought about having some of my favourite thickened yoghurt with a spoonful of maple syrup, and that seemed more like it. But I wasn't hungry, and I knew it. Then I saw a truly horrific bakery sign. I think it's called Sugar Planet or something, with chipped blue paint and greasy windows. It's like the dive bar equivalent of a bakery. I thought, that looks gross. No sugar planet for me. Maybe I could buy some pears and have a pear and yoghurt for dessert after dinner. That OK? And yes, it was OK. But still I wondered, what is it? Why so antsy?

I didn't get a straight answer, or not right away. I enjoyed the bike ride part of the commute when I got to it, and once I arrived home, I read some blogs and then talked with my partner about my day. In the telling I realized my day had mostly been fine. I had some funny stories to tell, some good interactions with people that I wanted to share with him. My classes had gone well, and I got done most of what I had planned.

I kept paying attention to what was going on, though. At the butcher shop, the guy who was taking my pork chop order asked me too many questions, and I really did start to cry. He counselled me to get home and have a nice big glass of wine to straighten me out. But I said, "No I'm just tired. I need to go to bed." Was that it, I asked myself? Why could I tell it to the butcher when I didn't even know myself? I wasn't tempted by his wine suggestion, and by then, two hours after the antsy spell had started, I wasn't craving sweets either. I was just tired from my new early morning schedule and hard work at school, and the long bike rides, and all the social interaction that goes with taking classes and figuring out what's up next year and everything else.

So I could see that earlier, when I wanted that sweet something, I had been starting to do the what I have been doing for years, probably reverting to what I used to do before the drinking. When there's a whacking big something I don't want to feel, I give it food and drink and make it go away.

I'm not all that great at listening to what's really going on with me. I think that's common among serious drinkers, and it's also common in people who have used food to quench the emotions. So this seems small, but it was a big victory for me. Just listen. What is it? Yes, you can have cake if cake is what you want, but is it? Or is it a rest, or a change of pace, or a bike ride in the late afternoon sun, or just a change of scene while you keep working on school stuff? I'm new to this. But I figure, for a start, that whenever I'm suddenly overcome with a pressing need to eat a whole chocolate bar, it's not so different than when I want a drink. It's all is the same me, wanting something. I just need to learn to listen to find out what it is.

When I was small, whenever I'd get cranky or fussy, my grandmother would say, "Whisht child, whisht," and then she's give me a nice big glass of Tang to drink. (She added sugar to the Tang so it would be the way she liked it, nice and sweet!) I know this stuff runs deep. As an adult, sometimes when I've felt a bit wibbly, I would think of her saying that, and it would make me smile. Now I need something different. Instead of whisht, child, (loosely translated, it's a cross between "there, there"and "be quiet") I am asking myself, "What is it? What do you want?" And I'm trying to listen, to find out what it is I'm really thirsty and hungry for.

Whew! That's a whole lot of words from someone who is talking about listening. This is me, so far, 76 days sober and trying to figure this out. If you really did read all this, wow, thanks for reading! Happy late September to all.

Saturday 14 September 2013

71 days sober: thoughts on forever and small moments

This week, two blog posts about forever got me thinking about how I deal with the forever versus one day at a time issue. Amy at Sober-bia wrote a thoughtful piece about forever, which I liked a whole lot. And this morning, Running from the Booze wrote about having a hard time with "forever" and I found that to be just as true for me. I wondered, can both perspectives be right for me?

Mostly I think I am never going to drink again. I need to think I am making a change that will improve my life in an ongoing way, over time, and it's long-term. In that frame of mind, if I started to think I was not drinking now, but that tomorrow might be OK, then I wouldn't see the point of it all. So far, that’s usually been working for me. That’s sets me down smack in the middle of the forever camp, right? But not it’s not quite that straightforward.

Sometimes the future is too much to for me. Here’s an example: I have a friend who is on a month-long trip to Spain. It’s a well-deserved break for her, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The other night, I was looking at some pictures she’s posted online, and I spotted a glass of wine in one photo. There were 93 beautiful pictures of people, building, plants, street scenes, and so on. She is a great photographer, so there was plenty to see and enjoy in the photos. But I realized I had scanned all the tables in all 93 pictures and I had found exactly one glass of wine, and with that I was off on a sad string of thoughts about how someday I will travel again in Europe and when it happens I will not be able to have a glass of wine, and then I questioned whether I had to decide that for now, which led to me thinking that surely one wouldn’t hurt, I was in Spain (or should I go to France? Belgium?) after all, and why couldn’t I have one wee glass of wine on my vacation? I tell you, I was staring at this glass of wine and a whole possible future spun out in front of me, filled with tortured moments of not being able to have that glass of wine, and wanting it, very much wanting it. After a few moments, I got a grip. I thought, I don’t have the personal strength to deal with all these future moments right now, and so I won’t.

If I start this kind of thinking, then the terrifying weight of the future all starts to pile up on me and I start to think, maybe I can't face doing this forever. Which leads to me thinking, maybe I’m wrong about everything. Maybe I should just have a drink no wand get it over with. That's when I say, OK, I just have to live today. I don't have to have the strength to face every possible future challenge right now in this moment. But I'm not drinking now, and that's enough.

That’s my version of forever, and my version of one day at a time. It’s making a decision that orients me towards the future. At the same time, it’s accepting that the future is a bit abstract, and it includes all of the past and present, and I can only act in the present. It's a balance between the two, and I shift my thinking depending on what works. I think shifting between the two kinds of thinking is part of the process.

So the other night, when I realized I was staring at that wine on the Spanish table, and it really was knocking me for a loop, I turned off the pictures, poured myself some sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lime, and remembered that I am not now in Spain, France, or Belgium, and I am certainly not on vacation. I am home and sober. The next day (yesterday) I had to be fresh and rested to write the GRE, a truly nasty exam that’s required for grad school applications, and that was about as much future as I could carry for the moment.


As a postscript, I wrote the GRE yesterday. It took about 4 hours with virtually no breaks, and drew in part on the algebra and geometry I learned about 30 years ago and haven’t used since. It was both excruciating and OK. Afterwards I was exhausted, in exactly the state I would normally have really wanted to drink, just to celebrate the horrid thing being over. For the most part, I knew I wasn't going to drink. But I was sad that I couldn't, I could see that I was so tired that even thinking about it was pointless, and still I kind of wanted there to be champagne of something. Instead my partner met me at the test so we could bike home together, and then he made an amazing dinner and concocted three different bitter no-booze drinks for me over the course of the evening. We had a beautiful evening, and I fell into bed afterwards, sober and happy.

Now it’s Saturday, and I have work this weekend and schoolwork to catch upon for next week, all folded into the next two days. The looming threat of a possible future European vacation and the dreaded worry about what to drink while I’m on it has waned. I’m back to thinking in the long-term and doing what I'm doing right now. But I know I will be hit by this same thing over and over, and I will have to do a bit of hunkering down into the moment just to get through it when that happens. I think that’s how time works for people: we shift between the long view, as we make sense of our lives, and the short view, where all we can face is the living moment. Maybe there’s no need to decide between the two.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good weekend. Oops, so much for thinking about the future. I have to leave for work in twenty minutes!

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Happy as a dog's tail

Today it's sunny and warm, that last bit of glorious weather just when you thought summer had folded away the blue skies and headed south. I found a new route for my bike ride to school, which takes me past a small lake as well as a whole lot of green, though there is still a fair chunk of industrial wasteland. Today I rode as fast as I could to see how late I can leave using this new route and still be on time, and I saved exactly two minutes out of forty, which made me laugh. It was fun, but it would probably be easier to get up two minutes earlier and take my time! Class discussion was great. Afterwards I had coffee with a friend, then biked home and ate some lunch. Any minute now I will plunk myself down at my desk and get back to work. 

It all sounds mundane, just an ordinary day. And it is. But I wanted to write because today I am happy, really deeply happy. I enjoyed every second of biking. In class, I was engaged in discussion, and though it's hard work, the three hours flew by. I had a good talk with my friend. The pear and brie I had when I got home tasted like the best food on earth. I feel like a layer of pond scum has been scraped away and I am right smack in the world, more than I have been in ages and ages. 

I can't give being sober all the credit. The sun is shining, my class was good, my friend was free for a rare hour, I had a local pear from the farmer's market in the fridge, my bike is out of the shop after a few days in and the gears actually work again. But because I am sober, I am here and aware, and I can appreciate those things all coming together on a a truly great day. So that's me, day 67, happy as a dog's tail. (Thanks to Polish poet Anna Swir, from whom I stole my title.)

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Imagination and memory: some thoughts at day 60

Lately I've been thinking about how memory and imagination are intertwined, and how they both play an important role in my new sobriety. I'm still trying to practice mindfulness, slowing down and noticing my thoughts, and I keep on seeing how little memories crop up when I'm not expecting them. Every bus ride contains traces of every other bus ride I've ever been on. Same for bike rides, cups of tea, mornings at work, and on and on. And with every memory, imagined future moments are all tangled up with the memories, so it's hard to know whether I'm looking back fondly at some past event or looking forward longingly at something that might happen. Reminds me of the great Kenneth Koch poem, One Train May Hide Another. (I'll link to it at the end so you can read it if you like poetry but don't already know it.)

Yesterday I started classes again, and already I have a taste of the busy months ahead. On the way home today, I realized I had a free afternoon, and no early plans tomorrow. Lots to read but no pressing deadlines. I had spent an hour at the library after class, so I was late coming home for my lunch, and therefore very hungry. In short, this is the exact kind of afternoon when I would have taken myself out to a cafe, ordered up some wine along with lunch, and sipped away the day, reading and making notes. Sounds lovely, but by evening I would either have a headache and be cranky, or I'd just be drunk.

Why am I talking about this? Well, this afternoon, riding the bus home from class, I had a brief image of that sippy lunch. First it was like a little pang of longing. But I'm trying to pay attention to these instead of running from them, so I stayed with it, watching. And yes, I was reminded of the many previous times I'd stopped off for lunch. OK, memories. But those memories were also laced with a sense of anticipation, looking forward to doing the same thing again today. That's the imagination part. I always think of memory and imagination as separate, but it's interesting to see how tangled up together they really are when you really look.

Since I've decided, for absolutely sure, that I am not drinking, that winey lunch wasn't an option. But I thought, OK, if this is me imagining how lovely that lunch would be, imagine something else. First, I imagined the headache and fuzzy thinking I would have after the hypothetical wine. Not much fun that. Then I went in a different direction, imagining what I would make for lunch at home: a glass of sparkling water, tomato-pepper-parsley salad, a few slices of havarti. A slice of really good sourdough bread, buttered, because I do love the butter. Some plums and yoghurt for dessert. An espresso and 2 small squares of my new favourite chocolate. (It's an 85% dark chocolate called AlterEco "Blackout." I know. I guess some blackouts are better than others!) With all that detail, the late afternoon lunch at home sounded better, as well as better for me.

The other night, I was talking to my partner about missing wine sometimes, and he said, "That sounds like nostalgia. What you're missing wasn't really what you had in the first place." He's not given to saying this sort of thing, and I was struck by how right he was. I think memories are tricky. For me, I'm reminded of things that happened before, and it's easy to confuse memory and longing. Habits are strong, we know that. But I can remind myself how some of those apparently lovely things really play out, and then put some effort into imagining another, better choice. Right at the point when I'm caught up in the loops of memory and imagination, I haven't made any choice yet. Lots of this remembering, imagining and longing is passive. It just happens, and I can be swept along. But it doesn't have to stay passive. I can engage with it, and switch it to something different. I think it might work like weeding the garden. Every time I notice myself easing towards wanting wine, I try to slow down the automatic thinking and switch to some better version of what I might do. What am I remembering? What do I really want?

I'm starting to see how this is a part of the work I have to do, over and over: paying attention, untangling memory and imagination, looking to see the better plan that remains hidden behind the first one. It really is like Koch says in his fine poem:

      It can be important
      To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Anyway, that's me today. 60 days without wine, and mostly I don't miss it. I am sober. Sometimes clear and sometimes not. Emotionally up and down, but that's getting more manageable. Strange as it might sound, I'm loving noticing how some of these pangs and longings work, and staying with them until they shift. It kind of takes the power from them, makes them all less scary somehow.

OK, now I had better go get some of that reading done.

Happy sober days all, and thanks for reading! (And for those who are curious, here's that poem. Enjoy.)

Addendum: Oops. Today is actually day 61. 60 was yesterday, but it's a nice round number so I'll leave the title of the post as is!

Sunday 1 September 2013

Bike love interlude!

My partner and I were away for a few days on a bike trip to visit his parents. It's a long ride, with some very large hills (mountains?) and I guess this is the first time I've ever done it without at least some trace of a hangover. What a revelation.

First, even without the hangover, it still wasn't easy. To get there, we rode about 85km of bigs ups and downs, then took a short ferry, then rode another 30 km with one big uphill plus lots of rolling hills. Coming back it's the same distance, 30km+ferry+84km, but somehow that part seems even longer. Holy mother, that's a lot of cycling! My legs were rubber by the end. A couple of times late in the ride, when I really didn't think I could do it anymore, I said it might be easier for my partner because he is stronger. (Can't you just hear me whining?) He said no, being strong makes it doable, but it's just not easy. Ding ding ding! Remember this, me who tries to shirk out of hard stuff. It's not easy for other people, just because they are strong/fit/capable/whatever. I'm not the only person struggling here.

Having said that, the big hills were a lot easier than I had remembered them. Each time, once I got to the top, I was surprised. I had remembered them as being a lot higher. On the other hand, the smaller hills seemed bigger! How is this possible? I think I only remembered the huge, nearly impossible hills. But really, the route is a long, beautiful bike ride with a lot of big hills, a lot of medium hills, and plenty of little rolling hills.

What else? Starting out, I wasn't as edgy and scared as I used to be. I felt strong, happy to be out riding. But towards the end of the ride--and this happened both on the way there and back--I was exhausted, and I had that same irrational, nearly weepy, feeling. My "I can't take it, I need a drink" feeling. Except I didn't need a drink. I just needed to bike another 20km, and I was tired. I don't think I'm expressing this well, but this was amazing to me: before I quit drinking, every day, at some point late in the afternoon, I used to have the kind of mental exhaustion that now I only get after 100km of hard riding!

Anyway, we had a great trip. Up hills and down. We rode in the sun and in cool cloudy weather. On the way back we got rained on and missed a ferry, then dried our clothes and carried on when the next boat came. We ate cheese and sausage and tomatoes and plums at a lake that's at the highest altitude of the route, and read signs to call the "turtle hotline" if we saw turtles trying to cross the highway. Alas, no turtles. We did see ravens and bald eagles, and one brown bear. A few turkey vultures fluttered above me when I was creeping slowly up a steep hill, but they didn't quite take me for carrion after all.Close, but still moving.

During our visit, I had been worried about not drinking because we always drink wine in the evenings when we visit, but no one cared. I didn't bother making an any big explanation about not drinking, and no one asked. Sometimes people drank wine or beer, sometimes not, but it absolutely didn't matter one bit what I did. I bought enormous quantities of sparkling water to make myself my special drinks (not boozing but still obsessive, me!) and that's what almost everyone else drank most of the time, too.

I guess my one big lesson from the trip is that nothing is as hard as I think it's going to be, but it's not easy either. Once again I'm realizing that I remember things in black and white, while they mostly fall some surprising place between the two. Roads are neither vertical nor flat. Not drinking is neither impossible nor dead easy. Pretty obvious, I guess, but it seems I have to learn everything the long way round.

The other big thing, and it's not new at all but it's worth mentioning: I love riding my bike! Love it love it love it! It's one of the best things in the world.

Now the wee vacation is over and I'm back at work, about to start classes again in a couple of days. More steep hills ahead, but I'm facing them better than I had before I started this sober thing. Fifty-eight days today without booze. So far so good.

Happy hills, everyone!