Monday 29 December 2014

A "welcoming Something Dance" for the new year

It's been a beautiful holiday so far. Now my partner and I are heading up the coast to celebrate the New Year with his family. I've been thinking about time, as many of us do at the new year. For me it's more pronounced this year, as it's been a time of enormous change for me. When I quit drinking, I didn't really believe the folks who talked about getting sober as the beginning of a process, but it does seem to be what's going on here. Sometimes these days I'm not sure where I'm headed with it. (Except staying sober, which I'm pretty darn certain about!) But I do know what I need to do is to be open to the world, and to myself, whatever that looks like. Primrose wrote a wonderful post on this subject yesterday. And the other day, when I was organizing a bunch of paperwork, (it's not all fun and games and tea and cookies here on my days off!) I came across a poem by Charles Wright that I'd tucked aside a few years ago and then forgotten, and I thought I'd share that in lieu of my own words.

Wishing you peace and joy in the new year. And dancing!


Bedtime Story

The generator hums like a distant ding an sich.  
It's early evening, and time, like the dog it is,  
                                                                                 is hungry for food,  
And will be fed, don't doubt it, will be fed, my small one.  
The forest begins to gather its silences in.  
The meadow regroups and hunkers down  
                                                                            for its cleft feet.  

Something is wringing the rag of sunlight  
                                                                  inexorably out and hanging.  
Something is making the reeds bend and cover their heads.  
Something is licking the shadows up,  
And stringing the blank spaces along, filling them in.  
Something is inching its way into our hearts,  
                              scratching its blue nails against the wall there.  

Should we let it in?  
                                       Should we greet it as it deserves,  
Hands on our ears, mouths open?  
Or should we bring it a chair to sit on, and offer it meat?  
Should we turn on the radio,  
                                                     should we clap our hands and dance  
The Something Dance, the welcoming Something Dance?  
                               I think we should, love, I think we should.

-by Charles Wright (from his book Scar Tissue)

Monday 15 December 2014

Acceptance, again.

I've been struggling with a whole lot of things that I think have to do with acceptance. You know, it seems like I figure some things out and then later I come back and figure them out all over again. Same lesson, just deeper. I guess we all have that.

A number of years ago, I was taking an art class, and I got talking with an instructor who was visiting from the east coast, where I'm also from. She'd always been a good girl: Catholic school, art college on scholarship, career making and teaching art. She'd done everything right in her life. Eventually, she started to feel so shaped by the forces around her who defined what "everything right" looked like that she didn't have much sense of herself. I remember her telling me that it took her a long time to get over needing some sort of approval from the world for everything she did. Needing approval is not the best road to making great art. For a time she stopped presenting her art publicly, and she ended up developing a whole new practice, returning to working with clay--something she loved, but that isn't exactly high status in the art world. By the time I met her, she was making art and teaching and enjoying it all again, and it felt more real to her than it had. She said her turning point had been a conversation with her husband, who pointed out that she was still acting like the schoolgirl who really wanted the teachers to say what a grand girl she was.

Ouch. I feel like that these days. At the time, it didn't much apply to me at all. I'd been one of those high achieving kids, but as an adult I'd quit lots of things that people thought I was supposed to be doing. Even sitting by a kiln chatting with an art instructor, as I was doing that evening years ago, would have been considered a waste of time by many of the people I knew. I didn't care.

But being in school somehow brings a lot of that old approval stuff back again. I love reading and writing and researching. It's interesting and intellectually stimulating, and I feel lucky that I'm allowed to spend my time doing it. But whenever I submit a project to be graded, I feel like I'm waiting for a God I don't entirely believe in to reach out and pat me on the head and tell me I'm a good girl after all. There is no winning this game. A perfect grade means I have to live up to that next time or I'm not so good after all. (And anyway, maybe the professor was being kind, so it doesn't quite count.) Anything even slightly less than perfect has me replaying all the problems in my work.

I'm embarrassed to be writing about this. It doesn't feel like an adult issue. I thought I'd got past this years ago. I guess not. Now I think leaving the whole academic and career world as I did was more like a giant workaround. I thought I'd given all that worldly approval a big old, "Screw you!" and gone off to do my own thing. (It might not be surprising that "my thing" ended up involving a lot of wine every evening.) But it's one thing to keep away from the world of approval altogether, and quite another to be submerged in it and not completely shaped by it. Now that I'm a full time student, I am judged and graded all the time. Trying to be OK with that is tricky. It's pretty darn draining, oscillating out there on the end of some approval system that feels like it matters. And it's hard to talk about, because I don't expect much sympathy or understanding. Maybe it looks like some sort of humble-brag. But it doesn't feel like that. It feels like not knowing my way around in the world, and not knowing who to ask for directions.

And maybe it seems like this has nothing to do with drinking, either. But it does. It's been a bit over 11 months since I quit drinking. The semester was not only my first as a full time student, and my first in grad school, it was my first school semester ever (or since I was 19, anyway, and that seems like forever ago) without drinking to smooth away the rough edges of insecurity and panic. And I did it. I finished my courses and fulfilled all my teaching assistant obligations and sent out my conference proposals for the upcoming year. And I'm doing some interesting work. Interesting to me, and sometimes to a few other people. Honestly, I think that's pretty good. Maybe even great. It's true, I was wildly insecure at times, and many days I came home and wept, sure that everyone in the room had hated me. I think that feeling has to do with the approval thing I'm talking about. Being critical of ideas means taking a stance that's sometimes unpopular, and when I do that, as I do, I am keenly aware of the undercurrents of feeling in the room. And that's uncomfortable. I think I'm managing to stay with what's interesting to me, and that means going against the grain sometimes. So there's lots to be uncomfortable about, and being hyper-aware of the currents of social and academic approval doesn't make it smoother. Not drinking means I don't make it worse for myself, but it also means I don't get to hide from it, ever.

So that's the acceptance I started writing about. I really thought I was a punk rock rebel who didn't care what people thought. I'm appalled to find that I notice every nuance of what people think of me. And I care. Ouch, again. But that's exactly the thing I have to accept. You can't separate yourself from the world and live, protected and authentic and pure. Maybe that's what I thought I was doing, all those evenings drinking too much wine, staying separate from life. It doesn't look like much of a way to live, though. Participating in life means swimming in the wonder and the muck of the world. It's painful, and I don't know my way about in it. But I'm part of it. We all are.

Now it's mid-December. I have a little free time to enjoy here and there, and some Christmas plans (we're cooking a duck!). Then were taking a small trip to see family, which means late mornings sleeping in and reading and days hiking and lovely slow meals and evening fires. I bought some cordials at the farmers' market the other day, so I can mark the festive occasions with toasts that don't need booze to make them special. I'll raise a glass of blueberry-lavender fizz to you, my fellow sober bloggers and readers and lurkers. Thanks as always for your fine company. Wishing you all peace and joy, and happy holidays.

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

Sunday 12 October 2014

A quick hello at 9 months (plus a few days) sober

The other day I received a kind email from the lovely Amy, recommending a great book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, and also, I think, checking in to see how I'm doing.  And I realized that I hadn't posted in over a month, and hadn't even responded (yet) to comments on my previous post. So this is just to say hello, in case you follow along here, and you maybe were concerned that I'd gone quiet.

I'm doing great! I'm in school and I am loving the intense intellectual focus of academic work. I am sober and happy and focused and clear-minded. And busy!

I can hardly express how happy I am that I quit drinking. I'm not going to try to catalogue all the reasons here. Thinking clearly is one. Feeling more accurately is another--my feelings aren't as distorted as they used to be, so it's not a problem when things het a bit intense at times, which they do. I really am upbeat and engaged with what I'm doing, even when it's hard and I'm tired and insecure and I don't know if I can do it all in the time I have to do it.

So much of what has often caused me grief, all that worry that used to be so familiar to me in my interactions with other people (Maybe they hate me! Maybe I talk too much! Was that a dumb thing to say?) seems to have just fallen away. No, that's not quite true. Those worries are there, but they don't have the teeth they used to have. They're just little grimaces some days. Some days they're not even there at all. I'm working on this, but it's getting a lot easier. It's all part of the practice.

Drinking isn't much of an issue for me these days. I can casually say, "when I used to drink," in a conversation without drawing much attention to it, and I'm more and more comfortable being open about that. It leads to some interesting conversations, but mostly no one notices. Yes, I occasionally romanticize the allure of a glass of wine or a wee tot of something, but these days that passes pretty quickly. I'm not especially working on being sober, as there's not much work to it just now. I just am sober. And I'm putting my energy into doing things that are interesting and meaningful to me. Life, in other words. I find the whole thing glorious!

(I know some people will worry that if I don't keep being sober front and centre in my life, it will all fall apart. I respectfully disagree. I expect there are many way to do this sober gig. I'm figuring out mine, and for now, it's working for me. So far so good.)

OK, I'd better get back to the massive pile of reading. Wishing you all peace and love and a happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

Monday 8 September 2014

8 months sober! Thanks for being a sober oasis in what looks like a booze-soaked world.

Nearly three weeks have passed since I last wrote here. So first I'll assure anyone who's reading along, all is well. I'm still sober--8 months as of yesterday. Hooray!!! Last year it seemed impossible for me to go one day without wine. I can't come close to articulating how pleased I am that I took the leap and quit drinking for good.

Part of the reason I didn't write is we took a little late summer vacation on which I fell off my bike and injured my arm (hitting garden hose across slippery path=serious road rash + deeply apologetic landscapers) so I had to do as little computer time as possible. The cuts and bruises are healing now and I can do most things again. There was no irreparable damage to either me or the bike, and I bought myself a fetching new bike helmet because you really should do that after a crash. (And I find it kind of funny that, a few weeks after a big, difficult bike trip, I was knocked sideways on an easy little urban bike path that I've been on hundreds of times. There's no knowing what to worry about, which I guess means no point worrying, right?)

But the bigger story is, I just started grad school. Scary stuff! So far I love the courses and I expect it will be interesting and challenging and all that. I could say a million things about it, but I want to talk about this: school and booze. It's astonishing! I should have expected this, but I didn't--university life is awash with booze. During the last week, both my classes included multiple mentions of alcohol (including "what a normal person does when stressed.") I received emails inviting me to "keggers" ("free beer and vodka" and "bring other fun drinks, like wine.") I attended a professional development day where we discussed social inclusion and dealing sensitively with people, and were encouraged many times to attend the closing social ("get to know each other and have some fun with the two dollar beer, cheap vodka, and free burgers.") At that social, soda water cost three dollars (yes, a dollar more than a beer) and the bartender was oddly surly about it. In addition to that, every single meeting and social event included several conversations about drinking (the allure of a perfect martini, the problem of balancing social drinking with the inevitable hangovers, who can hold their drink, etc.)

By the end of the week, I was a little bit exhausted with that whole side of things. I'm really glad I've been sober as long as I have. Because it's not that I wanted to drink. I didn't. Well, sometimes I did, in that way you want two things at once. After the first day--which was 15 hours long and involved several episodes getting lost in buildings I should know, and one spell wandering outside in the dark and in the pouring rain because I was hungry and disoriented and my injured arm was hurting so I couldn't ride my bike home but I couldn't find the bus stop--I recognized that this was the kind of thing that would have sent me to a drink. I kind of longed for one, but at the same time, I was so grateful to be sober. Because I didn't cry when I got lost. And I didn't lose patience with myself. I was kind to myself, and coached myself along to do what I had to do, and I managed to get myself home and sitting with a cup of tea before I had a good old weep.

I'm so grateful to be sober, and I need to be sober to do this school gig. It's not that I cope perfectly now, but I cope a lot better. But being immersed in such a strong alcohol culture will take some coping. I don't want to drink. I'm not going to. That's not what I'm talking about here. But I see how alcohol is something people use as a way to break the ice and develop camaraderie and signal fun and inclusion and a whole lot of things, and it's simply something I don't share with the others, which is one more way of leaving me on the outside of what's happening. It's alienating, being around all that booze talk. Mostly, I don't want to engage with it. (Though I did suggest to the event organizer that providing a sponsored non-alcohol option would be a more inclusive way to host people, and that felt like a good start, even though she took up my comment as a way to be sensitive to people not drinking "for religious reasons.")

I'm also amazed and grateful that you're here, fellow sober bloggers are readers and lurkers and people who say nice things or just click and read or whatever you do. It's a whole other world in here, and I know being in it is a huge help to me in the big outside world. I don't have my time organized yet, but I know for my sanity I will have to make the time to keep reading and commenting and writing and responding to comments. Because being part of this sober blogging world has been a huge blessing to me, both in helping me figure out how to live without booze (and seeing how much better life without booze really is) and offering me a much needed place to belong. Thanks for being here with me.

Peace and love and happy September to you all!

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Lessons from my big bike ride: tough it out, and be kind.

Lately I've been noticing that I'm starting to do some things differently. It's not that I'm more patient. But I'm gentler with myself, so at the same time I can be supremely impatient, and a little bit amused with myself about it. I think this is a big part of feeling things as they happen, moving through the tough stuff and not getting caught in it.

Last week my partner and I did one of our regular summer bike trips. Every summer we ride up to visit his parents, a one-day ride that involves distance (about 120 kilometres one way), mountains (360 metres up from sea level at the highest point, and there's lots of up and down), and ferries (a chance to rest and enjoy the scenery, but then the ride starts at sea level and goes straight up for the first few kilometres). It's super hard, but it's always fun. For me it's a always a big physical challenge and an enormous psychological challenge.

This year, we rode up on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. There were times on the ride--this always happens to me when I'm doing something difficult--when I thought I couldn't keep going. I was too hot, the hill was too steep, or the way just seemed too long. But every time I hit this mental hill, we stopped for a few minutes, sipped some water (or ate a little fruit), and then I was refreshed enough to keep going. By the time we made the second ferry (with just 10 minutes to spare!) I was covered in a sludge of salty sweat and road grime and sunscreen, my face was about as pink as pink gets, and I was panting like a dog on a hot day. There is no glamour in this kind of travel. But I felt pretty darn fantastic!

On the way home we decided to take a different route, one that's a bit flatter, but the ferries take longer and cost a little more, so it's an even longer day of travel. And it rained. Not just for a few hours, as we'd expected, but for 110 of the 120 kilometres. We hadn't brought full raingear with us, because it's usually too hot to wear in the summertime, so we were wet after the first 10 minutes, and we stayed wet for the whole trip. Every now and then, a new channel of water would start pouring in from somewhere. My shoes were filled with water--when I wriggled my toes, they squelched. Water leached up through my jacket from my wet shorts and dripped down my neck, so my whole body was wet. Part of the charm of this alternate route is that it mostly stretches along the ocean, but it was so socked in, and my glasses were so wet, that I had to remind myself that the grey blur on my left was the usually lovely strait. I really didn't think I could do it. After the first hour or so I was near tears, and I had to say out loud that, if it came to it, we might have to rent a car (I don't even know if that's possible there) or hitch-hike. But as soon as I admitted that I may not be able to finish, I felt better.

The thing is, you don't ride 120 kilometres. You ride one at a time. That may sound like cheesy inspiration talk, but it's also true. Over and over, I would get overwhelmed by the enormity of what we were doing, and then I'd break it down into doable chunks. Five more kilometres and we can stop for tea. Another ten and we can stretch for a few minutes. Stop at the top of the hill and take a sip of water. The full distance seemed too much, but riding those smaller chunks, I was able to do it.

On a long ride, there's a lot of time to think, and you really can't spend that much time feeling sorry for yourself or hating the weather or worrying. One thing I noticed was that needing a way out is something I always do when things are hard. I was never even remotely athletic as a kid--I was that chubby kid who always pretended she forgot her gym kit so she could sit reading during gym class--but as an adult, I've come to enjoy the challenge of hard physical tasks. I love being strong and fit enough to do things I never thought I'd even try. But I get scared. And when I'm scared, I frantically try to find a way out. So my panicky plans to rent a car, to flag down a pickup truck and convince the driver to take us plus bikes as far as possible, these connivings are very familiar to me. (I even thought we could stop until the weather cleared and rent a motel and call work to say we'd be a day late coming back, though "It's raining" didn't quite seem like a convincing excuse, and I knew I wouldn't pretend I had an injury, though I had a fleeting moment of considering even that.) But along the way, I noticed I was gentler with myself in my fear and panic. I was able to say, yes, if you need to you can get out of this, but what are the other options? Stop for tea? Drink some water? Stop and look at the ocean, because it's there and the rain has slowed for a few minutes and if you clean your glasses, you might even be able to see it.

Is this a skill or an attitude? Maybe it's both. Whatever it is, I'm getting better at it, and I know it's important to me. In a few weeks, I'm about to start grad school, which has me super intimidated. I worry I can't do an interesting project, or I can't cope with the workload, or  million other things. But I think it will be like the bike trip. Just break it down into smaller bits, and even if those bits are tough, they are doable.

I'm glad we did our trip. When we finished that rainy ride, as we were waiting for the ferry, I realized, all day I had been thinking, "I will never ride in this weather again" and "This is horrible" and a whole lot of other complainey thoughts. But as soon as we arrived, I was exhilarated. I was cold and wet and shaking with hunger, and my legs and back hurt, but all I could think was, "Man that was fun!" I mentioned this to my partner and he laughed and said he was thinking the same thing. The hard parts didn't matter once they were done, and we both felt great.

That was last week. Today I'm making soup stocks and reading, hanging out at home and enjoying a much less challenging kind of day off. I'm glad I took the time to write about this. First I wasn't sure what it had to do with not drinking, if anything. But more and more I see that, having stopped drinking, I don't look for the easy way out of tough stuff. Instead, I'm getting better at facing it, and breaking it into smaller bits that aren't quite so threatening. And I'm being kind to myself as I do it. That's the big one. It's taken me almost five decades to start learning that, but man, is it worth it.

Thanks for reading. Here's wishing you peace and love, and the strength you need to face the tough stuff, and plenty of kindness.

Tuesday 5 August 2014


Lately I've been transfixed by the wonder of everyday moments. It's been sunny and hot for days. At the library where I work, we turn on huge ceiling and floor fans and then we stand working in the hot wind yelling that we can't hear each other but isn't the breeze from the fans lovely and sure it will rain soon enough and then we'll be wishing for the sun again. I find this exceedingly funny. It makes me happy to be part of this strange cavalcade of living.

The other evening, I made a special dinner for my partner for his birthday, and then we walked out to a local artisanal ice cream store we'd heard about and waited in a crazy long line for our sweet cold treats. (My lovely partner had a salted caramel cone, one scoop. Slightly greedy and not quite able to narrow down the options, I had two scoops in a bowl--strawberry rhubarb, and butter-pecan. Yummy goodness for everyone!) On the way home, we walked through a community garden, where sunflowers nodded their smiley heads over us and spindly green plants with huge leaves lay splayed out on the dirt like they'd had a big day and were done in for now. A neighbour noticed our ice creams and asked how long we'd waited in line--he hadn't been to the place, but he'd been in awe of the lineups since the heat kicked in. I said the lineup was the cheeriest thing, a couple of hundred people, mostly dewy cheeked beautiful young couples in breezy sundresses and summer tops and sandals, all come out of their homes in the late evening waiting for ice cream, not out lined up at bars drinking their heads off and getting in fights, they're waiting for ice cream and some of them are even buying extra containers and taking some home for their mothers, and if that doesn't cheer your heart, what would? And the neighbour laughed and said he hadn't quite seen the lineup that way but yes, maybe he'd give it a try some day after all.

So I'm on a bit of a blissful spree here. Maybe it's the long sunny days. Or time off--I'm only working part time for the summer, as I prepare for grad school in the fall. I've figured out some of my plans for next year, and they might even include some longed-for travel. I still have my out-of-sorts moments, when I'm tired and don't know what to make of what's happening and I assume everyone hates me or I'm just overwhelmed by the noise or some seemingly impossible task like washing lettuce or chopping parsley for a salad that should have been made an hour earlier and so dinner is late or I'm leaving for work late because time has somehow once again managed to pass more quickly than I expected and I feel like I will never catch up. My living room still has too many towers of books, and I just made it worse because I wanted to pull out a poem to share, keeping my promise to fellow blogger more to me than this that I would share more favourite poetry, so I had to make yet another stack of books to get at the bottom poetry shelf. But these moments, when I'm overwhelmed or trampled by whatever it is that tramples me, are passing more and more quickly, and even now I can look around at the book towers and feel awed that there are so many wonderful things to read, and yes it's a mess but how lucky I am, we are, that we have words to read and write and share and think with.

I really do love being sober. It's a clearing, after what now feels like years caught in some sort of tangled underbrush. So I'm sharing this poem by fellow Newfoundlander Agnes Walsh, which I love. (It's from Going Around With Bachelors, Brick Books, 2007.)  I'm only small, but I see us all as what Walsh calls fireberries, standing together tall in the clearings we're making in our lives and proclaiming ourselves wild and alive. These days it's hard not to be a little bit intoxicated in the beauty of life, straight up. That's my kind of sober.

Peace and love and big fields of fireweed to you all.


 (for Bridget Peegan Kelly)

No, Bridget Peegan, fireweed isn't the colour of fire
and it isn't purple either.
It's purplish-pink, and yes, it's delicate looking.
The petals look like they'd avalanche, like
to touch one would cause a riot.
The stalk is tough as seasoned leather;
I could make a clothesline out of a string of them.
They grow, like blueberries, where there's been a fire.
Fireberries. They stand tall in fields and proclaim themselves wild.
Of savage origin. Beauty's breathless rampage.


Tuesday 22 July 2014

Disturbing the peace: Listening to all my voices

One of my favourite poems is Adam Zagajewski's "Ode to Plurality."*  It starts like this:

"I don't understand it all and I am
even glad that the world like a restless
ocean exceeds my ability
to understand the essence of water, rain,
of plunging into Baker's Pond, near
the Bohemian-German border, in
September, 1980, a detail without any special
meaning, the deep Germanic pond."

It's a masterful work. Zagajewski oscillates between the specific details of lived experience and different ways of knowing, the whole time singing the beauty and wonder of the world and the strange truth that philosophy doesn't trump poetry and poetry doesn't trump family stories and none of it trumps life in all its messy glory. Here's a little more:

"You, singular soul, stand before
this abundance. Two eyes, two hands,
ten inventive fingers, and
only one ego, the wedge of an orange,
the youngest of sisters, And the pleasure of
hearing doesn't destroy the pleasure of
seeing, though that flurry of freedom disturbs
the peace of the other gentle senses."

(OK, now I want to point out every line in the poem and just say, "Look. See? Don't you love it?" And then we can all cry and be happy together in poetry for a while.)

One of the things I treasure about being a part of the sober blogging community is the sense of belonging I sometimes feel here. For me, I think it's an important part of how I managed to quit drinking and stick with that until it became clear to me that it's a better way for me to live. I'm not used to feeling like I'm part of something, and I'm not sure I know how to do it. Because belonging means we're all here, and we're all different, and we won't all agree. There isn't a lot of explicit disagreement in this online world, in part I think because the point of being here is to belong to a group of people who are trying to find a way to live without alcohol, in a world where alcohol is very much the norm. But sometimes I worry that belonging means I'm editing away my own truth so as not to offend, and that won't work in the long run.

I thought about this when I wrote my last post. I had a hard time writing about my reaction to supposedly "alcohol-free" wine, which is really very low alcohol wine. For me, sharing a bottle means having the lion's share--I even outdrink my partner when we drink fizzy water. (I really am thirsty!) That means I inadvertently had about the equivalent of half an ounce of actual wine, and I reacted. I admitted to feeling a tad more-ish, even though the wine wasn't good. I already said that.

But I didn't say everything. I left out part of the story, because I wasn't comfortable talking about it. Sitting at the table, just finished dinner, talking to my partner, and having had what it turned out was a little bit of alcohol but not knowing that yet, my whole being was awash in a moment of sweet happiness. I felt like I belonged to the world and the world was good. Remembering that feeling now, I can't help but cry. All this talk about getting sober being a better way to live is good and true. But I need to admit this, in case I haven't before, because it's also true: when I gave up alcohol, I gave up something that could, at times, be lovely. I had forgotten about that.

To me, it's more helpful to know that. Now, at almost seven months sober, it can seem irrational to me that I would every have spent as much time and money and energy drinking. The other day, steeped in that warm, happy feeling, I recognized it, and I knew, "This is, in part, why I drank." It wasn't just the more-ishness that told me there had to be alcohol in that wine. It was that feeling.

I'm not making a case for drinking. Those days are over. I can't hold onto that moment anyway. One taste of it and I get that old hankering for more, and then I drink too much, and we all know how that goes. In fact, my reaction helped me see how powerful addiction is, and why I can't slither out of calling my problem addiction, as much as I guess I was still kind of hoping I could. When the tiniest bit lands me right smack in the middle of a home I thought I'd left behind forever, that's a dangerous substance for me.

This isn't a completely unfamiliar sensation. I'm from Newfoundland, a place I love, but I can't live there. In ways I have trouble explaining, it doesn't suit me. Despite that, for years as soon as I'd hear a certain song or even a turn of phrase, or see a picture of the rocks, or smell the salt air, I used to be wracked with homesickness. I longed to be home. But when I've tried to move back, even after years away, I feel myself slipping into a way of being that doesn't leave room for the person I've become. Whatever it is I miss about where I come from, I can't quite grasp it when I'm there.

And I think that's what drinking is like for me now. I can't go back. But I won't lie: there is a certain sweet happiness that I felt the other day that reminds me that alcohol wasn't all bad. It's just that that happiness is too fleeting for me to grasp. There's nowhere back to go.

Drinking isn't a simple problem, and getting sober isn't a story with clean lines. I guess today I needed to talk about the messier parts again, because they are part of me, too. That Zagajewski poem I love so much ends like this: "A poem grows/ on contradiction but can't cover it." I expect being a person is always going to mean being messy and contradictory. There's no hiding that. There's just life, in all it's messy glory, and us living it.

Wishing you all peace and joy to you all, and finding other ways to live those sweet happy moments.


*(Originally published in English in his book, Tremor (1985), I read it in Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002, p. 95). I can't find an online copy to link to, and too long to insert in a blog post, but if you do want to read it let me know and I'll type it out and send you a copy.)

Sunday 20 July 2014

The large print giveth, the small print taketh away*

The other night I tried alcohol-free wine for the first time, and I wanted to write about it because my reaction surprised me.

To back up: I haven't had alcohol for almost 7 months. I don't have cravings, and the occasional pull to drink feels mostly like a fleeting nostalgia--I don't pay it much heed, and it passes quickly.

But I had heard people talk about alcohol-free wine, and I wondered whether it was any good. I also wanted to see whether sharing a bottle of it would have any of what I remember as the pleasure of sharing a bottle of wine--the romance of sitting at a lovely dinner sipping wine and talking, not the guzzling wine alone late into the evening thing, which I'm glad to be done with. (I know the wine and romance thing is a big myth, but myths aren't all bad, and I was curious.)

My partner--who still drinks, though not a lot--was game to try it. We settled on a Spanish cava-style bottle that said "alcohol free" and "0.0%" on the label, and we kept our hopes in check. As it turned out, the fake wine wasn't very good. It was way too sweet, a bit like the Baby Duck my family used to drink at Christmas when I was a kid. But as it was a fizzy wine, once it was opened it wouldn't keep, so we drank it, easily agreeing that our usual soda/lemon/bitters concoction was much better. It was an experiment we wouldn't repeat.

But here's the weird part. As I was sipping the the last little bit, I felt a little strange. First I tried to dismiss it as my imagination. Then I started to wonder whether there was something about the moment that really was like drinking wine, in a way that was somehow different from our usual drinking sparkling water out of wine glasses. But it didn't make sense to me, and my partner wasn't getting it. And then I started to sense an all too familiar feeling--I was happy and relaxed, and I knew I'd have a little more after all if there was any left in the bottle. So I looked at the label again, and yes, it said 0.0% alcohol, but on the back of the bottle, in very small print, it also said, "Contains less than 0.4% alcohol." That's not quite zero. Even with the tiny amount of alcohol in that "alcohol-free" wine, it seems I could feel it.

I'm so absolutely surprised! I would have scoffed at the idea that such a tiny amount of alcohol would cause any reaction. I've had desserts with a drop of booze in them, and I use bitters in my fizzy water and cook with wine all the time. I'm no purist. But this was different. And I didn't like it. I was horrified that, even while agreeing that it didn't taste good, I was starting to get a little inkling of wanting more. It was just a trace of that old familiar feeling, but it was there, and I want absolutely nothing to do with that, ever again. I'm not much given to certainties, but I'm sure about that!

This was a valuable lesson to me. I know lots of people who quit the booze drink alcohol-free drinks, and I think we're all going to react differently to them, so I don't expect everyone would feel the same. And yes, someone might say, maybe it wasn't the trace amount of alcohol that affected me. Maybe it was psychological. I don't know. Alcohol is a powerful drug, but minds are powerful, too. I don't much care which it is. I won't try that again. And I'll be careful to read the fine print next time I see something that claims to be free!

Peace and love and sparkly days to you all.( *And thanks to Tom Waits for my post title. Peace and love to you too, Tom!)

Saturday 5 July 2014

Bike rides, bridges, and that bouillabaisse recipe.

I love summer. The other day my partner and I spent the whole afternoon out cycling. We dug out the bike map and traced out a route to somewhere we'd never been, and then spent the next day riding. The ride took us along a city bike route that's partly separated from traffic, with plenty of little parks and stretches of green space where lots of people were out walking in the sun or heading to the mall, doing whatever it is normal people do in the city on a Thursday afternoon. Then we found our way onto three bridges to get across the Fraser River, first to the eastern tip of Lulu Island and then Annacis Island, and then the big stretch of Fraser River that's spanned by the Alex Fraser Bridge. Here's a pic of that bridge, just to show I'm not talking about crossing a wee footpath!

(I'm not sure the protocol for borrowing public photos, but here's a link to some more photos by this fabulous photographer, unbanhunter on Panoramio.)

The bridge is just over 2.5 kilometres long--one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in North America-- and when big trucks roar along it, which they do, the floor shakes in a way that feels like a small earthquake. The cycle route is a narrow track that I'm pleased to say is separated by a high barrier from those six lanes of roaring traffic. Still, riding along it feels a bit like flying over water and a bit like being shaken in some giant industrial machine. All the way across I alternated between being amazed at the views and delighted to be part of a species that had built such a fantastic structure! Watching the wide expanse of the Fraser River rushing along below, it was impossible not to be a bit nervous, but mostly I felt lucky to be alive and part of the whole big ongoing life project.

Once we reached the far side, we found a small wooded path along an old rail line and we biked along there until we reached Mud Bay Park on the coast and then--after a quick lunch of havarti, salami, sliced peppers and local cherries--we rode along the Boundary Bay dyke trail for 15 or so kilometres. This last part if the ride was the point of the whole adventure, and it was well worth the effort of getting out there. We saw herons and eagles, and plenty of some sort of wee fast hunting birds. The route is flat, with farmland along one side and a long shallow bay stretching out along the other, with tufts of strange sea plants peeking up through the mud in the low tide, and Mount Baker in the distance on the American side of the water. Near the end of that trail, we joined up with the main road system and rode to the nearest urban centre, where we put our bikes on the bus to recross the river and come back home.

The day was marvellous, sun and wind and changing landscapes. We ended up with sunburned noses and tired legs, very happy to be home in time to make a quick dinner (more bouillabaisse!) before crashing into the deep sleep that's well earned after a full day outdoors.

Next day was another day off. We got up early for mushroom, chevre and sage omelets, then walked to a cafe for the Germany-France game (hooray Germany!), walked around the city going some errands, then to a wee bar for the Brasil-Columbia match (yea Brasil!) Later we came home and read for a while, then had a simple supper: pink salmon with fingerling potatoes and steamed green beans, with jicama salad to start, and blueberries and ice cream for dessert. It's blueberry season again! Hooray for blueberries!!!!!

That's a lot of words about some outdoor stuff and food, with no mention of alcohol. Because that's how it's been lately. Life is good, and drinking (or not drinking) takes up close to zero mental space. I've been spending lots of time doing things I love to do, and there are plenty of things to do. Even watching the World Cup at the local bars, it's been a no-brainer that I'm ordering a large bottle of San Pellegrino. Some people around me have had beer, and some haven't, and either way it hasn't mattered. The only time I've considered wine was once after thinking that the fizzy water was absolutely the right thing on a hot day, and then remembering how before I would have had beer or wine and then had that headachey tired feeling that I always had drinking in the daytime. 

It's been just about six months since I quit drinking this time around, which means out of the past year, I have been sober for ten of the twelve months. Time really does seem to make a difference. I'm not the same emotional mess I was in the first few months of this stretch this past winter. In fact, I don't think I've ever in my life felt this calm and happy. Now, I'm far more emotional than I used to be, but it's a different kind of emotional. Yesterday, when David Luis scored a lovely goal for Brasil, I was so moved by his reaction to it that I started to cry. My tears come easily, but they clear up easily, too, and that feels healthy to me. I'm still scared of lots of things, but it doesn't unseat me anymore. Thursday, I was once again scared by a couple of big dogs, but I called to the owners and asked them to leash the dogs, and when they did we were all very pleasant and civilized to each other about it, and I forgot about it almost immediately. In my drinking days, that kind of scary moment would unsettle me for the better part of the day.

And I still really do love sitting and sipping a pretty drink, but now it's lemon and bitters in sparkling water, or ginger juice in sparkling water, or a new favourite for me, holy basil tea. 

Life is good. There's lots of joy to share, and lots of good food and drink being shared along with that. I can't tell you how happy I am that I don't drink any more. I simply never would have believed what a relief it is to be done with it. Peace and joy to you, and happy outdoor days, and some yummy food too. xo


PS Here's a wee taste of the kind of thing I like to share, my bouillabaisse recipe as requested by Rebecca after my last post:

Chop an onion and cook it quietly for a few minutes in some sort of fat. (I use bacon fat because I like it, but olive oil with a little butter to make sure the oil doesn't smoke would be good, too. I cook the whole thing on electric stove set to 3, so that's the knob set to about 4:00 on a 12 hour dial.) While that's cooking, chop four or five big ripe tomatoes and a few cloves of garlic, and once the onions start to look translucent, add the tomatoes and the garlic to the pan. They will start to cook into a sauce pretty quickly, and then I add some white wine--not sure how much, maybe a few ounces or a half cup, maybe a little more, depends on how much liquid there is in the pan. And maybe now is the time to add a pinch or so of sea salt and some coarse black pepper, but later would work, too. Take a whole fennel bulb and chop off the stalks; I set these aside to use in a stew or something, because they are a bit woody for this delicate dish. Finely slice the fennel bulb top to bottom, so the strips are find of like noodles. I usually use around half a medium bulb, but it doesn't matter much how much you use. Add the chopped fennel to the pot and cook until it softens, just a few minutes or so. Then I add a handful of fresh thyme (though tarragon would work too) and around 250 grams of fish. (I buy chopped up fish ends for cheap from the local fish store, and that always includes some salmon, halibut, and ling cod, but you could just buy a couple of small pieces of two or three different kinds of fish and see how it goes. Shellfish would make it a more festive dish if there's some around and it's not too pricey.) The fish will cook super fast, and once that's done, put it in big wide bowls and eat it up happily. This amount serves two hungry people, so you could use a few more tomatoes and more fish and fennel to make enough to serve four, especially if you added a small salad or some antipasto to start. Happy cooking, and happy eating.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Reading old stories, living a new one.

Last Sunday afternoon, when I was walking through one of those lovely summer festivals, with lots of people milling about eating street food and listening to music and picking up little bits of crafty goodness, I wanted so much to join the people on the outdoor patios and have a drink. I had no intention of doing that, but I hadn't felt that strong pull to drink in a while, and it was a powerful reminder of how small things can bring it on again, and how strong that pull can be once it sets in. For a little while, I felt pretty darn sorry for myself that I couldn't just join in on that part of the summer fun.

But a couple of days later, I found the old drinking journal I had been looking for. (The upside of having to crate everything in the apartment in preparation for the exterminators was finding a few misplaced items. A wee but welcome little bright side for sure.) So on Tuesday afternoon, I sat in the midst of piles of crates and boxes and read my own alternately sad and hopeful words, written over the span of a year or so, about trying to deal with what I was starting to realize was a big problem, my drinking. I have to do that sometimes, because it's impossible for me to remember how unhappy I was about how bad the drinking had got, and how hard I was trying to fix it.

Some of the things I did to control the amount I was drinking are a little bit funny, even though they're deeply sad. I remember thinking that it was completely daft to have any more than two drinks and, fully convinced that it would help me, I wrote myself a note that said, "Don't be daft!" and put it on the fridge. The note had absolutely zero effect on how much I drank, of course, but I think it did help me see that, once I started drinking, I saw no problem in being daft after all. I also had various notes and charts to help me count how many drinks I would have but I only ever kept them going for a week or so, because it's really quite dreary to write, day after day, "Planned drinks: 2; Actual drinks: somewhere around seven but I lost count."

More heartbreaking to me was the lists of problems I knew drinking was causing me--my hands hurt, my head hurt, my thinking was blurry too much of the day, I was achey and bloatey, my eyes were looking pink, and I was falling into some nasty dark spells. It was tough, reading my own words, telling myself how I was going to solve this problem because it didn't make sense to feel this awful. As soon as I felt better, I always started to think it was OK now, and then I would write that I had had one glass (or two) at some event or with dinner and that it had been really lovely and now I was planning to be super careful because I didn't want to run into the old problem again. And then the journal peters out until a few months later, when I was in the middle of the problem again, and was once again drinking way too much and trying to get a grip on it.

At one point, I had written, "What's so great about wine, anyway?" Reading it now, the question startles me. It's the right question to ask, and I think it was asking it that helped me start making the decision to really quit drinking. When I asked the question, I didn't quit right away, but I couldn't come up with a good answer. I still can't. There isn't anything all that great about wine. I had cultivated a taste for it, and though I currently don't even like the smell, I know it's a powerful drug and I could develop a taste for it again if I wanted to, but I can't really argue that taste is the reason for drinking. (As far as taste goes, I actually prefer the homemade sparkling water, lemon and bitters concoctions I rely on these days. And they go equally well with food.) I don't actually like the fuzzy feeling of being drunk. Once I started trying to have spells of not drinking for a week or month at a time, I  realized I enjoyed being social more when I wasn't worrying about whether I could have another drink yet or whether anyone knew I was getting drunk. I found I am often at ease with people, which is something I never knew because I thought I needed a drink to relax and be sociable.

I think there isn't a logical answer to my question, "What's so great about wine?" because the wine story isn't based on logic. There's an enormous cultural narrative around drinking and relaxing and the adult way to have fun, and culture works on the level of story, not on logic. It's all about symbol and image and feeling, not about what makes sense. So there is a strong pull to sit on a patio on a sunny Sunday and drink with laughing friends, except I can do that without putting wine in my glass. A pretty drink in a pretty glass is a symbol of relaxation, and it can be just as strong a symbol if there's no booze in the glass. I've been working on this: taking a look at what the cultural myths are around drinking, and seeing if I can re-imagine those same stories and symbols without the alcohol. And I think I'm getting somewhere. So I can sit on a sunny patio and drink, except I'm drinking sparkling water. I can enjoy a fancy dinner in a French restaurant with San Pellegrino or Badoit instead of wine, and experience the meal as a real pleasure. I don't think it's helpful for me to pretend that this strong cultural ideal isn't there, and it doesn't get rid of it just to say, "It's a myth." We live in culture, so we live our lives through myths all the time. But culture changes, and I think this is how we change it: by seeing what the story is--the relaxing evening, or the summer festival, or the summer picnic--and reworking it to include me, or you, a person who wants to live a good life in the world we're in and who is doing that without drinking alcohol but 100% engaging in the big ongoing world. There isn't anything great about wine. It's just a powerful symbol of a whole lot of good things, and we need to rework our symbols so we can participate in life and not miss the wine one bit.

I'm not quite there yet. Sometimes, like on that sunny Sunday, I did miss wine for a while. But later that evening when I sat with my glass of sparkling water with fresh mint, lime and bitters, it was delicious, and it looked pretty in the glass, and my partner and I raised a toast to the good life we were actually living. And we didn't need wine to do that after all.

It's almost dinnertime, and I'm about to make bouillabaisse: tomato and fennel and chunks of fresh salmon and halibut and yes, a little cooking wine, because I haven't figured out how to cook without wine in some recipes. (Wine actually makes a decent cooking ingredient, so that's one good thing, maybe.) We'll have a relaxing, romantic dinner, with some more of those fresh strawberries that are still in season for dessert along with the cardamom cream we're getting good at making, and maybe then go for a walk in the late evening light. All lovely stuff, and no need to put booze in a glass to make it special. I'm looking forward to it.

Peace and joy to you, and lovely wine-free summer evenings, too (or winter nights if you're in the other hemisphere!) xo

Friday 13 June 2014

Link: Olivia Laing on women writers and alcohol

This is not a real post but I wanted to pass this along: an article by Olivia Laing in today's Guardian about women writers and alcohol. In her fantastic recent book, The Trip to Echo Spring, Laing looks at the link between writing and alcohol among six famous male writers, and she's a strong critic of the myth that drink helps people be creative. It's probably going to irritate some people, but it's sure worth a read.

Thursday 12 June 2014

One year later: 5 months sober, feeling free.

It's taken me a while to write again after my last post. And it may have sounded to some people there that I was questioning whether I had a problem at all. So to be clear: I'm not questioning that. Drinking had become a huge problem for me, and I'm just plain relieved that I stopped. Mostly I experience not drinking as a kind of freedom from a compulsion to do something that I enjoyed but that brought me much grief. It's hard to talk rationally about the wanting that goes along with drinking, and am still sometimes gripped with an overwhelming wanting that I don't associate with booze anymore but that I don't have any other easy panacea for either. But mainly, not drinking is freedom to live, and I'm very happy I made a decision to live that way and have been managing to keep the decision alive and keep living it every day.

What I want to talk about is this: the difference between June 10, 2013, and June 10, 2014. I haven't written much about my darkest days, and I won't do a drunkalogue here, but for me, that day last year was the kind of low I never want to repeat. The previous day had been a Sunday, and my work Sundays are always challenging, and they leave me tired. My answer to that used to be to drink a bottle of wine, and sometimes a good portion of another one. That day there were also some tensions regarding a person with whom I have had serious personal trouble in the past, and who is no longer in my life but is still connected to people I know, and the tendrils of that connection sometimes felt strangling to me. None of this is an excuse. It was just a crappy Sunday that ended in too much wine and not enough sleep. The Monday morning was bad. I wasn't prone to physical hangovers, just the occasional dull head that passed quickly, but I did sometimes have killer psychological hangovers, and this one was brutal. That day, I made a deal with myself. I called in sick to work, and I found a counsellor and made an appointment. I knew I had to sort out this emotional mess, and part of that was sorting out the drinking. Calling in sick due to hangover was well out of my usual normal life. No matter how much I drank, I was always OK to do what I had to do the next day, and that was one of the points of pride that helped me think the drinking was somehow not so bad. But on this particular day, I thought it would probably be better to die, and in part, I wanted to. I have been through a couple of crippling depressions. That stuff scares me. I knew I had to try to find a way to take better care of myself, or I wouldn't be able to live. This sounds melodramatic, maybe. It's hard to express how bad I felt that day. I just knew I couldn't keep living that way, and I didn't know how to change whatever I needed to change.

I didn't quit drinking that day. I can't remember now if I took a day or two off, though that seems unlikely. I probably drank some wine that night at dinner, because I absolutely never went a day without drinking unless I was doing some kind of "quit for a week" or "quit for a month" program. But the day was a turning point. After that, it was the first time I spoke with a stranger about my drinking. I didn't start out talking about wanting to quit. I wanted to drink like a reasonable person, and get a handle on my emotional life. But I remember a moment of clarity I had in an appointment with this counsellor a few weeks later. We were talking about mindfulness, and anticipation, and trying to locate that feeling of looking forward to drinking, trying to slow down and find that and see how much of it had to do with drinking and how much was anticipation. OK, that was fine. And then the counsellor said something about all the good feeling coming in the anticipation and in the first drink, and stopping at the first one, and I felt such a boiling rage I thought I might explode. How dare she stop me like that? All that anticipation wouldn't work if I was just going to have one drink. I thought the counsellor was just crazy, and far too pious for my tastes! I was so angry with her, but I knew that was irrational, so I made another deal with myself. I decided to stop seeing her for a while and think this stuff through on my own, and I also decided to stop drinking altogether for a week while I was thinking. That became a month, then 100 days, and I thought I'd do that forever but I became scared of the fear of drinking/relapse and decided to on purpose see if I could drink again after all, and I could for a while but the old patterns seemed to be coming back which lead to me quitting for a week and that's turned into 5 months and counting by now. (That's a very short version of the back and forth, but it works for what I'm talking about here.)

This year, June 10 was a Tuesday. I had the day off work and a bit of schoolwork to do. Instead of lying on the couch in the grip of suicidal despair like I had that day a year earlier, I had planned to take the day as one of quiet celebration, maybe go for a long walk and take myself out for an espresso and a piece of that gluten-free carrot cake that the local bakery makes so very well. (Such yummy cake!) But we ended up with a small domestic crisis on our hands. On the weekend, I found these odd little bites on my hands and arms, and I had some sense of what they might be, and sure enough, on Sunday night we took our bed apart and found that we had the beginnings of a bedbug infestation. I work in the downtown eastside, and I have seem bedbugs. They don't even freak me out anymore. But it's one thing to see one or two in a neutral context. It's quite another to see more than one crawling on your own bedframe. Ick. This is the stuff of nightmares for me. (In case you don't know much about these nasty creatures: they are unpleasant, but lots of what you read about them is made up of myth and urban legend, and they are not caused by slovenly housekeeping or any other moral failings I might have.) Anyway, on the weekend, on Sunday night (the same night I'm usually tired after work) we slowly dismantled our bed and trapped the bugs one by one, and then carefully removed the bed and frame, wrapped in great swaths of plastic, out to the alley so we could take it to the dump later. And we cleaned as best we could. The next day, I spoke with landlord and exterminators, and organized a heat treatment for the apartment next week. Which needs some prep. So Tuesday, instead of lounging in celebration of being sober, as planned, I got up early and spent the day going through notes and papers and throwing out what I could and emptying my desk and generally organizing stuff so that the exterminators will be able to do what they need to do next week. They will have to move every object in the apartment in order to make sure the heat gets into all the cracks and crannies, so I couldn't have towers of books and papers related to projects I'm working on in my study space. The organizing doesn't sound like much, but I had been putting it off and it took most of the day, and then there was still the schoolwork, so I worked from 7AM till midnight and there was no long walk and cake for me that day.

But the point isn't to complain about blood eating critters. It's that, being sober, I didn't treat it as a big crisis. I didn't cry or even complain much, and I didn't lose heart in the face of the massive task. I don't like the feeling of living in a place that probably still has some bugs or eggs that might hatch. We don't have a bed right now so we're sleeping on a very narrow foam mattress. We threw away the pillows and duvet (the heat treatment would probably have saved them but my partner and I agreed that we could never find those objects cosy again) and we don't want to replace any of that until after the exterminators do their work for fear of the critters still being here (some certainly are) and getting into the new bedding, so we're using towels in pillowcases as pillows and an old couch throw as a blanket. It's like camping, but without the smell of pine trees or the sound of crashing waves or the wonder that food always tastes better outdoors. Still, we're fine.

That's a lot of detail about what is really a small crisis. But it matters to me, because I'm learning that these things are so much easier to deal with sober. Tuesday, I was mostly just grateful that I was taking the time to get that stuff done, because I had to sooner or later. Now my study space (aka the living room) is liveable again. And it's still June. We have been eating plenty of summer salads with fresh herbs, and fresh strawberries with cardamom-infused whipping cream (tasty stuff!!) and walking out to enjoy the warm, light evenings. I'm doing the work I need to do in this last week of classes, and then I'm done this degree. Last week I finished a paper and did a conference presentation and spent a few days at a big conference, talking with interesting people about these ideas I care about so much. It was exhausting and fun, and facing a wee critter crisis afterwards didn't take away any of that.

Yesterday, I was reading an interview Foucault gave not long before he died in which he talks about care for the self as a way of practicing freedom, and I felt like he was speaking directly to me. It made me laugh. Like many people, I have often found a lot of philosophy to be completely impenetrable, and I generally use "Foucault" as shorthand to mean, "all that egghead stuff that I don't understand and don't much trust." So it was a bit of a shock to find, in plain English, the clear thoughts of a man who was going to die soon and who knew it, talking about how there is freedom everywhere and how finding a way to care for the self is a way to being free and participating in social relations that support freedom. OK, maybe now I sound like an egghead. I'm not going to try to summarize the interview here, because I can't. I'm just glad I read it, and I'm very happy to be participating in this sober way of living, in which I am finding a freedom I didn't know I was missing.

Despite the bloodsuckers and some little trials these days, I'm really grateful for the way I'm living now. Thanks to all of you here with me figuring out how to keep on living it. Peace and joy to you, and freedom too. And love. xo

Monday 26 May 2014

20 weeks, no answers

Sometimes I wish I weren't such a mess of complications.

Last week I had a few days of really (really really really a lot!!!) wanting to drink. I didn't drink, though. So that's the short version of this post.

Instead, I rode my bike, had coffee and tiramisu, and bought the perfect pair of summer walking sandals. Later I raged and cried and said--out loud, to my partner--that it wasn't fair, I didn't want to be an alcoholic or an addict or whatever the hell I called it, and if I was one I wasn't even really good at it because I'd never had big dramatic consequences because of drinking and now I don't have big dramatic life changes and maybe I'm just too self-absorbed and need to get over myself and get over all this sober bullshit. And I said I probably would have gone out and bought wine but I knew that I would not just drink a glass or so and sooner or later I would have too much too often and feel like crap and it just wouldn't work for me but dammit I just don't know what to do about it all. And then after a while I washed my face and pressed a cold cloth to my swollen red eyes, and I did the dishes because what a relief to do something practical after all that raging and crying. And then we had a cup of herbal tea and went to bed.

After a couple of days, I felt a bit better. Sort of. Saturday night after work, I rode my bike past the wine store and was amazed that I used to always stop for a bottle of rosé on the way home. I didn't want to do that anymore. I didn't see the appeal of spending the money and drinking too much and heading to work the next day with a headache and not enough sleep. But then the next day I had a headache anyway and a dull mind and I felt hungover, and I wondered what was so great about not having wine if I was already going to feel awful the next day.

The thing is, I don't really want wine anymore. But I don't know what it is I do want.

Sometimes I love reading all about how people feel better after getting sober, or looking at what they do to help themselves. But so much of it grates on me, and I just can't do a lot of the things these smart people seem able to do. I don't want to be told that I need to blow my ego to smithereens, because years ago I scraped myself back from a long depressive space and I had to build me an ego in order to cope with the world, and I have to pay attention somehow to what I feel and think, not just steamroller over that in taking up some collective wisdom, and trying to pay attention to that is what I mean by ego and I know it's no good for me to squash that down, despite the supposedly wise words of the addiction experts and meditation experts.

There are no answers.

Last week I read Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska. It's a good book. Bydlowska writes well, and I was brought into the whole spiral of drinking along with her. I admire her honesty, because she's part of the stuffy Toronto lit scene that wonders (out loud in printed book reviews in national media) whether such personal stories are best hidden, especially when they involve the less than perfect accounts of their own. Having read her story, I love her, and I wish her well. I actually read the book in a sitting, if you can call going to bed early and reading till 2AM a sitting. (A lying?) But afterwards, I thought I probably shouldn't have read it just now. I felt oddly left out. I don't have kids, and I didn't do the awful things she writes so well about having done, and a day or so later, I was left thinking that there are "real addicts" with real problems and my alcoholic-lite problems were too petty to pay any attention to. At the same time, in a class I'm taking, I read about a guy who, after a long spell of keeping sober, drank multiple 40 ounce bottles of whiskey, and again I thought, "I'm not like that. I couldn't do that if I tried." And I don't want anyone to come at me with what the AAers call the "not yets." I haven't done that, and I am reasonably sure I couldn't because I don't have the physical constitution for it. I would simply throw up or fall asleep before getting that far along.

I'm not saying I'm better than these people. It just feels like I'm dealing with a different problem. All I did was spend too much money on wine and drink too much wine and occasionally be a bit embarrassing. Sometimes I did things like hosting a dinner party and leaving at 11 or so to go to sleep because I'd had too much to drink and wanted to lie down, but I've been leaving parties early (or late) my whole life and no one cared and the cops weren't involved and even my partner took a lot of convincing that I really had a problem, and he's seen me through all this. What I'm saying is, sometimes all the information about where people got to with their drinking problems makes me feel like my problems are too small to matter. And then the people who say I would have got there eventually are relying on the accepted wisdom that alcoholism is a progressive brain disease, except that the people who study brains and diseases are far from convinced that this is a helpful way to describe whatever addiction is. If it works for you, it's a good story to tell, but I can't buy into it so there's no comfort in that story for me.

And I don't believe that there is some authentic, pure and lovely me hidden on the inside of all this dross, and that if only I do the right things I will chip away what Ginsberg calls my "skin of grime" and my radiant self will shine through. That's way too romantic for my take on life. I think the drinking person I was is just as much me as this not drinking person, and all this "old self" and "new self" talk seems like just another way of buying into the contemporary therapy culture that tells us to buff and shine up our souls like they are old wood floors that would gleam and even be admired if only we'd do the work. I don't know about all that. I don't trust this self-improvement stuff. It looks shallow. And I do not want to be shallow.

So what's left that's not shallow? Going outside. That's not shallow. Poetry isn't, though for some reason I'm not slowing down to read enough of it these days. (Jesus, please say I have't become one of those people who writes "read more poetry" on a sticky note in the hopes that sticky notes cause behavioural changes. Shoot me now.) OK, back to what's not shallow. Love. Real connection with people. Stories. Food. (Maybe eating good food is hedonistic, but I think it's not shallow, so I'll let that one in.)

The other day I was talking with a professor about some research I'm doing, and I said I love the confusion of doing qualitative research because I don't believe the pat answers that so many people come up with anyway, and other people's certainty just makes me poke holes in their arguments and then I'm left with nothing, but at least when I'm uncertain there's hope that I might learn something. It's a testament to this wonderful woman that she understood what I was saying and said encouraging things to me. Maybe I need to have the same take on this getting sober thing. I'm not planning to go back to drinking, because when I drank, I ended up a bit miserable, and I don't know how to do it any other way. So no drinking for me. But I don't really have any way of understanding what I'm doing that's clear to me. I'm accepting the confusion and inconsistencies of this big mess of stuff that is me, and I guess that's all I've got right now. I wish I could sign on to a program and get on some straight road to the truth and light, but I guess I don't think that's how it's going to go for me.

Maybe I'll just go for a walk instead. It's clouding over, but I think it's still sunny out there.

If you really did plough through all my confusion and ranting here, many thanks. It's a bit of a mess in here these days, but I appreciate your your company just the same. Peace and joy to you, and maybe some for me too.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Equanimity (and a barking dog)

The corner in front of my workplace is a strange kind of hangout. People buy and sell all manner of drugs, and it looks pretty sketchy. But not everyone there is buying or selling. Many people are just chatting with friends, having a smoke, or waiting for the bus. A couple of days ago, just as I arrived at work and was hopping off my bike, a woman careened through the intersection on a bike, flailing one arm and screaming wildly. I figured she was high, or drunk, or something, but of course I couldn't tell, and she didn't stick around*. The scream was chilling, and everyone looked to see what was going on. One guy on the corner, who appeared to be in the middle of a transaction of some sort, had a pit bull on a leash, and the dog went into a frenzy, straining at the leash, barking and growling. I like dogs, but I'm often nervous around them. With the woman screaming as she rode past on one side of me and the barking dog way too close on the other, I was terrified. I stood holding my bike, shaking all over. I had to keep walking to get to the door, but that meant walking past the dog, and I simply couldn't do it. After a moment, I saw a guy who comes into the library in the throng of people, so I managed to call out, "Hey man, can you stand between me and the dog so I can get to work?" The dog owner made the usual reassurances about the dog being friendly, but I'm never able to take any comfort in that just when I get dog-scared. Still, I quickly explained that I'm nervous around dogs, and he was OK with that. The other guy stood between me and the frenzied dog and started cracking jokes: "You think that monkey on your back is trouble? I got a pit bull on my leg? Now that's trouble!" We all laughed. The screaming woman was a block away by now, the dog was starting to calm down, and the joke broke enough tension that everyone went back to what they were doing. I stopped shaking enough to walk past the dog, and I thanked the guy and went to work.

I have this kind of big reaction to fear sometimes. I freeze and shake. Often I cry. It can happen when I break a dish, or drop anything that clangs or bangs. Loud sounds and sudden movements set me off. Usually, any kind of big fright stays with me for a long time. Once I'm shaken, it can take me days to get back to myself. But that morning, once I tucked my bike indoors are started work, I forgot all about it. I only noticed this a day later when I thought of telling my partner the funny line about the pit pull and I had to tell the whole story to make it make sense.

This is new to me. But it got me thinking. The other day, I was writing about rage. It's true. I've been feeling some penetrating anger, which is familiar and strange and unnerving, all at the same time. But here's the other side of it: these days, those things pass more quickly. I get sad, or frightened, or enraged, yes. But then I go on, genuinely not caught in those extreme moments. I've always been subject to big emotional ups and downs, though I've never been good at recognizing the nuance of feeling within them. I guess I've often been scared by the big fears and sadnesses, because they did seem to hang on tight once they showed up. Being sober and working on being more present has helped me let those feelings pass through. Of all the good things about being sober, this is probably the most amazing. No, I'm not always like this. Sometimes I still rail for days about small things and fret what looks like silly details, and I still sometimes want to hang onto happy moments as if there will never be another one in my life. But it's getting better. I'm more emotional, but I'm much less caught in it, and being less caught allows be to be more emotional, since no matter how good or bad it is, it's not going to last forever.

(*I want to add, I don't mean to sound insensitive to the plight of the woman who set off the dog in the first place. I don't know what happened to her, and I won't. I hope she's OK, but I doubt that she is. I work in a part of the city that has way too much poverty and addiction and trauma, though it also has a lot of warmth and community and humour. It's rough, but it's lovely there, too. Witnessing misery is hard for everyone. I'm neither sentimental about it nor immune to it. Sometimes the stories are so big that my own seems small, but I am living my life, not someone else's. When I can stay present, I am better able to help the people around me, and that's worth a lot to me. Trying to be aware of the world around me at work without getting dragged down by it is always a challenge, but that's a topic for a separate post, I think.)

Now I'm off to read a big chunk of text for class tomorrow, and if I skip the laundry for another day, I still have time for a sunny afternoon walk in the park. Thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you, and equanimity, too.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Acceptance and rage

I've been quiet for a couple of weeks over here. I've started classes again and I'm back to my regular work schedule. And I was avoiding writing, because I didn't know what to think about what's going on with me these days.

With this sober gig, I'm well into feeling things I haven't in a long time. And the lovely parts are fine. Watching the crow on the building outside my window, prancing back and forth cawing like a politician stumping for votes, makes me laugh. It makes me love the world. Or noticing the full soft canopy of green leaves, feeling the sun on my arms or the soft rain on my face when I'm biking to school or to work. That's all good stuff. I love being awake enough to be in that. But I have pockets of rage and despair that are all out of whack with whatever is going on in the situation, and I'm just sitting through those, sometimes trying to figure out what's up with all that and sometimes just sleeping off the exhausting after-effects. Rage. Man, I didn't have any idea how angry I am, or how often I'm angry.

The other day, I was in a school meeting with a group of women and the conversation turned to how people had spent the time between semesters. It quickly turned into what to me seemed a competition, in which a few of the women spoke of how they have trouble taking time off because they feel guilty, and how that guilt is good because you have to produce and the guilt will keep you working and keep up that production. I said that sounded ridiculously unhealthy, that no one could do good work without taking breaks, but my voice was drowned out in the chorus of supposedly amusing examples of obsession and guilt and reassurances all around that it was all part of the academic life. I tell you, I was angry. I had that awful feeling where, at the same time, I felt like crying, and I also felt like spinning around the room smashing glasses and computers and whatever smashable object I could get my hands on. It's disconcerting to sit quietly while feeling this smashing rage. It scares me a bit. I have never, not once in my life, actually trashed a room, and I've never been around anyone who does it, so the strength of it all is weird. But the feeling isn't unfamiliar, now that I recognize it.

At times like this, I don't quite know what I'm so angry about. Part of it is what seems like stupidity among really smart people who are at least sometimes critical thinkers, that they think running themselves into the ground "to produce" makes any sense at all. Or that it's amusing. Part is rage, because pandering to the guilt and production thing only feeds the beast, and makes that foolish busy-ness necessary in the first place, and that excludes people who are smart and have a lot to offer and whose voices need to be heard, but either don't have the physical stamina or they have kids or jobs or other real-life commitments and they can't afford the luxury of academic obsession. (Or worse, they do all that, and trying to do it all, all the time, is part of what's toxic in our achievement culture.) Part of what's going on is I'm angry because I was trying to say that's not the only way to do this, and there was no room for my voice in that slice of conversation, and I guess that feeling of having my experience paved over by people who know "the one true path" has always enraged me.

But you know what? I spoke with one person later (who hadn't said much at the time but who often does avoid sleep and other healthy habits in order to get work done) and she didn't even remember that part of the conversation until I prompted her. It certainly wasn't the point of the conversation. So at the same time, I know my rage is real and it's about something, but it's way (way way way) out of proportion to what's happening at the moment.

I'll give another example, because I think it might make it more clear how this furious anger I'm talking about is disproportionate to the situation, even if it's not entirely misguided. I have been reading Tara Brach's "Radical Acceptance," a book that combines some Buddhist ideas about acceptance and meditation with some standard Western self-psychology. A lot of the book is great, though I have some deep criticism of the author's uncritical adoption of some of Western psychology. But at times, I had that same feeling of utter rage at the author! I was somewhat floored by that, and kind of put it down to a mood at first, but I felt it over and over throughout the book, no matter how often I set the book aside and came back when I was calm and peaceful. Sometimes I hated her, or wanted to shout at her, with all her meditative wisdom and anecdotes about her own obsessions or her patients' problems. What's up with that?

I'm not sure. Yes, I'll admit, I have some inchoate anger going on. I'm paying attention to it, and I'm starting to know what it feels like in my body, so that's new to me and, after decades of not being able to connect body sensation with emotion, I'm grateful for getting to know that feeling, no matter how awful it is. Also, it's no coincidence that some of this rage, and both my examples, are brought on my women I admire who are uncritically adopting what to me seems the most toxic, dehumanizing achievement-orientation of our culture. I'm angry with them for seeming to see success as worth more than anything else, even though, they probably don't really think that way. And I'm angry at our culture for bringing us all to value that achievement above all when we should value the lives of these great women and find ways that they can do the good work they want without grinding themselves down, without seeing family and life and work as something you trade off, one against the other.

And yes, I know this has a whole lot to do with me personally. Probably its this: I'm afraid that I can't find a way to do good interesting work without grinding myself into the ground. I don't fare well without enough rest and sleep (see: those are two separate categories for me!) and time to read for pleasure and eat well and ride my bike and love my partner and do fun things and live in the world, the whole big world. I am a bit afraid of cracking up, because I've cracked up before when I tried to do interesting stuff. But opting out into the slow life doesn't seem to work for me either, because I'm interested, really bloody interested in the ideas I'm studying, and after years of my own private reading and writing, I found that I wanted to be around people who were also interested and reading that kind of thing and working on it, and doing it on my own wasn't going to be enough for me. For all our romantic ideals about the solitary scholar, thinking really is something that happens in a community of books and teachers and other thinkers and writers, past, present and future.

OK, that sounded like a bit of a rant, but maybe I'm getting at something here. I think this might be a longish post that reads more like therapy for me than anything worth saying to someone else. But this is the stuff I really need to figure out. I've spent years drinking when I was stressed or angry. It's more than a bit scary to find that, sober, I'm dealing with more of a bonfire than the occasional cosy campfire.

But there's some comfort in all this, too. A few years ago, the Dalai Lama was in town and someone got me a ticket to go hear him talk. I went, though up to that day I had actually strongly disliked the Dalai Lama. I thought he was just a kind of rock star royalty born into his position and treated like a god, privileged beyond anything a normal mortal could imagine. I thought he was all show. At the event, he was interviewed by Maria Shriver, and I have to say I came away from that event loving both of them! The Dalai Lama kept smiling and eluding her questions--exactly the kind of thing that I disliked--and Maria Shriver called him on that. She called out the Dalai Lama! Sitting in the audience that day, I was kind of stunned. She said something to the effect of this: look, you're sitting there smiling and talking about peace and you won't give me a straight answer about anything I'm asking, but I'm here to talk to you and these people came her to listen and what I want to know is, how can we just accept all this? How can we not be angry when there's so much wrong with the world and we can see what's wrong, and if we just accept it all peacefully we'll never change anything. And then the Dalai Lama took her question seriously. He answered, no, I don't think you must never be angry. It makes sense to be angry. If you look at the world, the way we live, how we treat each other and the planet and all of life, we must be angry. And he said anger is good! It can be the source of the energy we need to make the changes we need to make. He explained that his teachings meant not getting caught in the anger itself, because that's where the danger lies. But feeling angry is good, and necessary, and it can drive some much needed change.

I'm nowhere near as enlightened as all that. And I don't think all my rage is rational. But I think feeling a deep rage, even when it's out of proportion to the moment, might not be so crazy after all. I'm not all that sure yet what's up with it, but it's not completely irrational to me anymore. And that's a start. I'm a week or so past four months sober, and I know that for me, being sober has let me open up to feeling what's going on, and feeling is the only way through it. It's not always easy, this sober gig. But I think it's worth the work.

Now I'm off to ride my bike and meet some coworkers for a tea and cake sendoff. I think the rage will lay low for the afternoon. If you're still here, thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you, and I guess rage too if rage is what the situation brings you. Let's just try to feel it without staying stuck in it.

Saturday 3 May 2014

Bike trip, old friends, sunshine--sober!

My partner and I just took a bike trip to a pretty little island city I used to live in. We spent four sunny days away from work and school, biking and walking and eating in restaurants, hanging out in cafes and bookstores, visiting old friends. I'm back at work today, but I'm pretty darn relaxed.

This was my first sober vacation (other than a visit with my partner's family) since I quit drinking, and I'm amazed at how lovely it is to travel without drinking. I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but it's true! We went to some of my favourite restaurants, places I've gone for years and would never have imagined going without ordering wine, and I can honestly say the meals were better for not having wine with them. It's the same old story as other sober people tell, but it's still fresh and new to me: it's such a relief, not thinking about when we can have wine,obsessing about wine, wondering about having more wine.The only wine worry was remembering to reassure my partner to order some for himself! He's so considerate that he would probably just leave off if he thought it might bother me. I end up looking at wine menus with him, thinking about which wine would go with which food, and that's a big part of the fun anyway. I found myself really enjoying the meals, lingering over them just as we would have if we were drinking a bottle of wine. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water and a wine glass for the nice dinners, so I could keep refilling the glass, as the sipping and pouring seems to be part of the dining ritual I enjoy. After dinner we ordered espresso and dessert because it felt like a celebratory thing to do. I didn't used to be much of a dessert eater--I wonder whether desserts just don't taste as good when you're drinking--but I found myself enjoying the coffee and dessert as much as the main courses. And after dinner each night, we went for a long walk, enjoying the warm weather and clear nights.

I know none of  this sounds exciting. But the trip wasn't about excitement. I wanted a break for a few days--just eat, read, walk, and bike--and that's exactly what we did. On the last evening, when we went for a long walk along the ocean, I felt like an old world I'd forgotten was coming back to me. I don't know when I started drinking too much, but walking at night used to be one of my great pleasures, and it was glorious to reclaim it. I was trying to think what we would have been doing if I were drinking, and maybe much of it would have been the same, but I would have been fuzzier, less able to enjoy those lovely moments.

While we were there, I told two old friends I'd quit drinking for good. One I'd talked to in December, when I'd quit for a few months and then started again, so she was a bit surprised, but very curious. I explained that I felt a lot better not drinking, and that I preferred being sober. But then when we talked more, I realized I'd either misrepresented myself or she'd misinterpreted, because she was saying it was interesting that I had started to feel "the pull" of being sober more than "the pull" of drinking. That didn't sound quite right to me--it made it seem like I was just longing to be sober, or that it had all been easy of unconflicted or something, so I tried to be more clear: I had been drinking too much, and it wasn't good for me, and it was hard to quit but I did and I felt better and I was glad I had done it. She wondered what was better, and that's kind of hard to explain: I said I liked being more clear, feeling more and being in the world more, though I admitted that was also the hard part. Then she wanted to know whether I missed that feeling you get when you drink just the right amount of wine, when you feel relaxed and creative (and she went on about that feeling for a while, but I won't go on about it here) and I realized, and said, that I really don't miss it, because I didn't really have it much lately. Eventually it had been too fleeting, that moment when I'd had enough to drink, and it had come at too high a cost to me. She's an old and very dear friend, and it was helpful to talk this all through with someone I know so well. After a bit we went back to the main group conversation, but not before she hugged me and said she was very proud of me. I'm surprised how much that meant to me.

The other conversation was on the phone with another old friend, when we were trying to figure out where to meet. A pub seemed the best option, but I didn't want it to be awkward once we arrived and I ordered soda water. (We have enjoyed many long conversations over much wine and beer over the years.) He just said, "Good for you. I do that once in a while but I never manage it for very long," or something like that. We had a brief, amusing conversation about drinking versus not, and then, next day at the pub, it turned out he'd forgotten about it for a moment. There was nothing awkward, just good friends enjoying each other's company, some drinking, some not.

It's starting to feel normal, this not drinking. I do all the same things, but they don't involve alcohol. It seems to me I feel more feelings and see colours more brightly. I'm so much more present moment to moment. Just looking at the green of the new leaves blows me away sometimes. It's like that. And it's all a lot harder sometimes, too, I guess because so many things are more intense and that can be exhausting. But you know what? I'll take it, harder or not, and when I'm exhausted, that's OK. Everyone gets tired sometimes. Then you just rest, and you feel better. It's just normal.

That's me this week. No big insights or crises, just lots of outdoors and old friends and enjoying the good life, sober. Hooray for that!

If you're still reading, many thanks. I appreciate your company. Peace and joy to you. I hope you're enjoying some good, normal, sober life, too!