Tuesday 15 December 2015

Round 3, Day 90: Joy. (And a great book!)

I'm no humbug, but I have not generally loved the festive season the way some seem to do. My family is very far away, and when I've visited at Christmas it's always been a fraught sort of affair. I stopped trying to make that work a long time ago. I've attended my fair share of orphan Christmas events, and I've been invited to join many people's family festivities over the years, but I find myself filled with sadness at many such events. For a number of years, I worked in a community centre and I usually took many of the holiday shifts, which was a good way to escape a certain part of the festive season, and at the same time a sway to participate in something that was usually mostly fun. Along with this, I've been with my husband for the past five Christmases, and we have developed our own very quiet Christmas tradition, which usually means a good meal by ourselves and a long walk or bike ride. A few days after Christmas we visit his parents, and that's always lovely.

I know that might sound sad, but the fact is, I have managed to find a peaceful enough way to get through Christmas, ducking a lot of obligatory cheer that would otherwise have rendered me feeling lonely and blue. And I have liked the pause that happens, when a lot of the world stops doing the usual thing, and there is actually time to slow down and enjoy the company of people I love.

So the other evening, we went to an early solstice concert. The music was beautiful: contemporary arrangements of viola, harp, piano, and vocals, and short pieces were interspersed with poetry readings, all somehow celebrating the sadness and beauty of this dark time of year. Such a wonderful, beautiful show! The last piece was a solstice carol performed by the whole ensemble (which included the composer) and the audience was invited to join in on the chorus, which we sang in a round. By the end, my face was streaming with tears and I felt filled with love for the composers, performers, poets, readers, and everyone in the room who had come together for what seemed to me a perfect way to acknowledge the season. At the end of the show, the organizer came across the room to give me a great large hug. He said part way through the show, he saw me wiping my eyes, and he was wiping his eyes, and seeing me weep made him weep even harder, and as the show ended and we all sang together and my face streamed with tears, his did too, and he told me he sang that carol directly to me. And then we hugged and cried about how beautiful it all was.

Throughout all this, I was sober. This event is part of a music series at which wine is served, and it has been one of the hardest places for me to resist drinking. Everyone always looks elegant and relaxed, and the music is always wonderful, and joining in on all this seemed always to involve joining the drinking. The fact that afterward I would go home and drink too much wine was always invisible in the moment. The past few years I have attended many of these events, and I have learned to sip a Perrier and enjoy the music and accept feeling a little teeny bit left out by not being able to drink. So the other evening, when I felt overcome with the beauty of the evening and my own joy in being fully part of it, it was only later that I realized that wine (or lack of wine) had nothing to do with the experience for me. I had only briefly missed having some, and once the show started I was absolutely swept away into the experience, and no drink would have made that any better. And though I was weeping publicly, I wasn't worried about being drunk and embarrassed! I was just happy to be part of it all. Sober.

Other than that, this past week I have attended several holiday functions, and I have enjoyed myself. I get the occasional pang, but I don't feel a steady longing to drink, and I'm greatly relieved about that. When I get these pangs though, I'm pretty honest about them. I don't pretend that booze is nothing, or that there's no pleasure in drinking, or that there is no camaraderie that's brought about by drinking with people, because I think I would be lying to myself to say any of these things. Instead I sometimes wail or cry and I acknowledge that I may be missing out somewhat. But I also remember the darkness that comes over me when I drink too much, and how hard it has been to shake that darkness yet again. And I think about how happy I have been these days--a little too busy and in uncomfortable flux in part of my life and insanely stressed in some ways, yes. Still, I'm happy. And I don't think I have ever felt this kind of happiness when I've been drinking. I've certainly never been able to live in feeling something like this, something that I think is probably what people talk about when they use the word "joy."

So that's where I am on day 90 of my third serious go at not drinking. In many ways the actual not drinking is mostly easy now, as it's been a habit most for the past 2 1/2 years. But I'm still trying to find my way with how I keep on with it. Despite my recent post about struggling at meetings sometimes, I have been attending once a week, and I get something there. I started reading a great book, Sobering Wisdom: Philosophical Explorations of Twelve Step Spirituality, an edited volume of philosophy essays on aspects of the twelve steps, compiled by philosophers Jerome A. Miller and Nicholas Plants. I know many people find a great deal of solace in the twelve steps, and in the AA program. I know that I need a spiritual way ahead if I am going to keep on this sober path, and I know that this is the right path for me, though I can so easily lose my way here. But I'm kind of an egghead, and I like to think about things, and sometimes in the AA and twelve step world (in person and online) intellectual curiosity about how the whole thing works isn't welcomed. I get that for some people thinking can stand in for doing, and coming up with reasons why something is wrong can prevent one from trying something. You've probably seen me do that, and maybe you do it too. So I figured the book would be a fine companion to my own explorations. And as it's written by a bunch or philosophers, it's not going to tell me that my problem is I think too much! I'm going to read it slowly and give it a proper review in January, but I thought I'd mention it now in case any other sober egghead types want to get themselves a thoughtful take on thinking through these ideas. (Maybe as an early sober Christmas gift for yourself? That's what I did.)

That's about all I have for now. Thanks for walking along with me here as we live through these long dark nights and wait for the light to come round again. Wishing you all peace and joy.

Monday 7 December 2015

Round 3, Day 82: I don't know my way about, but I know I'm here.

Almost 12 weeks into this round of quitting drinking, and I'm still here and still sober. Maybe I shouldn't be calling it a "round", as though I'm planning to start up drinking again at the end of it. I'm not. When I count my days like that, what I'm really doing is acknowledging to myself (and to anyone who wants to know, I guess) that I was sober for four months and then 16 months, and that I only drank for two months and then four months in between there. So while I've been sober now for 82 days in a row, I don't disavow the fact that I have been sober for 23 of the past 29 months. To me, that's pretty darn good, and I'm reminding myself to take full credit for that.

Why all this counting? Well, I think it's because getting sober is so influenced by a certain kind of day-counting, and people sometimes talk about where they are as though all the back and forth of sorting things out isn't part of the process, as if only the most recent stretch of sober days in a row counts, somehow. That hasn't been my experience. For me, the back and forth of trying to quit have been a real, important part of quitting. I sometimes date events by "that time in 2010 I quit drinking for a month" or "back when I was taking a heavy course-load and quit drinking for three months" or even "that time I biked 25 km back and forth to work and got down to one glass of wine a day most days." I have been increasingly aware that drink was a problem, and I have been trying (sometimes on and off) to address that problem since 2002. For me, drinking got tangled up with deep depressions, but for years I didn't even know the drink thing might be a problem, or related to depression in any serious way. OK, so now I know. It is related. When I drink, sooner or later I drink too much, and sooner or later I get depressed. And my friends, let me tell you, that sucks!

I used to be what is sometimes non-technically called "crazy." (No disrespect intended, to me or anyone else. I'm drawing on a way of talking adopted by some people who reject a lot of the diagnostic language and all that goes with it. Irit Shimrat's great book, Call Me Crazy, is a good source on this refreshing way of thinking, and a great read besides.) For a few years I went through several serious psychiatric crises, and I live with what I think is a healthy small amount of terror that I may go crazy again. Putting my life back together after each crisis was a lot of work, and each time there are some things (friends, jobs, apartments, furniture, favourite red pants, time) that are gone for good. These days I'm not so crazy. I am not medicated, as drugs don't work solve anything for me, and most of what gets called help doesn't seem to help me much either. But I have learned how to live with however it is that I am, and I live pretty darn OK. Among what counts as "normal," I pass. And I don't give away my details unless I see someone else struggling. There's a certain amount of feeling left out that happens with passing as normal in a world that pays close attention to the normal and the diagnostic categories. (I study psychology, so I'm kind of in the thick of this worldview. Here's to resistance, I say!) I'm mostly used to that. But I don't need to accentuate it further. Moving towards belonging, not towards alienation, that's important to me. Doesn't come easy, but it matters.

Now that I see clearly that the drink is linked to a bad state of mind for me, and I see that, when I return to drinking, I have tons of fun for a while but then I fall into the pit again, I have decided that it makes sense for me not to drink. To support my decision, I've been trying to go to AA, but it hasn't felt like a good fit for me. I know I wrote a few weeks ago that I was trying it, and I was being patient. I have been, and I am. But I have trouble there. I react badly to the often implicit sexism, and the group dynamics often remind me of the worst parts of being a teenager. I don't identify as "alcoholic," any more than I identify as "major depressive" or "insert-diagnosis-here-ic." I know that in mental health, recovery communities are moving away from that kind of language, aiming to see the full person and not just the problem, disease, or diagnosis, whatever it is. (Makes me think of a poem I love, Ginsberg's Sunflower Sutra, in which the speaker calls out, "We're not our skin of grime!" Oh how much I love that poem!) I'm trying to figure out how to live well, and how to keep this resolve not to drink alive enough that it's supportive of who I want to be, but not so front and centre that it defines or consumes me. Attending AA meetings makes me feel, simultaneously, that the drink problem defines me, and that my version of the problem isn't bad enough anyway. So it's just another group to which I don't quite belong. Frankly, I'm not sure that's doing me much good.

This morning, I read a great post at NoMoreSally about getting sober as a kind of being an adult and getting on with life. She speaks to a lot of what I'm talking about here. It's food for thought, that's for sure.

In his wonderful though often impenetrable Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein said, "a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don't know my way about'" (PI 123). That seems to be a good take on my problem. OK, now I don't drink. But how do I live? 

This isn't a post with answers. I'm finding my way, and I have more questions than anything else. I am often lost. At the same time, I continue to feel a fierce aversion to certainties about any of this. Some people will say, "Just don't drink," and the longer you are sober, the better life gets. That hasn't quite been true for me in the past. Sober was and is a good start, but it remains only a start. I need something else. I don't quite know what that something else is, and I suppose my gut feeling is that it's no one thing. I have a better sense of what I am doing in my academic work, and that's helpful. My husband is fantastic. I spend too much time on my own, but so does every grad student I know, and I'm working on changing that. I'm doing lots of other stuff too, but by now this post is long enough. Maybe all this is just to say I am here, trudging along like everyone else: sober, living, confused, but here. And that's just fine.

If you're still here, thanks for reading and walking along with me! Wishing you peace and joy on this rainy grey December west coast day. 

(* Post edited to add: something wacky is happening to the font here and I have to keep resetting it to "normal," but it keeps reverting to several typefaces and font sizes. Which I know is funny. But sorry if it makes the rambling post even harder to read!)

Monday 16 November 2015

Round 3, Day 61: Patience, trust, and other (sober) people.

I've been settling into being sober in what feels like a different way than I had in the past, and I want to write a little bit about it, because I'm surprised. The short version of all this is, nearly nine weeks into being sober this time, I'm doing well.

The first major difference I see is that I am more patient. It's not that I know what I'm doing with this getting sober gig. I just know that drinking stopped working, and my previous stints at getting sober both ended when I began to really dislike all the emphasis on self that the sober world seemed to require. I still don't like that emphasis. But I don't know what else to do, so I am trying some different things to see how they go.

One thing that's sort of different is that I have started to go to meetings. I did this a few times before, so it's not exactly new, but I'm trying again. And that's where the patience comes in. I go just to sit and listen to what people say. I don't ask myself to plunge in and make new friends or get a sponsor or even talk to anyone most of the time. (I have, to date this time around, spoken to one person, briefly. It was OK.) I have to confess, I have been a little bitter about how meetings have gone in the past, and I still have some of that. People seem to know each other, and they smile and hug each other, and no one is actually all that friendly to me. I have a sense that if I burst into sobs and wailed, "someone help me," then someone would, but that's not going to happen, because it's just not how I am experiencing my need for help. It's not that I'm all that together, and I understand that in being vulnerable you have to give up something, but I simply don't know what it is I have to give up or do differently in order to make some of that famous connection with people in these places. The other day at a meeting, someone spoke about exactly that. He said he never did have that feeling of being part of some big thing when he came to meetings, and a lot of the language and practices left him somewhat alienated, and because of that he sort of thought it might never work out for him, that maybe he was never going to recover, or maybe he didn't deserve to. But he kept going, and he said it was like a very slow educational process as opposed to a gigantic spiritual awakening. Eventually, though, he said he did slowly change, in a way that suited who he was and felt intellectually honest to him. Well that really spoke to me! I have been trying to trust that just sitting and listening and being patient is part of some process, even if I don't know what the process is or how it works.

Another related thing I am slightly bitter about, if that's the right way to put is, is that the kind of trouble I run into isn't what most of what's on offer seems to be designed around. There seems to be a lot of help available for people who struggle with cravings and fight the urge to pick up a drink on a regular basis. (I know that's no easy place to be, so there's no sense in which I mean to sound as though I think anyone else has it easy. If what I say sounds that way, it's not at all what I mean.) My struggle is more cerebral, but it's no less a struggle for all that. If I decide not to drink on a day, I more or less know I can do that. Where I struggle is to keep my decision fixed. Now some might say I am deluding myself into thinking that's anything other than a different way of falling into a craving. But I think it is different, because I simply can't address the problem at the level of craving. I do need to keep myself focused on my decision how how to hold onto that resolve not to drink, and I don't always know how to get help with holding onto that focus. Before, when I drank after being sober I always did wait a while and think it through and still come to the decision that it was the best thing for me to do. It probably wasn't, but the problem wasn't one of caving to an impulse. In a way that's scarier, though, because it means in some important ways I can't trust my own reasoning, though I can't possible even live if I don't trust my ability to reason. I'm not struggling with that these days, but I know if I don't make some changes, it will likely come back. The trick is, I don't really know yet what those changes are. Despite all this not knowing, even in this, I feel a kind of patience,  a trust that I am on the right road and doing fine and that's enough for now.

One thing I am changing is some important stuff about my academic work. I'll talk about that more another time. But for now I want to say I feel I have managed to make some decisions, and make them from deep within being the person I am. I was able to see that, as I explained it to my husband, one way lay black death and one way lay green sprouting life, and I decided to move toward the life, even if it means making big changes. If that sounds fey, sorry! What I mean to say is that I have more of a sense of knowing who I am, and I was able to act in that knowledge, and that's utterly new to me. I am grateful for that, and I am staying with doing all the things that got me there.

OK, so I thought this was going to be a cheery and upbeat post, and I see that it may sound somewhat bleak! Dang. I don't actually feel bleak. After the first month or so of the devastating flatness that I seem to always feel at first after quitting (3x now I am starting to know a pattern), I feel hopeful. I am less likely to get my back up when someone tells me with absolute certainty that they did something or other and I should do exactly that. I have some trust that I am finding my own way through this, and I am doing that by paying close attention to what seems to work for me and what doesn't, and other people's ironclad certainties don't faze me much one way or the other.

I do need people in this business of getting sober. And I have some. There are bloggers--and you know who you are!--who have helped me along for ages. Many thanks and giant hugs to you! My husband is kind and supportive and about as great as he could be in this. I am lucky in that score! I also need to know some in-person sober people, and I find that the hardest thing to sort out. But I have some trust that I am getting somewhere in this. For now I'm sober, and most days it's not all that much of a struggle to stay there, and I'm very happy about that.

Thanks so much for reading! Wishing you all peace and joy on this rainy November afternoon.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Round 3, Day 39: Less reacting. More slowing down. Many tears.

I just realized I haven't written in a couple of weeks, so here I am. Hello! Still sober and doing OK, so that's the short version of the story.

This time around, just over five weeks into my third serious go at quitting drinking, I'm trying to do some things differently. Looking back at my older posts, I see that my thinking isn't all that different from some of what I went through earlier. I should probably come up with a great metaphor about peeling away layers or digging deeper or something like that, but I don't want to just fall into cliche here. Instead I'll try to describe what I mean.

The first two times I quit, I'm not sure I really owned up to how hard it is to quit drinking. I kind of did online, and I kind of did with my partner (now husband!), but I was slippery about it. I thought maybe quitting was kind of tough, but I could do it, which meant I could always do it again, which meant trying drinking again was no problem. Part of this, I know (and I'll come back to this point) is me reacting to the argument that you might not be able to quit the next time. The old argument from fear. Which only fills me with a strange compulsion to say, screw you, I'm not afraid, I can quit again if I want to. I'm not living my life in fear! But this reaction, I see now, is far too invested in what other people say and do about their own actions. It has nothing to do with me. And reacting to it paves over my own experience. So in a way, it wasn't that I was pretending that quitting wasn't all that hard. It's more that I wasn't paying much attention to my own experience. Or when I did, I thought, "Well yeah, OK, life is hard, suck it up!" or something like that. Which is still a reaction to the experience, and not the experience itself.

This time, I am slowing down in the tough parts and feeling them. And man, they are not much fun. A few times in the past couple of weeks--twice in restaurants on a little vacation we took, and twice coming through the door after a rough day--I actually cried because I wanted wine and couldn't have it. The last one was a great big sobbing, nose running and eyes red for the evening and a headache that stays for a full day kind of crying. On that occasion, I was tired and hungry and a bit cranky about some school/work-related personal issues, and I was fighting off how much I wanted a glass of wine, and when I arrived home, I found my husband (who rarely drinks) had just bought a bottle of scotch and left it on the counter and was sitting in the living room, listening to music and sipping a wee dram. I instantly broke down, and cried and cried and cried, and I said how unfair it was, and how sad I was that I couldn't have a glass of wine. And then I said (and realized) that I felt so ashamed that I couldn't do that. That if I were a better, or stronger person, I would be able to have a drink and enjoy it and then stop, like lots of people can. That if I had caught the whole problem earlier, I would be able to do just that. That I likely wouldn't ever be able to drink again, and that was devastating.

Now please don't tell me all these things are not true. On a factual level, of course they're not. But I'm starting to see that sticking to the facts and logic of the situation is often my downfall. I know, I know, I can make the same arguments about how booze is no good and life is great without it. But unless I admit how painful it is to have to quit, how much I just plain don't want it to be true that drinking doesn't work for me anymore, then I am sooner or later going to get swallowed up, again, in wanting to drink, and when that happens I won't even feel it but I will build a convincing argument about why it's a good idea to try drinking again. The change I need to make isn't about facts. It's on the emotional level. And that means I have to feel the sadness and the loss of not drinking again, even if it's illogical. (And maybe then I'll feel whatever loss is hiding beneath that.)

One thing I've been doing to help me in all this is meditation. I have been meditating on and off since I was 14 and a teacher have me the little book, "How to Meditate." And for a while I sat with a zen group, but got put off by some of the dogma that crept into the way this group practiced. I'd really left off practicing altogether for the past several years. But for the past few weeks I've been sitting for 20 minutes in the morning most days or, when I'm really rushed, using 20 minutes on transit to do a breathing meditation. (No need to look weird there. You just sit quietly and breathe. It's kind of lovely.) Also, I took a cue from something Mrs D posted on her newer blog (thanks, Mrs D!) and have been avoiding looking at the computer until after breakfast, instead of jumping into blogs/email/news the moment I get up, and that seems to help ground me a little better in my day.

I know from when I was a more serious zen student that it's not just the sitting meditation that's needed, so I've been trying to slow myself down whenever I have any strong feeling, just to see what's going on. That's a big help to me, because often I have no idea what I'm feeling. Only when it's a big wave of emotion that I can't possibly ignore do I know there's even any feeling there. Usually, with those big waves, I go for comfort--a hug from my husband, or a cup of tea, or a walk, or even a little lie down on the couch, they all work. I still do that, but at the same time, I'm paying attention to the feeling, and doing that helps me know what the feeling is about, and what's under it, and then what's under that.

There's another part to this whole "learning to feel" project. When I went to see a psychologist a couple of years ago, mostly to get help with the drinking, what I said was that I didn't have any idea how to know what I felt, and I knew I needed to get a handle on that. These days I'm finally starting to get to it. I wrote last post about having to make some decisions about my academic program, and I have been working on that over the past few weeks. My biggest realization--and I have to say I am floored by it--is how much I am influenced by reacting to what other people are saying and doing and (as if I knew that, too) thinking. It's not as simple as wanting people to approve of me. No, it's something like this: in any situation, I take the situation and the people in it as givens, and try to see how I can fit within things as they are. Now if you knew me, you wouldn't think that. I come off as strong and confident, like someone who knows what they are doing. And I do, if knowing what you're doing is swimming in the current that's around you. But my confusion about my school plans needs some deeper thinking than that. I might have to extract myself from that current and find one that's better suited to what I want to do. So being able to listen to myself and what I want to do is important. And that's where I get lost. Utterly lost.

Maybe that sounds bleak. But to me it feels like an opening, because I am starting to recognize my own patterns, and that's got to be at least the beginning of it all.

Years ago in a writing class, I wrote about a character based pretty closely on me, and in a pivotal scene she said, "I'm not very good at wanting." (Except for the one woman who got it, my classmates found it a strange line, and I started to see that they had some sense of normal that I just didn't get. Oops!) I have thought about that line so much over the years, and I see that it's true on an even deeper level than I knew at the time. So my project these days is to pay attention to whatever glimmers of feeling I find myself in, and when I feel the great big waves of feeling, to stay with them and pay attention too, and see if I can start finding my way through this. Can I say I want to learn how to want? It's something like that. I know feelings are supposed to be a source of something important, that they can help guide us in the world, and I'm trying to find my way to those feelings, even if it means sitting through a whole lot of "I want wine" and "I want cake." (And, as I write this the next thing that comes to mind is, "I want my mother." It's probably going to come back to that, isn't it? God help me.)

I have been reading Robert Stolorow on trauma, in part for school and in part for myself, and I dug around the web to see what else I could find him saying. I came across a short piece about vulnerability, in which he quotes the poet David Whyte as saying:

“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice , vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.” (from David Whyte, Consolations, Many Rivers Press, 2015.)

I haven't read that book, but I will. And I will keep on trying to stay with these vulnerable moments, so I can stop closing down in the face of life. It's time to do less reacting, less deflecting myself out of those tough moments, more slowing down and feeling whatever it is I'm feeling. I'm expecting more tears. But I'm expecting some moments of deep joy, too.

Wishing you deep joy of your own, despite your tears. Thanks for reading! xo

Monday 5 October 2015

Round 3, Day 19: Listening to you, listening to me.

Well, I have written before about listening, but if you write you may find that the same themes come back over and over, and this is a big one for me. This week I have been thinking a lot about two kinds of listening that I guess complement each other: listening to others, and listening to myself.

Listening to others is, in one sense, a challenge for me. I resist a lot of recovery wisdom, in part because it's sometimes presented in language that makes things sound more straightforward than makes sense to me. I am both blessed and cursed with seeing many issues from multiple perspectives, and I try not to resolve things too tightly into one perspective as I think it will simply leave out too much, or will stop ringing true for me. But I know that people who have been through major changes know something that can help me, and when they are generous enough to offer their experience, I need to find a way to take that up in a way that's helpful. Not much else to say about that, except I'm trying, and please be patient with me!

On the other hand, over the past few months, before my recent return to being sober, I feel like I lost my ability to listen to myself. Now, some of that isn't all that surprising. I was a bit busier than is good for me with school, just because it all crept up on me (I have decreased some of that now), and then my partner's accident earlier in the summer (he's doing well now) resulted in me not having very much free time for a couple of months. I am used to having a reasonable amount of time to myself, and it's one of the ways I keep myself on track. (I used to suffer severe depressions and now mostly I don't, so keeping myself on track is worth the time and effort it takes. It might sound like a luxury, but it's pretty basic survival for me.)

Anyway. One of the things I think I have lost my way in is my academic work. I don't write a lot about that here, for a whole lot of reasons, but I'm going to talk a little bit about it now because I think it's central to this listening thing.  In many ways, I'm not sure about the academic world. In some ways it's very good--I like my thesis project, and I think it's definitely worth doing. And of course it's a privilege to be doing it at all. I get that. But I don't run into a lot of people who have set up their lives in ways that bring them balance and meaning, and that's been gnawing at me. The other day, I had lunch with two people who are quite senior to me, and who in many ways I admire. But their lives seem rigid, somehow. Maybe that's not it, rigid. Maybe what I want to say is that their lives seem so  compartmentalized, and I don't think I can live like that. I can't spend most of my time doing what needs to be done in the hopes of scraping out a little time to do work that matters to me. Now, maybe I don't have to. But I feel like I need a role model, and I don't have one. Part of the problem may be that the department I am working might not be the best fit for me. But if it isn't, I have to find a place that is, and then make enormous changes, and it's hard to know where to start. I just don't always know how to connect to the sources of meaning that I need to keep connected to in order to keep myself going, and I'm not sure whether that's a personal problem or an institutional problem, or whether it's a matter of me just not fitting where I am. But I wrote about not feeling like I fit anywhere, so it seems a bit rich to think that I am going to be able to feel that in school. And yet, if I can't, I'm not sure I can do what it takes to keep me in it for the long haul. It's not the hard work that I mind (though sometimes I do, of course!) It's more the fear of being swallowed up by the academic machine and not being able to hear what's left of my own voice. That scares me.

I really don't know if that makes sense to anyone. Maybe I sound like I am whinging. But I know that I have some major doubts about what I am doing, and these doubts are not unconnected to the drinking. So I'm trying to look them square in the face and say, "Hello doubt. What's up with you these days?" rather than racing past them in the hopes that they disappear. And I'm not expecting any great answers from myself on this, or at least not yet. I'm just admitting that I have big questions. And they are painful.

On the not drinking front, things have been actually pretty darned easy. My "not drinking" habits were well-established after 16 months sober, and I feel like I have reverted to them with a certain ease. I've felt low, and I've felt altogether just too much, that's for sure. But I haven't felt like drinking. (Well, except once, fleetingly, at a particularly festive recent dinner party, but I was still getting over the flu then and I really didn't want to feel any worse than I already did. Still, since drinking while ill was never a problem when I was drinking, I'm pleased that even that one evening, the temptation was only slight.) No, for me, I am starting to realize that the problem isn't being overcome with craving. Not anymore. The problem is more trying to figure out how to live so that I stay connected to my sources of meaning. If I lose them, and things start to seem pointless, that's when drinking starts to look appealing. As in, if it's all pointless anyway, why not just drink? I don't think it's all pointless. But I do feel like that at times. Working on that is what I need to do, and what I'm writing about.

Thanks for reading, if you made it through all that! It's nice to have some company while I face down these doubts. Wishing you peace, and joy, and maybe even a little fall sunshine.

Monday 28 September 2015

Round 3, day 12: isolation and connection

Today is the twelfth day of this recent stretch of not drinking. I am recovering from a flu I've had since my family visit in August (yes, a 4-week bug! Or maybe a psychosomatic illness brought on by visiting my family? Who can say?) I'm still a little logy after a less active than usual summer, still a bit low from the summer of drinking, and I am a bit worried about a couple of projects I'm working on, one in particular on which I am just plain behind and will have to admit that in a meeting this week. So life is not just a walk in the park these days.

Maybe that all sounds dreary. But despite it, I'm doing well. I feel so much more calm and able to face the world after not even two weeks away from drinking. I don't know yet how I'm going to face it. But I can accept that I will, and that's a huge step in the right direction. (A few weeks ago I was fantasizing temporary catastrophes that would pluck me from the world for a few months without harming anyone. But there is no such thing. All catastrophes harm someone. And imagining that as the only way forward was certainly harming me!)

This past weekend I attended a conference, one that's usually incredibly social--a small group of people spend all day together in meetings and conversation, and all evening at dinner and then sitting up late drinking together. Last year I attended and didn't drink, and it was great, but this year I am new (again) to not drinking, and I wasn't sure whether it would be hard. In fact, it was the opposite. Despite feeling somewhat ill, I very much enjoyed my time. I had some great conversations, and I felt very much like a part of the small group. But I realized something about how the drinking works at these events. Even more than last year, I saw that the drinking was meant for a kind of bonding, and it does that, but it also had the opposite effect. Both this year and last, some people didn't drink much, and for them, the drinking seemed grand. For others, as they drank more, they got more stuck into certain grooves of talk that seemed to disconnect people, so that the conversation went on and but it wasn't all that interesting. Now I went to bed early, so maybe it did all turn super interesting later on, or maybe the bonding of staying up late talking was worth more than anything in particular that was being said. I don't know, and I wasn't well enough to test that out. But it surprised me that one part of drinking, which is a kind of group bonding, seemed only partial, isolating as much as it bonded.

Maybe that sounds judgemental. I hope not, but it might. I don't mean it that way, though. I just think I mean this: I might be finally, absolutely finished with the drinking. Last time around, I could still see residual things about drinking that I was giving up. This time, it's less that I am giving up something than that I am making a different decision, one that chooses a certain way of spending time (being present and engaged) over another (bonding over drink.) I felt like I could separate the day and evening events, and I didn't need to participate in the whole circus to be a part of the conversation. In fact, by having one evening away with a friend, and going to bed early the next, I was better able to engage with what was happening at the meetings during the day.

Last time I wrote, I was talking about emotions, and I still don't know much what to make of all that. I have been thinking about the period during the past summer before I decided to drink again. I felt isolated, and I felt like the sober world was a big game of trying to isolate from the rest of life. And I thought that drinking again might be a way to participate more fully in the world as it is. Now that I write that, I see that I had the exact same thought when I decided to drink again after my four months being sober in 2013. That's why what I think I observed this weekend feels powerful to me. I think I can finally see my way through the lie that booze helps people bond, that it's a way around a kind of alienation and isolation. I know, I know, I know, sooner or later drinkers isolate, staying home altogether instead of going out to mix with the world, but that's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is that even when drinking with a lovely group of people, even when it's a group of people who are committed to really communicating, drinking can get in the way of people actually being able to listen and talk to each other.

And I know I am given to isolation and alienation. I don't always struggle with this, and I don't always know why it's happening when it's happening. But I know that at times, the world of people seems far away and hard to connect with, and I hate it all. And when I feel that disconnect, I want to run screaming away from whatever world I'm locked out of. I guess I have used drinking like a stick of dynamite to blast myself back into a world, and that works a little bit, for a while, but sooner or later I am isolated again. If that happens and I am already drinking, I don't have another way to blast back, and I feel too low to do it on my own steam. Which leaves me more or less nowhere, and alone.

I'm not sure any of this will make sense to anyone. I'm writing it because I think the most important thing I have to do is to get hold of the reasons I gave up on being sober, twice, when both times it was working so well for me. I think I mistook one of the problems of living, which is feeling left out of the world, for a problem of being sober. I see that now. And I see that my own feeling a bit apart from the world goes much deeper, and that's what I have to find a way to address, this sense of not really belonging in the world.

Almost two weeks in here and lots of thinking on the go. I think I'm getting somewhere with it. As always, thanks for reading, and for your comments! Wishing you peace and joy, and belonging.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Round 3, Day 6: Tears, patterns.

Last night, right on cue, out came the tears. Five days without drinking and the enormous number of things I am trying not to worry about overwhelmed me. I started a conversation with my partner about some of it--academic worries, which maybe makes me sound precious but it's really, "What am I doing with my life?" and to me, that stuff is important. I'm not going to try and trace out all the issues here. Just that we started to talk about it, and I said how scared and overwhelmed I was, and I started to cry. As usual with me, it's not sweet little tears tricking down while the late evening sun breaks through the clouds and I smile radiantly, over it before it even began. No, it's swollen eyes and bright red nose and hiccupping through what I'm trying to say. People say that once you stop drinking, the emotions start to come through, you feel them whereas before you just numbed them out. I've said it myself, both earlier times I quit drinking. But then sometimes I doubt all that. What if it's just a nice story we tell ourselves so we can coddle ourselves for a while? Am I just being fanciful? So last night, after the crying, and the good conversation (my partner <I mean husband, ahem> really is great!) I felt better. And I remembered, Oh yeah, that's what happens. You feel it and you go through it and then it goes away.

I guess I am starting to accept that I have been numbing myself again for the past few months. There have been plenty of things to numb, that's for sure.

Lately I have been thinking about my mother. She has advanced dementia now, so she can't walk, and she can't talk coherently, and her memories are scarce and fleeting. But she's become about as sweet as a person could be, and she's still, even without most of her ability to talk, very funny. I think fun might be what has pulled her through her life. She loved to go dancing, and she told me years ago that when she married my father, she made a deal with him: she would move to the rural place he was from, and have kids, and do all the married stuff. But she would only do it if he agreed to go out dancing every week like they did when they were courting. When we were kids, my parents did just that, went out dancing at least one night a week. Sometimes two. My parents both had rough childhoods, and their adult lives weren't so easy either. They never learned to cope sensibly with much. It wasn't the way things were done where I'm from. Instead, they did the best they could with the tough times: my mother pursed her lips and said nothing when she was angry, while my dad swore a blue streak, and then they both settled back to some kind of normal. They met at a dance, and they were both great dancers. I think dancing was their escape, the sheer fun of twirling around the dance floor enough to obscure the drear of daily life. In pictures, my mother often looks a bit dour, except when she's dressed up to go dancing. Then she looked radiant!

Where I am from, fun is probably the central cultural value. People danced and drank and laughed and then went back to what they had to do and soldiered through, and yes, occasionally they developed lifelong grudges and just never, ever spoke to certain folks again, and some drank too much and just fell away from the world. No one, no one went to therapy or dealt with emotions. I've been thinking about this because I think culture matters. That world is more a part of me than I like to admit, or than I understand. I can talk a good game for a while about feelings and acceptance and so on, but after a while, I feel like some made-up west coast hippie freak show. It all starts to feel like I have lost myself, that part of me that wants to just whirl out of the dreary world and have fun for a while.

I don't much know what to do about this, so this is not a post with a nice conclusion. I have to get a better grip on it, though. Reading through my old posts, which I just about had to force myself to do, it's terrifying to see that there are so many patterns in my thinking about drinking, and quitting, and drinking, and quitting again. And I see that this suspicion I have of all the talk about feelings and so on is what starts to lay me low. But whirling away from things I don't want to deal with into the land of fun only works for a while.

So that's where I am. Still not drinking, or planning to. I am serious about the 100 days, and that part isn't the hard part for me. The hard part is coming to some kind of peace with who I am in a way that doesn't outright reject the world I'm from but doesn't pitch me headlong into the problems that that world always brings me.

Thanks for reading if you're sill here. Peace.

Friday 18 September 2015

Hello again, sober blog world. (Alt title: Round 3, day 2.)

Hello. It's been 2 months since I wrote online, and at that point, I wasn't sure I would again. However, I kept up a private version of my blog in a word file, so I could keep track of my thinking without having to worry about how what I said affected anyone else, or how other people's comments would affect me. Thanks to the kind souls who cheered me on anyway. I appreciate that.

Now I have a few threads of things I want to write about, and I'm not sure of the order. Please forgive me if I seem a bit cranky or even defensive here. I am both. But I am OK.

The quick recap is this: about four months ago, after 16 months not drinking, I decided to try drinking again. And now I am quitting again, at least for a stretch of time. And I expect some readers will quietly but knowingly chuckle to themselves, if not in the comments, and maybe trot out that old saw about idiocy being doing the same thing over and over and it not working. But listen: I have not been doing the same thing. I really did want to test the edges of whether drinking with awareness would work for me. In some ways it does, and in some it does not.

Overall, my experience has been somewhere in the middle of what I might have hoped for. Nothing terrible happened. I had lots of fun, and often enjoyed myself very much. I'm not going to sing the pleasures of drinking here, but I want to acknowledge that there are some, and they are not illusions, in contrast to some authentic pleasure that can only be had without booze. I genuinely enjoyed a lot of the occasions on which I drank. Only a few are regrettable, and even on those, the regret is pretty minor. I made a deal with myself when I started this: no guilt! No waking recriminations only to drink again and go through that again. I regularly checked in with myself to see how it was going, and tried to weigh up the goods and the bads, and I did my best to do that rationally. I don't mean to say I used a checklist or any such simplifying tool, as I can't abide the contemporary need to boil everything down to a number or a category. Nonetheless, I regularly asked myself whether it was still fun, what I liked about drinking, what I didn't like, and how I felt.

My biggest surprise is this one: over the past couple of months, I started to realize that I missed being sober. OK, that's not what I would have expected to feel at all! Sometimes I hate the whole sober thing, with all its talk of glorious sleep and clear skin and self-improvement and yoga and gratitude and new age healers. My god, I can get ranting about all that! But I think that's not what "being sober" is, it's just the direction a lot of people go with it. Not my thing though. For me, "being sober" is something less tangible, and I don't think I can entirely put it into words yet. I missed the ongoing feeling of being clear-minded. Sometimes I can start to feel like I am living at a partial remove from myself, and I think drinking makes that worse, like there is too much blur in the world, and I myself am too much made of blur. I missed the more crisp edges I had started to get used to. (Nor crisp as in me being separate from the world. It's more like having a clearer sense of what's going on. Having a better grasp on the world might be a better way to say it.) And then, though I can enjoy a bit of denial, I can't deny that for the past two months, on and off, I have been feeling awfully low. Oh, it's a fierce drain on a person, feeling like this. And I know this old feeling very, very well. I don't know that it's brought on by booze, as I have had some of it when I wasn't drinking, but I sure do think that drinking makes it worse. Also, when I feel that low, drinking starts to become a way of checking out, and part of the deal with myself was that drinking had to be fun and lovely. If I were just checking out, then I would stop again. And while I wasn't at that point, I could feel myself sliding into it.

Anyway, I made a plan. I did a few spells of no drinking for a few days, or even a week, during the four months I was trying drinking, and I usually felt better during them. For me, it's not so much the craving and caving in that's a problem (though I know it is for some, and I respect that) as it is the trying to reason through why I should drink or not drink. In the end, four months ago, I lost track of my reasons, and though I was desperately trying to find reasons in what other people said, I ended up feeling alienated in this whole sober gig, and very, very lonely. (Not blaming here. Just saying how it went for me.) The four months has been a good bit of investigating my own reasons, and I think by now I can find my own feet beneath me once again. So here's the plan: no drinking for 100 days. I kind of liked that the first time around, though getting tangled up with someone else's challenge turned out (though great for some folks) to be terrible for me, and I won't do that again. I decided this yesterday, and talked with my partner about it. I'm committed. And then I counted, and 100 days brings me to Christmas day, which seems easy enough to remember, and a nice date to work towards.

To be honest, this feels like an enormous relief. Whereas sometimes quitting drinking feels like a deprivation, deciding to take a fixed-time break feels like a present to myself. I've also made a few other changes. School was feeling ridiculously busy--I felt like I was standing in a video game that was going faster and faster and I was still keeping up but waiting for the big kerpow! So I withdrew from a few projects and made what I have to do feel manageable. And some things that were awful have improved tremendously: my partner (now my husband!) has largely healed from his terrible accident, so my time is more my own and I'm not swamped with medical/financial/ life worries. With the time freed up in all that, and once I climb out of this dark place I've been in, I will soon be able to be running and biking at my usual pace again.

And I will come back to writing about how it's going. I'm sure I will remain cranky on that front at least. As I keep on saying, I am not much given to certainty, and I find cold comfort in the absolute certainty of many of the sober platitudes. But I will keep on trying to find my own way in all this, and for at least the next 99 days, that will be without drinking.

Thanks for reading of you're still here and not put off by my cranky temper. It feels a little bit good to be heading back to being sober again. Peace.

Sunday 19 July 2015

Quick update: the short answer is, I am well!

It's been a couple of months since I decided to reconsider being sober. A few people have commented or emailed to ask how it's going, so I thought I'd write a quick note to say I'm doing fine. (But listen: If you are reading sober blogs because you are struggling with the drink and looking for support from like-minded people, don't read this post. Take a look at the sidebar on my blog, where you will find posts by many people who are committed to being sober. If you're looking for support, that's what you should be reading, not this post! If you think you know better than I do and you want to save me from myself, please keep those thoughts to yourself, OK? We're all just figuring out how to live and no one has all the answers: not me, not you, not some expert! And as usual, no talk of wolves or witches are welcome here. There are lots of places online where you can talk about that sort of thing and be greeted warmly, and that's grand, but it's not my cup of tea. If you're just curious how I'm doing, or interested in a take on drinking by someone who was sober for a year and a half and now drinks, OK, read on. )

Phew! Now that's all out of the way and I can talk. Sorry to sound bossy there. I'm just heading off some conversations I don't want to have, that's all. Other than that, hello!

First, yes, I decided to drink again, and I have. And I like it. I had forgotten how much I really love wine, and how little I care for most other kinds of alcohol. I feel like I've become reacquainted with an old pleasure. And that's lovely. I have found that in certain kinds of social situations, I have more fun, and I'm more part of what's going on, when I am joining in the drinking. That's not the main part of my life, and if it were it would probably stop being fun. But as it stands, it's nice.

Also, there have been no great dramas or tragedies. I was joking with my partner that there's a truism in sober circles that tells you to "play the tape to the end." For me, sometimes the end seems to be I have some wine and a nice time. Once I drank more than was a good idea, and then I went home to bed. It wasn't much difference than what happens to people once in a while, just a confluence of being too tired and having some wine. Most likely I was sillier than usual. I don't mind that. I don't need to absolutely control every moment of my life. So my tape isn't looking so scary, or at least, not to me!

There was one evening where I shared wine with some friends and later wondered whether I may have had a better time without drinking. One of the friends I was with also has a complicated relationship with alcohol, and may have been disappointed that I decided to drink again. It was interesting, and I realized that, with that particular group, next time I probably wouldn't drink. No matter. I'm still figuring out how to do this, and I'm learning as I go.

Aside from the pleasure of drinking sometimes, and the feeling of fuller participation with the world that comes along with that, the big relief for me has been to let up on the incessant self-examination that for me has gone along with being sober and blogging. As I have said many times, I don't have much faith in the ongoing self-improvement project of contemporary psychology. Sometimes, yes, things in life get messy, and something needs to be done to make a change. But I don't think we are the sort of creatures that respond well to an endless process of analyzing and bettering, as though we were products that could be continually tweaked for greater market share or increased customer satisfaction. There is a lot of talk about acceptance on sober blogs, and sometimes that's been helpful to me. But I keep wondering whether sometimes that shades into accepting the world as it is, which I think is a problem given that the world we are in needs some change. Maybe deeper kind of acceptance would be to accept ourselves as flawed, and maybe always to some extent unknowable, and to get on with trying to make the world better.

Not that I'm engaged in a grand world-improvement project now either. But I am reading lots and working on my thesis and paying attention much more to the world and much less to myself. I don't think that's incompatible with not drinking, by the way. I just found that to keep up the not drinking, I had to keep up a set of beliefs about being sober that were nourished by reading sober blogs, and that led me to pay more attention to myself than I want to pay. Having questioned that practice, I am neither reading blogs nor being actively sober. And my take on it is this: I'm living well.

Years ago I went through a terrible depression, and when I was getting better and returning to the world, a friend expressed disappointment with me because he didn't like my pace or tone as well any more. He liked me better when I was more quiet, more interior. (In other words, when I was depressed.) I mention that because I feel the same shift in me now--I'm bored with all that being quiet and interior, and yet that may be a great deal of what makes up the bond between me and the world of sober bloggers. It's not that I can never be like that these days, it's just that it's only a part of me, and one that's less front and centre when I'm more engaged with the world, as I have been this past while. That goes along with my decision to drink again, but it's part of a bigger process of being in the world in a different way. So if I seem different, I am, and I know that, and I know it's not always welcome to everyone. But it's who I am, and I am pretty darn OK with that.

In any case, this may be my last post, as it doesn't seem to make sense to write in a sober community about the joys of drinking, or to write among people who are working on self-improvement to say that I think a lot of that is bunk. I don't want to be the poster girl for drinking, or to be put in a position in which I'm defending drinking to people who think it's an unhealthy practice. I really am just figuring out how to live, and that may end up being a more private process than this blogging adventure has been. But I did want to say hi, and say I'm doing well, before I sign off altogether.

Happy July to you all!

Saturday 30 May 2015

What changed my mind?

I'm not sure I'll be able to write clearly about it, but I wanted to describe why I decided to try drinking again after being sober for 16 months. (As I mentioned last post if you're reading sober blogs mainly to read like-minded people and you're going to feel uncomfortable reading about trying drinking after being sober, you should probably not read on. I understand. I wish you well.)

But for those who are still here: A few weeks ago, when my partner was recovering nicely from his accident and I had a little time to spare before school got super busy again, I took a few days off and lay around reading mysteries. It's something I do from time to time when I'm exhausted and I really want to relax. I had come across a new mystery writer (for me), Susan Hill, and I was gobbling up her Simon Serrailler mystery series. Hill is a great writer. Her mysteries deal with interesting social issues--hospice, end of life care--and the characters are well drawn and engaging. She's not a cozy writer--it's not all cats and recipes--but her mysteries are set in an English cathedral town, and they aren't drenched in gore in the way that many new mysteries are, so they are a good balance for me.

Now, just before that I had read "The Girl on the Train," and I guess I disliked it about as much as it seems people are liking it. I found the character's drinking was somehow too pat, too easily explained by the story, and her blackouts and embarrassing episodes were convenient for the story but alienating for me as a reader. I thought the writer wasn't quite striking the right notes, somehow. When I sold my copy, I was relieved to talk to a bookseller who had also disliked it, as it's always strange to genuinely dislike a book that everyone is raving about.

So that might have set me up somehow for the Susan Hill books. Because something I noticed as I read them, besides all the great writing and characters and so on that I just mentioned, was this: I liked how the characters drank. They sometimes had wine with family meals, or a drink with friends. And they sometimes looked forward to that. But they also often said no, because of having to work the next day, or because they were taking days off between having wine, or because they were driving, or because they just wanted water. In conversations in the books in which drinking came up, there was always due consideration given to whether the character would drink, and what else was going on.

I was surprised to find myself drawn into that way of thinking. Not in the way one can be drawn on when the drink is falsely romanticized--it wasn't about candlelit dinners or picnics on beaches or picturesque nightcaps. Instead, drinking seemed like a normal, pleasant thing that people did sometimes, the way they sometimes heated up leftovers for supper or made a salad or ate some rhubarb crisp or stopped at a cafe and had a coffee or a bite to eat. No one seemed fixated on having a drink, or on not having one. And other than a few characters in one book who were on wacky new age healing diets (because new age healers featured in the plot of one book), no one obsessed about food, or sugar, or caffeine.

Reading the books, I kept noticing this. And then I thought, I wish I could do that. I want to have pasta with wine, and dessert and a coffee, and not worry so bloody much about it all. And then, a while later, I thought, you know, I think I could do that. In the same way that the sober blogs spoke to me a couple of years ago, showing an alternate vision of how to get through without drinking too much, these books seemed to show a way of life that included alcohol as a part of life, neither the central problem nor the central pleasure in that life. Cake wasn't central, either. People were portrayed as finding their way through the problems and joys of ordinary life. It might be the best modelling of what gets called "moderation in all things" that I've seen. And it looked appealing to me.

I know there's more to it than that, but I think those books were my wee turning point. Obviously this is something I have thought about from time to time. When I quit drinking, I wanted to stop drinking too much, and not drinking at all was the only way I could see my way clear to that. The first time I tried drinking again, it may have been too soon (after almost four months without). At that time, I know I felt pretty alienated by the self-improvement focus that can creep into the sober blogs, and I wanted to get away from the therapeutic worldview altogether. But I was also a little bitter about some of the sober "support" that ended up ringing a bit shallow to me, and I turned back to my regular life, without being able to take in what I'd learned by not drinking.

This time around, I had stopped for just over sixteen months. I could accept that maybe I could never drink again. And somehow, that meant I could accept that if I were to drink, I would have to do it very differently. Also, I think I have learned a lot by not drinking for so long. I like keeping a clear head, sleeping well, remembering my evenings, and lots of those things that I lost when I drank too much. And I'm not bitter about anyone or anything. Plenty of things aren't for me, but we are all gloriously different, and that's just grand!

So far, it's been an enjoyable experiment. I've had wine with dinner a few times, with food, and in company. I've enjoyed it. I've been looking to see whether I would get that old familiar "wanting more" feeling, but so far I have not. I've liked the taste of the wine, and the experience of drinking wine with my meal, something I really did enjoy for years. One thing that's hard to describe is a feeling of having come home to myself in a strange way. For the most part, after I stopped drinking I didn't experience abstinence as a great restriction. I enjoyed doing other things, drinking other drinks. After the initial struggles, the obsession with drinking waned, and that was an enormous relief. Drinking again is a different kind of relief. I feel like I'm not keeping a part of the world at bay, and I'm not paying now for not having learned to drink properly as a younger person.

Over the past couple of years, I started to notice that when I am drinking a really great coffee in the morning, I have often thought, "I'll have another one when this is gone." Same with eating a cookie or having a sweet treat. It's bizarre to me, and it's the exact same feeling I used to get with wine. (Though I only noticed it when I stopped drinking and started to pay attention to a lot of things. I hate buzzwords, but "paying attention" or "mindfulness" has been a great help to me.) I think I was somehow keeping myself on a set of restrictions and doling out pleasures to myself, something I likely learned from years of restrictive eating. When those thoughts crop up, I have been acknowledging them, not yelling at myself or chastising myself for them, but also not having that second coffee (makes me jittery) or the second sweet (makes me sick). Recently, it seems I have found a way to be less restrictive, to want what's good for me in reasonable amounts, and not to sing for more like a deprived child when I have some nice thing. What I'm hoping is that I can do the same thing if I do sometimes get that "moreish" feeling with wine. If it works, and I think it will or I wouldn't be trying this, then it seems like a nice way for me to live. If it doesn't, I'll figure out a different way. And as I probably said before, I already know I can enjoy life without drinking, so if drinking doesn't work, that's always an option.

So that's what I've been up to, and how it's going. As I said before, I get it if you think I'm wrong, or this is too dangerous for you to read. I won't hold that against anyone who does stop. (You don't all have to so kindly chime in again to tell me you're still here now, though that really was super sweet after my last post!) I'm not especially interested in anyone's scare tactics or advice about alcohol always being the road to hell and doom, either. I mean, we all know alcohol can become a problem, so you'd have to think I was some kind of moron if you thought I needed a reminder of that, and if you think I'm a moron, I'm guessing you're not still reading my blog. That crankiness aside, if you're still here, thanks for reading. I probably won't post all that often, but in the interest of painting a picture of how trying drinking looks for me after 16 months sober, I'll keep the blog posted. Holding to the wider use of the word sober, as in "not drunk," I'll still think of this as being sober, though I know that's a minority view here!

Happy sunny weekend to you all.

Monday 18 May 2015

Not so sure.

Sometimes I'm not so sure about the whole sober gig. I'm glad I stopped drinking a while back, and I'm glad I have figured out how to not rely on drinking to get me through things. I needed that, and I still need it. But I get suspicious of the recovery world. It just seems rife with the kind of perfectionism that I'm not sure is helpful, a kind of endless self-improvement project that I don't quite trust and can't buy into. Or maybe it's not perfectionism, but the sense that there is a narrow range of how we can be in order to be OK. Whatever it is, I'm not so sure it's for me.

Every now and then I do a whole batch of reading about moderate drinking. You may know the resources. You may read them, too. When I do, I don't talk about it here, as the word "moderate" seems to call up a heated debate, although the positions are pretty clearly marked out in advance, so not much is gained in the argument. But some people do seem to find a way to drink occasionally, and no, those are not people who keep writing sober blogs, since it's kind of de facto in the sober blog world that sober means abstinent. Another school of thought argues that sober means "not intoxicated" and that doesn't mean absolute abstinence. I'm getting curious about that version of sober.

So I'm writing here to say I'm reading this sort of thing these days, and I'm thinking about it. I don't want a warning, or ominous talk about wolves or witches.  And I'm not trying to start a debate. I just want to say I'm reading this stuff, and thinking about it. I might drink again to see how it goes. After more than a year away, and with some good support to help me figure this out for myself (which I have) it might be fine. If it isn't, I'll stop again. If it is, I'll be pleased with that.

This sort of thing upsets lots of people, so this post is a kind of fair warning. Please don't read my blog if this is going to bother you. I'm doing this to find my own way, and writing about what I think is part of my way. About every third post I talk about refusing to edit my posts to fit with some idea of a recovery world that I didn't sign on for. But I do get it: reading someone who has stopped drinking thinking about drinking again can be hard if you're using sober blogs as sober support. So I won't take it badly even if you all go away and I'm left back where I started, writing for myself. Promise!

That's about all I have to say on this for now. All is well here. It's a sunny day in May, the first shorts day for me, and life feels good. Whether you're sticking around for a while or you're leaving, keep well.

Saturday 9 May 2015

A tough few weeks but still happily sober at 16 months!

The past few weeks have been tough ones, and the one thing I keep thinking is this: I'm so glad I'm not drinking anymore.

A few weeks ago, my partner was in a very bad accident. He is going to be OK, so I can write about it now, though this is my blog not his so I don't want to get into his personal info or his story. But there was some scary hospital stuff and major surgery and long waits to see how things would go, and every time I thought I was handling things OK a doctor would tell me some terrifying thing that had just been ruled out or that there was still some risk of. I spent most of a week at the hospital during the days, and I think the only thing that saved me was walking back and forth to transit stops and coffee shops on the way back and forth to the hospital. There's something about walking that keeps things real, and keeping some grip on the real world was very hard to do in the middle of all that.

A couple of days before he was released, I was running around one evening after I left the hospital trying to get in place some of what we would need to get him set up at home, and I became fixated on getting ice cream. He is on a blender diet for a month or so, and I decided that having ice cream in the house was absolutely critical. I had to go to a different grocery because my usual one was closed, and on the way I walked past the liquor store I used to frequent, which was, of course, open. Now, to say I wasn't tempted to drink would be a massive understatement. As I passed the store, all I could think was that if this had happened two years ago, I would have been drinking wine every night after coming from the hospital, and I would have been in no shape to do what I had to do, whether that was help make decisions or offer emotional support or or get the apartment ready for my partner's convalescence or just take care of myself. Two years ago, I would have used wine to "get me through it." Now that seemed so bizarre to me, and I was incredibly grateful that I am sober and present in my life and able to deal with this difficult stuff for my partner and for myself.

I didn't want to turn the accident into a pat silver lining story. It isn't one. It's just a terrible thing. But terrible things happen sometimes, and we live through them. And I'm not saying I'm all that great for coping. I'm just doing what I have to do, what we all do when there's coping to be done. But I am super 100% get-down-on-my-knees-and-pray thankful that I am sober while all this is going on. And I know my partner will recover from this a whole lot better with me being present and helpful, rather than being in any of the drunk/hungover/emotional-nightmare states that used to be what I called normal life.

I'm hoping to get back to my schoolwork this week because I really need to do that. By now we're ticking along OK here, and I'm learning lots of ways to make interesting and healthy soups and stews that might still taste like something after a whirr in the high-speed blender. (Today's special: potato-leek-bacon in pork stock with a little cream and tarragon. Yum!) This week I passed a sober milestone--16 months sober! Hooray for that!  So that's where I am these days: there's plenty of soup and love and healing, and that's getting me through. That and gratitude for being sober and being alive.

Peace and love to you all. Be well.

Saturday 4 April 2015

Resistance and rage: why I don't always trust peace and calm

The last few posts I've written a lot about listening and acceptance. But in many ways I feel as if, for me, getting sober is a tug of war between acceptance and resistance, peace and rage. Talking about acceptance in sober blog circles goes down well, but I'm not always so sure it's OK to talk about resistance. But I'm going to try, as I want to see if I can make some sense of it: what I'm resisting, and why it matters to me.

So what am I resisting? One of the things I've learned about getting sober is that a person goes through a lot of changes. Of course, I am the same person, but I am also becoming a new person. That's wonderful. There's so much promise in it. But there's danger, too. Who do I want to become? I need to think about that, because I believe the methods I use to take care of myself will in part fashion the self I am becoming. Foucault calls this sort of thing "technologies of the self," and after railing against Foucault for ages it turns out I like his work a lot. But you don't have to go to French philosophy to see that the kinds of things you do to change affect the person you become. That's what's at the heart of the "I want what she's got" approach to getting sober. You find someone who you want to be like, and do what they did to become like that.

But often, I seem to need to do the opposite. I have a big dose of, "Please God don't let me end up like that!" Not when I see someone who's struggling. For some reason--and that's what I'm trying to figure out in this post--I react that way when I see someone who has been set up as a guru, someone who I am supposed to want to emulate, a beacon of peace and calm and so on. Confronted with these gurus, all I can see is their faults, and I recoil. And I rage against that as an ideal.

Here's an example. So many of the sober bloggers seem to love Tara Brach. Sometimes I want to love Tara Brach. People I really respect love her and find her helpful. What can't I just love Tara Brach, dammit? But the thing is, I can't stand her. I have tried listening to her online. I bought her book and read it, and a while later I took another look to see if I could take up what I couldn't get the first time. But she tells a story about her kid interrupting her meditation session because he needed a ride to school, and she sounds so precious and feeble, and I wanted to yell at her, "Get a grip lady! Drive the kid to school, admit you're pissed with him, and move on!" Reading her, I get the feeling I'm supposed to beat myself up when I'm not perfect and then use this meditation stuff to alleviate that self-flagellation. But I think, no, just don't beat yourself up in the first place! Clearly I will once in a while be annoyed with the people around me. I don't want to have to set myself up in a protected bubble where I am calm as hell all the time. To me, Brach performs the most horrific mix of Western psychology and self-indulgent buddhism and sanctimoniousness, all in one calm and patient show. And I don't believe her. To me, she looks like she is as tense and angry as all get out. When I watched her video, I want to get her to walk out of that quiet room and come stand on top of a cliff with me and rage at the ocean and the sky for a while, and maybe then when we got tired of yelling we could sit down and laugh at how ridiculous it all is.

I felt the same years ago when a friend gave me her Eckhardt Tolle book to read. His pious calm enraged me! (I didn't want to take Eckhardt out cliff-yelling, so maybe my Tara Brach reaction is a kind of progress.) Ditto  my attempt at yoga class. My blood pressure actually increased in the class. I had to go for a walk or a bike ride afterward to calm down. I have tried several times to get back to being Catholic after years away, but the stuff I hear makes me want to stand up and yell at the priest, and I know that's not on. At the AA meetings I've attended, I wanted to call sexism on the chairman's side comments, and the fact that everyone laughed enraged me even more.

Similarly, a lot of what passes as the "science" of psychology infuriates me. So much simply doesn't stand up all that well to criticism, and so much is takes as true because it's spoken by experts. For example, one hears a lot about the virtues of "self-regulation" but self-regulation has a lot in common with becoming more docile, more easily governed. Maybe a little chaos is healthy, then?

Now this might sound like I'm filled with rage all the time. I'm not. But I have a healthy respect for anger and I appreciate that tension and conflict are helpful and productive at times. Anthropologist Ruth Behar writes about "using your subjectivity" as an analytical tool, and maybe that's what I'm trying to do here. One of the things I know about meditation is that I'm supposed to notice my own reactions. Behar adds to that and says, don't just notice what you feel, use your feelings to help give yourself a new perspective on a situation.

And yes, I know, part of the thing is not being attached to those feelings. But aren't they me? How am I supposed to have a personal engagement with the world if I accept that all my feelings and hopes and fears are all going to pass like so much water under some bridge. Yes, some day I'll be dead, but I'm alive now. How do I know I'm alive? I guess in part because I feel something. So come on feelings! Bring them on! Years ago when I was depressed, I didn't have a whole lot of preferences or feelings. These days I have them in spades. And I welcome them. I think they are probably how I know what to make of what's going on around me. I sure don't want to distance myself from all that!

So I guess the resistance I'm talking about is integral to all that listening I've also been talking about. I pay attention when I am enraged, because in that rage I start to get a sense of what I am actually thinking and feeling.

Sometimes I agree with what I read. Recently, I read an article by Simone de Beauvoir in which she rejects the idea that personal happiness is a good basis for a life, on the grounds that happiness is often conflated with "being at rest," which is a kind of death. Instead, she argues from an existential ethical standpoint that freedom is a more worthwhile basis for life decisions. De Beauvoir writes that liberty "is achieved only through a continual reaching out to other liberties" and she seems to condemn acceptance when it means "the brutish life of subjection to given conditions" (in New French Feminisms, edited by Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, 1980, p. 55). Instead, she talks about possibilities. Now that lifts my spirits! I worry about the project of psychology and the ongoing exhortations to psychologize ourselves. What if it just make me docile? Do I really want to accept the world as it is?

Here's my real worry. I am so bloody happy that I quit drinking. It's been almost 15 months now (hooray me!) and I feel a deep sense of the possibilities that life might have that I simply couldn't get to before. That's fabulous. Now that I'm here, I don't want to stagnate in a mire of self-indulgent concerns and shallow self-improvement. I want to find a good way to live, make good choices, contribute to the world. I'm not sure how to do it, but that's my project. I think it's worthwhile. And I think resistance and rage is helpful to me in this. The world is moving in some scary directions, and it might take some spitting rage to help me push back against what feels like a pressure to be calm and docile and accepting.

So for me, that's the other side of acceptance. It's less pretty and poetic, and it's not likely to be popular. And as always, it's possible I'm wrong about everything and I'll learn that in a while. OK. I'm fine with that. But for now, I want to stand on my cliff and yell and say I don't always want to accept things and I will not calm the fuck down and even in my rage I have to say that I am very, very happy about that!

Wishing you love joy and maybe even a healthy dose of rage.