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.