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.