Tuesday 23 February 2016

Round 3, Day 161: But if I add it all up, it's been more than two years! And every day counts.

Thanks for all the kind words on my most recent post. I so appreciate the support of the blog community. I have been a bit madly busy and therefore it's taken me longer to get back to people, so I apologize. I read other people's blogs every day, and I read any comments I get here (though I know some people have said it's tricky to leave comments on Blogger and I have yet to sort out why that's the case.) But when I'm busy I read on my phone while I'm on the bus. and my phone typing skills are abysmal. I have very small hands but typing on the phone makes it seem I can neither read or spell and as though I am using a single large club instead of my otherwise useful hands to hit the teeny little keys.

Anyway, hello! Now I'm writing a post before I get to the list of school things I need to get done today, because it's best for me if I don't leave the blog world for too long.

On my last post, Rebecca left a comment about the more solid kind of confidence I said I'd been feeling lately. She said she had a similar experience, but had taken he a couple of years to reach that. That got me thinking about time and being sober. At the risk of entering the Great Debate About Counting Days, I want to talk about this a little.

Back in June, 2013, I had hit a kind of wall. I saw a counsellor, but didn't want to quit drinking as much as I wanted to get in touch with my ability to feel, which I kind of knew was a problem for me. I saw the counsellor, and I even talked about the drinking issue. (That is to say, I admitted to a real person that I drank too much! A huge step for me!) By July, I had decided to take a break from drinking, something I'd done many times over the years. I'd usually stop for a few weeks or a month, and the previous year I'd stopped for most of a semester. But this time I also took a lot of downtime while I did it, and I came across the world of sober blogs. During the week of not drinking, I'd started to feel better, and I thought, for the first time, about taking an extended time without drinking, not as something I had to give up, but as a gift to myself because I didn't want to to feel so crappy anymore. (I wrote about that here, in my first post, if you're curious.)

If you've read my blog for long (and if you have, thanks!!!) you will know that twice during the past two years and seven months I decided to try drinking again. Once was a few weeks after the 100 days was up, (I drank on and off for 2 1/2 months) and once was last summer, after about 500 days sober, when I drank for almost 4 months before deciding it really didn't work anymore. Both stretches had some fun times drinking (usually early on) but both times I decided that, on balance, I was doing much more damage to myself than I was enjoying myself, and I quit again. That's why this is Round 3, and this time it's been 161 days since I drank.

But here's what I got thinking when I read Rebecca's comment: Really, for me, it's been over 2 1/2 years since I started this process in earnest.  During this time, I have been sober for 2 years and one month. ( I just counted it up to see if I could and I got 773 days, though I'm not fully sure that's exactly right, and I don't care enough to dig out calendars and add it up carefully. Certainly it's within a few days of accurate.) I found that you just can't unlearn what you've learned. When I went back to drinking, I sure did question the idea that drinking was bad for me, and I resisted what sometimes seemed to me to be the easy certainties (and the sometimes easy camaraderie that went along with it) that the sober world seemed to have. As I've said far too many times, I had to find my own way. So I kept learning what worked for me, and what didn't, and it was rough going at times, and often lonely, both when I stopped blogging because I was drinking, and when I stopped drinking again. Either way it seems you leave a world of people behind. And as someone who probably spends too much time alone, leaving the few people I connect with, or radically changing whether I feel I belong to their world, well that was painful.

So why am I writing this? I got to thinking about how stop-and-start the quitting process is, and how sometimes you're moving along and learning and getting somewhere, even when it seems you're not. I was thinking about bloggers who quit blogging for a while and then drop away from the community for a host of reasons, sometimes because they are torn about drinking and it doesn't always feel like a place you can say, "Sometimes I want to quit, but sometimes I still want to drink, and I don't know how to resolve this, and all the answers I'm reading just don't cut it for me. But I'm still thinking." And I was thinking how when we count, it's almost like we are adopting an economic model of recovery, where every day added is one more coin that's yours and drinking makes you lose them all again, and having the most coins you can get is the goal of it all. I know no one really thinks like that. It's just that it starts to sound like a competition or something.

But we all know it's not a competition. Every day is its own day. Still, what I have found is this: from when I started this path towards quitting drinking, I've kept learning and growing, and I did so even when the path wasn't the clear, straightforward route that others were helpfully showing me.

So I guess I wanted to say hi to anyone who's trying to quit, whether its working for you right now or not, and whether you are stringing days together or managing a week or two sober before drinking again, or whether you are feeling that this time is the one that you are really doing it and you're leaving the drink behind for good. That's what I think these days, but what do I know? I wanted to say that I'm proud of my 161 days, and of my 773 (I think) days, and I think they help me live well today. And somehow, the periods away from being sober helped me get here, too.

OK, that's what I have today. I'm heading out tomorrow to travel across the country again to another grad school interview. I have not yet chewed my arm off coping with the worry or uncertainty about it, and I'm still managing to avoid substituting sugar as the worry-crutch. I don't know if I'll be accepted anywhere, and if I am, I'm not yet 100% sure picking up sticks and moving is the right thing to do. But I am moving forward, and even if it doesn't work out, it helps me figure out what I'm doing. Sometimes I wish I'd done all this in my 20s, or even 30s. But I didn't, and if I had I wouldn't be the me I am today. And I'm pretty dark OK with who I am. That's something I don't know I could have said a decade or two ago.

If you're still here, thanks for reading. I very much appreciate your company as I write to figure out how to live. If you're sober, hooray you! If you're trying, hooray you, too! Today I am feeling filled with love for everyone, and the sun is shining, so I'll send a big virtual hug to anyone who could use a hug. Peace and joy to you.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Round 3, Day 147: Sober!!!

Today it's exactly 21 weeks since I gave up trying to make drinking work for me and returned to being sober, which really is a better way for me to live. As I mentioned last time, I've started cleaning up my diet and I'm getting more regular exercise again, and that's working well, too. I'm feeling pretty good overall, and I'm mostly happy and hopeful. To me, that's pretty good for the depths of February!

Right now it's the middle of interview season for the next stage of my grad school work. Tomorrow, I fly out to a distant American city that I've never visited (and that I won't name for now), where I will spend a few days meeting faculty and students, being interviewed to see if I'm a good fit for the program while I interview them to see if the program is a good fit for me. This stuff is nerve-wracking! Whatever happens will shape the next several years of my life. Our lives, I should say, since my husband will also be moving with me if I'm accepted to a place that works for me. I have a few of these interviews happening over a few weeks--some in person, some via Skype--so it may be a while before I know what's going to happen. It's scary, but we're both up for the adventure!

Maybe it's obvious, maybe not, but I will say it anyway: I don't see how I could have done this while I was drinking. I was sober most of the year before I applied to grad school and again for most of the time I've attended, with the exception of a few dark months last summer. I have more time than I would if I were guzzling wine every night, and my mind is more clear. (It's not altogether clear all the time, but I'm working on that with my diet and exercise changes. I may have to accept that the meno is coming and there might be fog rolling in sometimes along with that!) But one big thing that's better sober is that I am more honestly confident in myself. Drinking I had waves of confidence and waves of supreme despair, and it's not that those have all completely been smoothed over. I can still be up and down at times. But these days I feel better equipped to cope with the big stresses and uncertainties that come with making a big change. I am taking myself seriously enough to try to shape my life to do what I want to do with my life, even in ways that sometimes look like a bit of a long shot. I'm pretty darn pleased about that.

Going into this weekend, I know it's possible that things won't work out for me. I'll do my best and be my most engaged and interested self. (More accurately, I'll be the best version of me that doesn't swear liberally, which only takes the teensiest bit of extra effort!) Whatever happens, I'm taking a neat trip and I'll meet some interesting people, and I'll get to see some cool life possibilities. Hooray for that!

Thanks for reading along here and keeping me company. Wishing you peace and joy, and adventure if that's your thing!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Round 3, Day 139: Taking care

Last week I had a wee revelation about what it means to take care of myself. I already thought I was pretty good at that. I let myself laze around and read mysteries when I'm stressed. I always get enough sleep. I catch myself quickly when I'm being hard on myself, and I check in with my husband or a friend when something is bothering me, so I can work it out without it dragging on and draining me. I stopped drinking. It sounds pretty good, right?

But I wasn't feeling great. I realized that, while the first time I quit drinking (back in July 2013) I felt healthy and energized, lately I was feeling a little bit logy and a little bit foggy more often than made sense. Yes, I have some stress going on, with writing a thesis and having some school applications in process, but I've had these kinds of stresses on and off since I went back to school a few years ago, and they didn't seem to have the same effect.

Might be an age thing, pre-meno, sure. But I started to think about what I could do to feel better. And I made a decision: It was time to slay the sugar monster!

After a few months getting back into the groove of not drinking again, I had found myself eating a lot of sugar. I mean, a lot! I know, lots of people go through this. But for years, I'd got used to eating a very low sugar diet, and it suited me. The first time I quit drinking, I was quite annoyed by how many people encouraged me to eat cake and ice cream, something I generally didn't do because I learned years ago that feel a bit crappy when I have too much sugar. Over time I kind of gave in. I figured some of the pleasures of sweet treats would be OK. First I was cheerfully having dessert when I ate out, which was only once in a while. But eventually, I was going to the bakery most afternoons, or grabbing a sugary trail bar or a cookie at school, or nibbling on toast at home. Since quitting drinking again this past fall, I seemed to be relying on sweets in a way that I hadn't in years.

Recently I've had a recurring eye infection that was resisting treatment. I was feeling brain foggy and slow and a bit podgy. I had even started baking, which meant licking the batter bowl, and having sweets on hand all the time, without even having to leave the house! I'd noticed that when I went to a certain bakery, I was a little too intense about wanting the golden beet cake with cream cheese icing. There were also a couple of uncomfortable incidents with almond croissants, and once I ended up apologizing to the lovely woman at the counter because she'd sold me the last one and then was letting her coworker serve it to someone else. (Imagine an otherwise pleasant middle-aged woman morphing into a cranky toddler and saying, in a sharp and not too quiet voice, "Hey, isn't that MY croissant?!!" It was, but still, there's no need to bite someone's head off about it. Jeepers.) I felt about those croissants the way I used to about my favourite wine, and seeing it served to someone else (after I'd bought it!) was like watching someone pour the last of the bottle into their own glass. Just writing it makes me feel unstable! Everything about the way I was eating sweets was looking like the way I used to drink. Except it was something I could do any time of day, not just during the evening. Dang! Last Tuesday, I decided that was enough, and I stopped.

Now I'm not trying some fancy new regime here. Just no sugar. And no bread. Easy on the fruit. Lots of veg and fish and plenty of butter and olive oil and eggs and some meat and cheese and nuts, that sort of thing. When I ate like this before, it seemed to suit me well. I know it sounds like I'm talking about restrictions, but the restrictions set me up to structure healthy meals instead of basing my food choices around sweets and convenience.

Already I feel more energized. I started running again, just a little, which suits me. And I've been cycling, something I love but had really stopped doing. And drinking lots of water, and teas. I'm down a couple of pounds and have lost a few inches off the waist already, and my eye is clearing up. It hasn't been hard, and I feel pretty good about it.

It's tricky to try to find how to take care of ourselves. In the recovery world, there are so many voices, and they all offer solutions that sound beguiling. Some advocate a treats-based regimen, others do yoga. Some people run, some meditate. People go to meetings or they don't, or they go back and forth on that one. Some people pray, others are committed atheists.  Some find themselves through introspection, others lose themselves in service. I like trying new things, but it's a fine line between trying some new things to see if they suit and adopting new bad habits to replace the old ones. That's what I think I had been doing with food. So to me, these days, taking care means paying attention to what's not working, and stopping that. It means getting back to what seems to work for me, which is--it's not rocket science here--eating well and exercising enough!

On a bigger scale, I think all of my regular versions of self care fall under giving myself a break. But taking care might sometimes mean the opposite. It could be getting up early to work on my thesis so I have another page or two written. It might mean running when I'm feeling lazy (how about right now?) or cycling in the rain because I'll feel better once I do. I used to be better at all this. Somehow, I think I adopted the idea that quitting drinking was such a herculean task, so any discomfort I had about anything else had to be assuaged because I wasn't drinking and I deserved it. But that's silly. Getting sober is great, but it's something I did so I could live more fully. Letting myself off the hook once in a while when I'm feeling challenged is probably necessary. But sometimes, maybe even often, pushing myself is probably closer to what I need to do to take good care of myself.

Anyway, that's where I am these days. Just taking care, and keeping on trying to figure out what that means to me.

If you're still here, thanks for reading. I hope you're finding out how to best take care of yourself, too. Me, I'm heading out for a short run! Peace and joy and happy trails to you!