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28 and Curious

Today is my twenty-eighth day of sobriety. It has been a pretty interesting four weeks filled with curiousities, insight and their fair share of annoyances too.

Mind Matters:

The foggy daytime mind present in the first two weeks is clearing rapidly while at the same time, that galloping horse of a nightime mind is moving faster than ever pulling a cartload of dreams behind her. I wake up at all hours of the night to scribble images and words into the little notebook on my bedside table. One day I’ll make sense of these tales.

Sleeping to heal:

That being said, I’m sleeping a helluva lot more which I’m taking as a sign that my body is working overtime, healing my liver, heart, lungs, tummy, brain, sanity.

Eating to heal:

As we’re onto the topic of healing i have noticed myself sheepishly admitting to organic store owners that I’ve quit drinking. Why sheepishly? I think it has something to do with a ‘should’ve known better all along’ type of thing. The owners I’ve known for a while have been very encouraging and are happy for me. We have long discussions about which fruits vegetables, herbs and spices have anti-oxidant, detoxifying and healing properties. It feels good to have such support from the right places.

The early bird catches a different worm:

Waking up earlier is also an added plus. It helps me to develop a productive morning routine the discipline of which stays with me for the day. I’ve been more creative, focused and positive, and the clarity of thought is pretty cool. Teeny downside: the over-thinking is too much sometimes, and the lists! OMG the lists! I was a list maker to begin with. The upside to all this clarity is actually setting get-able goals. I’m excited. I actually find myself planning for the future and saving money toward something instead of saving money because I ‘should’.

First cravings and a ‘first’ date:

I had my first craving last weekend, but it was not for alcohol – it was for the familiar. For the ease and ‘natural’ flow of a date. I didn’t know what to do with my hands at first and felt unsettled because I thought I looked uncomfortable which made me think I was making my host uncomfortable. He was pretty awesome about everything though: a tiny smile and a nod when I arrived at his house and handed him a box of green tea and a large bottle of water instead of a bottle of wine; allowing me to select music which would make me feel comfortable; kissing my pout away and pulling me to dance when I said I was feeling a little lost. The truth was I felt like I lost a way to connect. Our love of food and shared interest in food pairings, (usually with wine or beer), we had in common. This time I had tea instead of chardonnay with my sushi and thankfully the food critic in me was more interested in the difference in taste than the absence of wine. I guess this will take some adjusting to, but thankfully we have lots more in common and I’m game.

Judgment calls:

People keep asking me if i’m alright and I fly off the handle about it. This is typically how the conversation goes:

People: How are you?

Phoenix: I’m good. Doing fine actually: writing, de-cluttering and redecorating the apt, exercising, going to class.

People: That’s good but how are you doing with the…um… with everything?

Phoenix: Why does everyone keep asking me that? I’m fine!

I know. I’m sensitive. Yes, *pat pat* Phoenix , it is genuine concern on their part and not judgment and I shouldn’t take it as such. But whenever I hear that ‘concerned, not sure what to say’ tone, my inner Judge rears her ugly head. I am also aware that in the past I’ve been ‘superwoman strong’ and reluctant to turn to others for help,

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so it’s understandable that others might assume that I won’t ask for help this time too. But while I have made this necessary change in my life and going through the process in the best way I can, I’m the same person. I’m not fragile. Not broken. Not irreparably damaged. I’ve always been a good listener and a shoulder for others, which I love being. I’m highly empathetic and I like being there for others. But I get the feeling that people are seeing me differently now. My sister confided in me about something important to her and then said she didn’t want ME to take it on and worry. As if stress and worry will make me start drinking again.

I find myself reminding people that I never craved that first drink. Sometimes I had trouble stopping once I started but I never pined for a glass of wine. It’s been over a year of sticking to that rule: Don’t drink when worried, stressed or angry. So it’s been quite a while since I wanted to drink when the going got tough. But all that aside I’m working to understanding that people are genuinely concerned and cutting them some slack. There are a lot of preconceived notions about the nature of alcoholism and most people just don’t understand what the nature of my relationship with alcohol is.

It really is like an abusive ex-boyfriend: Once you finally see who you are, what you deserve and find the strength to walk away, it is for good. I’m never going back to that place.

Meetings

I’m still going to the Robert Paulson meetings and checking in at least once a day with you folks in my Sober Blogging Network.

On being around the Stuff.

I still have my boyfriend’s bottles of wine and my sister’s beers in the fridge for when they come over and I still hang out with my friends who drink. Little by little it’s becoming less noticeable to them when I order my soda water with mint and lemon and them noticing is becoming less important to me.

I’m awesome in the grocery store and while I do feel a little daring walking down the alcohol aisle and shaking my head at the little hairs standing up at the back of my neck, (not unlike seeing a dangerous ex), there are no feelings of loss, no FOMO, no urge to hide a bottle of wine in my basket and run for the hills. I like having more money and treating myself to US$30 worth of strawberries and blueberries instead of a US$30 bottle of wine, or calling up my favourite sushi restaurant on my way home from work and ordering sashimi to go. The same money I would’ve spent at the watering hole after work I use to treat myself with stuff I love. I gotta tell yah, the little rewards make this so worth it.

The Other Side

All that being said, I am not and will never underestimate alcohol again. It is and never will be something I can have a relationship with. Understanding acknowledging this fact was the first thing I had to do. Making the choice to stop drinking was the second. Understanding this ongoing process is what I’m doing now and I must say, it’s a good thing that psychology, philosophy, sociology and human development are some of my favourite subjects. I am understanding so much more about myself by acknowledging my triggers and coming to terms with their source. As Lisa Neumann says: I don’t choose to try drinking anymore. I tried it for a long time. It didn’t work. There is no secret to sobriety. Those that choose it, have it. So here I am at my Day 28 and very happy to be exactly where I am.

Phoenix

His name is Robert Paulson

A word or two about meetings. And a question.

I’ve attended a few meetings to date and while I do understand where they can be effective I’m yet to see what I can gain.

This is the format for a typical meeting: We show up at the designated hour; exchange pleasantries while waiting a respectable number of minutes for latecomers; then hold hands while we recite the first few lines of the serenity prayer. (Yes, I googled and the prayer is actually quite longer than most folks are aware.)

Continuing: The meeting chair introduces herself and asks if anyone would like to share anything specific; if not, we move onto a suggested chapter in The Big Book and we take turns reading and commenting if we are moved to do so. Then, a daily affirmation is read out loud from The Little Book; and we close with the Lord’s Prayer, (which somehow always sounds to me a little like “His name is Robert Paulson.” But that just might be because at my first meeting, there was another group in the next room which wrapped up before we did. I could’ve sworn their muffled words through the wall sounded exactly like the Project Mayhem tribute.

Robert Paulson

His name is Robert Paulson.
His name is Robert Paulson.

Perhaps I’ve watched so many movies with these sort of scenes that the whole group thing seems cliche to me now. Why do we have to sound like a bunch of broken desperate souls wanting to be reassured all the time? Yes, I know it is very difficult for some and meetings are their only outlet, but shouldn’t we also be accountable when we mess up? The whole “Would you like to share your story?” with the automatic assurances that “You’re ok, we’ve all been there, everything will work out.” seem a little too much like a Catholic confession ritual: if you sound sorry enough you’ll receive absolution.

(Please know that I’m not trying to offend anyone and I respect every person’s right to practice what they believe in.)

Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I haven’t found my group yet. Aside from the fact that I don’t drink anymore, I have little else in common with the folks I’ve met. But I’ll keep looking. There are dozens of meeting groups in my area so I’m hopeful. In the meantime, I’m sticking with my online group. You guys have helped me in so many ways, without opening and closing rituals. 🙂

Oh! I almost forgot my question: Have you found meetings to be helpful?

Phoenix

You Don’t Say!

Now that my sobriety is growing up a little, (yup she’s three weeks old today and received a lollipop), I’m feeling a bit braver about letting others know I don’t drink anymore. But I’ve got to tell you, while most confidantes have been wonderfully supportive, in addition to the usual questions about whether or not I’m pregnant or on medication, I have received some odd responses:

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*The blank stare*

*The blank stare with solitary blink*

*The deer caught in the headlights stare* (I feel sorry for people at this point and usually say something funny to cut them some slack.)

“Ever? You’re not drinking ever again?” (complete with raised eyebrows)

“Yeah, it’s about time you did that. You were always making an ass of yourself!” (Ok, I’ll take that, even though I didn’t ALWAYS do it.)

One guy introduced me to a stranger by saying: “Hey Adam, I’d like you to meet Phoenix. She used to drink but now she doesn’t.” (WTF was that about?)

But I’m taking it all in stride. I try to keep my over-sensitive side in check because I know most of the time folks just don’t really know how to respond and what comes out isn’t necessarily what they mean.

One of my fellow bloggers, Unpickled, has some brilliant interpretations on her site which I chuckled to read a couple of weeks ago but now completely relate to. She explains:

Normies say:      “Are you going to stop coming out with us now?”

We hear:             “You’re ruining our fun.”

It likely meant:    “We still want to spend time with you. What’s the best way to do that?”

*

Normies say:      “Did I do something to make this happen?”

We hear:             “Your recovery is about me.”

It likely meant: “I would never knowingly hurt you” (or…”I feel guilty for something I’ve done.”)

*

Normies say:      “Do I have to quit drinking around you?”

We hear:             “I don’t want to be with you now.”

It likely meant:  “I am not ready to face my own issues around alcohol.”

*

Normies say:      “What are we supposed to do after baseball now?”

We hear:             “I only want to be your friend if I can drink with you.”

It likely meant: “Is this going to change our relationship? I like things the way they are.”

*

Normies say:     “It’s no big deal. I don’t care if you’re drinking or not.”

We hear:             “Don’t expect me to do anything differently to accommodate you.”

It likely meant: “I’m acting nonchalant to show you that I’m supportive.”

*

Normies say:      “My cousin was in rehab and it made him worse. Stay away from recovery programs.”

We hear:              “All alcoholics are the same. I know more about this than you do.”

It likely meant:    “I don’t know what to say so I’m relating the only thing I know about recovery.”

*

Thanks Unpickled, for helping me to keep a cool head. I do have a pretty decent support network and I know most people mean well, but it is handy having your wisdom in my pocket. 🙂

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

The Big Bad Wolf’ by Graham Franciose

The Big Bad Wolf; The Beast; The Demon Alcohol. The ‘Drink’ is given many names when you’re learning to accept that you have a problem with alcohol. The funny thing is I’m not afraid of being tempted by The Dark Side.

Today, there are others things I fear.

“Your life is going to Change!”

I’m reassured of that again and again. I hear others in recovery talk about how much they hated their lives. They hated how much of a hold drinking had over them. By the time they realized they needed help they were mean and cruel to loved ones, lying, sneaking around, selfish, impatient, unfocused, unmotivated and falling into despair. They talk about how forming and keeping relationships became increasingly difficult.

While I do admit that I hate how I felt when I drank too much and was routinely disgusted and disappointed with myself, I love my life. I treasure my relationships and meet with loved ones as much as I can. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I surround myself with books, music, art, movies, good food and philosophy. I enjoy exploring life and run around snapping photos of the beautiful things I see around me. I try to see the good in every day and every person and encourage others to do the same. I love to laugh, dance, make love, hug, and sing (even though I can’t carry a tune). I eat healthily 80% of the time, avoiding overly processed foods, soda and sugar, and I’ve been a pescetarian since February 2011. I think of life as an adventure and I’m drawn to others who see life the same way.

What if I stop seeing life this way? What if this addiction and subsequent battle for sobriety breaks my spirit? Will the positive parts of me remain? Will I become disappointed in and judge myself harshly if I falter? Will I give up? Will my life change so much that I lose what I love about it too? This  scares  me. Very much.

“Once an addict, always an addict.”

To become an alcoholic in the first place you have to be genetically predisposed to addiction. I am aware of alcoholism on both branches of my family tree so maybe that’s true. My fear is that I will replace this addiction with another. What if I am unable to understand and deal with my triggers fast enough and seek solace in another drug? Remember, I love the high, the rush, the numbness, the silence. So what if I start smoking weed or I find a super awesome herbal tea, or something? What if I substitute alcohol with coffee, cigarettes, sex, exercise, popcorn or even writing blogposts? What if I need another addiction?

“You’ll do less drinking and more thinking.”

I’ve been told I’ll think alot more. Oh crap, please no! Anything but more thinking! I am a powerful Super Analyst to begin with. I think that’s what started my problems in the first place. Haha, “I think.” I think you get the picture. I get tired of thinking so much. About three months into my eighteen month long therapy term, a friend explained ‘slipping’ to me. It’s when you become aware of all the thoughts in your mind in an instant. ALL OF THEM. Then you see your mind start to fragment. You see and feel yourself slipping. I understood right away what she meant. I’d already felt it. It lasted only a fraction of a minute but felt like an hour. I was terrified but calm at the same time. It was quiet. The bottom line is, that is a scary place to be, because it’s easy to disappear into it. I’m afraid that if I don’t learn to handle or quiet all those thoughts, they’ll overwhelm me and I’ll fragment.

So how will I face my fears?

This is the point where I take a deep breath. One day at a time. One hour at a time. One moment at a time. That’s one of the rules right? I’ll try not to worry about what will change. I’ll continue to do what I love and explore my life. Maybe I will learn new thing and meet new people. Every change is an opportunity. Change is inevitable and it is reassuring in its consistency that way. I chose not to worry about what will and won’t change and accept that right now I am exactly where I need to be in order to become who I was meant to be.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami

Taming the Addict: So what if I need another addiction. I have to accept that I have an addictive tendencies and channel them into positive things. I’ll stock up on more fruits and veggies so I don’t grab candy and potato chips on the way home. I’ll stick to my green tea and switch to another favourite if I get bored. I’ll write and write and write. I watch movies and read books and continue to write reviews about them all. I’ll balance the gym, walking and yoga so I don’t obsess about any one activity. I’ll keep adding to my Happiness Jar and pull out those little notes when life feels too rough. And I’ll rest. I’ll rest to repair.
Taming the Mind: There are only three simple solutions which I know have worked for me in the past: Quiet Time, Meditation and Routine Tasks. For me, Quiet Time is allowing myself 15 minutes on mornings to sit with my cup of tea in the stillness of the early morning, or 15 minutes before bed to lie in the dark without checking my email, facebook, whatsapp, instagram, blogger, wordpress or twitter accounts. It’s falling asleep in my bed instead of on the couch with the TV on to drown out my thoughts. I’ll develop these habits to ensure that I find enough Quiet Time. I’ll find different ways to meditate so I won’t get bored. The more I spend with me the better I’ll get at relaxing my mind and stopping my over-thinking. Routine Tasks like household chores, washing the car or de-cluttering my apartment work wonders. Even though my mind is still pretty active, there is a calming effect of doing these methodical tasks. And by the time I’m finished I have a tidy apartment, a clean car and a healthy sense of accomplishment.
“There’s no room these days for half-heartedness. Either step up, or step off. It’s time to show up as the person we burn to be. Not some half-baked version of ourselves or as what we think we should be.” – Shavawn M. Berry
Ok so there you have it: My plan to face what scares me. If you are anything like me: a grand explorer and lover of life, a euphoria junkie with mild case of OCD, or a  super analyst who excels at over-thinking, maybe my plan can help you too. So face your fears and go after the life you know you deserve and were meant to have. Embrace it all. You’ve got this.
Phoenix

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth.

People don’t talk about Alcoholism. At least most people I know. Like them, I did not understand what it really is.

Being an “alcoholic” was long (and for some still is) thought to be a moral failing — a character flaw or lack of willpower. Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D

Alcoholism is a substance-use disorder in which the sufferer has problems managing how much alcohol they drink and their lives as a result. While there is always room for moral decisions, an alcoholic’s body reacts to alcoholic much like it would to a substance or chemical it is allergic to. It is a definitive and progressive chain of reactions which occur.

The Truth about my drinking:

I never drank every day. I drank as frequently as several days per week and as infrequently as once per month. Usually when I hung out with friends: after work at our regular watering holes, at clubs, at parties, at barbecues, at exhibitions, family events. Sometimes I would have one or two drinks and other times I’d have several. Sometimes I’d have only wine or I would consume different types of alcohol if I felt like it. Usually I’d go home tipsy, or a little more than tipsy. I’d say that once a month I’d drive home drunk enough to not remember driving home. Once every few months I’d binge drink and not remember hours of the night before. Every year or so I’d have a major episode where I would become a holy terror: Lashing out at friends, crying, screaming, rebelling, embarrassing loved ones and making a grand nuisance of myself. It is a wonder that so many people still love me.

What happens to me when I drink:

That feeling of euphoria I get when the first drink enters my blood stream is one that I cannot explain. I love it. I love the numbness, the high, the rush. My mind knows that that feeling will never be matched but my body says I need one more anyway. My body begins to crave another and another. Depending on my emotional and spiritual state either my mind or my body will win that night.

The Truth about Me:

I am always going to be one drink away from being drunk. I have to accept that this is my reality. I can make as many deals with myself to just have one drink when I go out, or stop all alcohol by a designated time that night, but the truth will always be that I am one drink away from being drunk.

Phoenix