How do I stop drinking?

Yesterday I’d fallen into one of those predictable but still somewhat surprising holes I forget to look out for. Blame it on post-vacation letdown or post-sugar crash or moon cycles or who cares really. I’m human. Sometimes I figure the veil has finally lifted only to reveal that I suck.

Then I checked my neglected blog email account and found a message from someone asking for any tips about the basics of, you know, how exactly does one not drink anymore. And then I remembered clear as day what a therapist told me when I was in this person’s shoes.

First you have to build your sober support system.

I always liked the sound of a Sober Support System. It sounds efficient and strong and not terribly complicated. I still had no idea how to build one at the time, so I asked.

My therapist told me to get to AA. I did. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are plenty of non-step support groups too, though availability varies depending on where you live. If you know someone else who doesn’t drink, reach out to them. Chances are they’ll be thrilled to hear from you and happy to help!

Once you get to a sober support meeting, you’ll meet other people going through the same thing. You’ll meet newly sober people like yourself and you’ll meet others with a little time under their belt. If you’re like me, you’ll relate to a lot of stories and feel much less alone and more filled with hope.

If you can’t do in-person meetings right now, there are also online resources and support groups and forums. You can connect at any time and meet a wide variety of people going through the same thing.

(Note: I know I’m missing some good resources and plan to build a page with links. If you know of any helpful sober resources not included, please share in a comment!)

Just pick something or a mix of things and stick with it and build from there. The first thing you pick doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment, no matter what you read or hear or fear. You can use any blend of resources, as long as it works for you.

The key is getting through today without a drink. Because you know what? I’ve never once regretted not having a drink. Not once in 1,116 days have I ever woken up and thought “man, I really missed out by not drinking last night.” Not once. Before I quit drinking, I’d lost count of mornings filled with nausea, dread and regret. They all bled together like one big never-ending hangover.

So build up your sober support network and don’t drink. That’s it for now. Both of these things get easier over time. Each time you get through a tough/happy/bored/anxious day without drinking and practice leaning on others, it gets a little easier to do the next time.

It takes time, so be patient with yourself. I drank for decades, and progress has built slowly over several years, with plenty of room for improvement. No rush, no real end goal in sight. Today I’m enjoying the scenery.

And I’ve yet to meet a friendlier, more helpful bunch of people than other sober people. If you’re not sure where to start, email a few sober bloggers (like me). Seriously. We want to help and it feels good to pay it forward.

Don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean one day.

Life In Six Songs: Vol. 18 (Karen and Kristen)

byebyebeer:

So excited to be a part of Christy, Michelle, and Jennie’s Life In Six Songs this week, and with Karen of Mended Musings to boot! I’ve been reading her for about as long as I’ve been blogging.

It’s especially sweet timing because I’m wrapping up vacation and busy getting sunburned and practicing important things like eating ice cream cones “moderately”. Hope you’re having a sweet week!

Originally posted on Running On Sober:

In six songs, tell us about your life. 

By now most of you know the drill, but if you are a new visitor, welcome! We challenged our guests to tell us their life stories: “The project is simple, though maybe not easy: Tell us a story–your story–in six songs. And then for fun, wrap up your life in a bonus seventh song.” The series runs every Monday through September. We are currently booked to capacity–thank you!–but before the series wraps-up, we will plan a special event where everyone will be welcome to join in. Until then feel free to check out our past volumes and enjoy this week’s stories.

Our special guests this week are:

Karen from Mended Musings and Kristen from Bye-Bye BeerI fell in love with each of these beautiful, kind-hearted and talented women after I discovered them through Christy’s space. I’m so happy to have Karen and Kristen here today! Please be sure…

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Give me some sugar

I’ve written about my struggle with sweet, sweet sugar too many times to count, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find I’m still learning new things.

I’ve had a sweet tooth my whole life, but in sobriety I’d lost my trusty emotional cushion of booze and instinctively turned to sugar. While part of me wishes I could just live with it, I’ve worked really hard over the last five years to lose more than 40 pounds through better diet and exercise, and sugar binges sabotage that. Plus it doesn’t feel good to feel out of control.

I’m writing about it this morning because some new ideas came my way via where else but the sober blogs.

First, More to Me Than This wrote this excellent piece on how sugar affects the brain and how it has affected her personally since getting sober. I would say it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve realized how much I’d been self-medicating with sugar, so her insight and ideas really impressed me.

When I started the herbal cleanse I mentioned in my last post, I took most refined sugar out of my diet. I say most because I did allow ice cream on two special occasions that fell within the cleanse period. In the past when I’ve attempted to wrangle sugar, ice cream was strictly forbidden.

I observed some new things this time around.

Moderation with sugar is pleasurable!

When I drank moderately, I hated it. I used to count drinks and as I got closer to the maximum number I’d allotted, I would feel every ounce of pleasure drain away. I didn’t enjoy a mild buzz. I wanted more.

When I eat dessert moderately, I enjoy the taste and textures. I’ve never really noticed an emotional effect from sugar, but I believe the reward centers of my brain are feeling it plenty. When I don’t overdo it, I also don’t suffer the post-binge crash, though there has been a curious emotional reaction more recently.

The guilt is still there, but maybe not forever

The secretive binges and shame I feel from overindulging in dessert remind me so much of how I used to drink. When I ate ice cream these last two times, I enjoyed the experience but not the guilt I felt while eating it. I wondered where this anxiety and fear came from. I was eating moderate servings. I wasn’t doing it every day. This wasn’t a binge, so why was I reacting like it was?

For me, I think it’s that I don’t trust myself yet. And with good reason. Enjoying sugar moderately is not something I have much experience with in sobriety.

When I ate the ice cream these last two times, part of me was thinking “oh no, here we go again.” Only I didn’t keep going back and I got back to healthy eating with the next meal. I also noticed my mood overall has been better when I eat sugar moderately compared to when I cut it out completely.

How will I know I’m cured?

I predict a continuation of cycles of eating better and overindulging with cravings. This doesn’t sound like much of a cure, huh? My hope is that with continued, consistent practice of making better choices about what I choose to eat, the eating-better cycles will last longer and the binges will slink back from whence they came. This will happen over time, like it already has. I have seen improvement in the last three years, so I can reasonably expect to see more if I continue seeking it.

A “cure” might be asking for a small slice of cake because I know it will satisfy. My hope is that I can enjoy dessert occasionally…moderately.

The last thing I wanted to share (via Sober Truths) is a TED-Ed on how sugar affects the brain. Watch if you have 5 minutes!

Tough cookies

I have another post up on The Fix, so please check it out when you have a moment.

Writing for a larger audience has been a humbling experience. It’s taken me well outside my comfort zone into one of excitement but self-doubt. I may have taken the sweet, easy cocoon of blogging for granted. I don’t anymore.

Thank you for reading and for your comments. Thank you for the posts you write and for the comments you leave on other blogs. Sometimes I’m just lurking along and read something that helps me in a way I wasn’t looking for. Sometimes I’ll feel bothered by something I read and chip away at why only to uncover something new to work on. This sounds like it might be exhausting, but it’s not. Overall, it’s refreshing and affirming. It’s concrete, irrefutable proof of the hope found in connection.

I was just trying to think what else to write about and oh yeah, I celebrated 3 years sober last Saturday!  So that happened. I took the train into Philly with my family and we walked around a comic show and visited the market to get cookies as big as my head. I did have a drinking pang at the end of the day when I was feeling overdone and worn out. I took pictures of graffiti from the train and thought about the head-sized cookie in my purse. It passed.

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dont get snotty – unless you have a cold or are doing a cleanse

The very next day I started a 10 day cleanse. The cookie thing, see, it’s a (first world) problem again. This will be my third formal attempt at cookie wrangling. Think what you want, but I’m no quitter. Unless we’re talking about booze and cigarettes.

I’m in the middle of the cleanse. The first few days I felt terrible. Today I feel a little better. It’s like my first week sober all over again. I haven’t run all week because of weird pains and lethargy. I have enjoyed vigorous walks. Why did I ever stop walking? I can’t remember. I notice more things when I slow down and walk. I notice how vibrant and lush everything seems, even the air. I see teenaged geese waddle by in their full-sized bodies and fuzzy brown feathers. I smell dill in the woods or something in the wild that dill smells like.

This is one snapshot in time. I am happy to be alive. I’m grateful for the release and support I’ve found in writing….for the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. I’m even grateful for the cookies because they tasted good and taught me that I can’t conquer everything. I’m a tougher cookie than I knew I could be.

 

Aside

A nice place to visit

The below post was inspired after reading two recent and lovely pieces by Michelle and Sherry. And also a short trip home.

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While watching my daughters reenact the “I’m Flying!” scene from Titanic on my dad’s boat, I realized I don’t hum on boat rides anymore. It was a bittersweet moment. I’ve always hummed involuntarily on boat rides and took it as a sign I could be deliriously happy at sea no matter my state on land. Watching my girls goof around and sing, I felt like I’d passed the baton.

We cruised past an eroding strip of undeveloped land, my dad at the wheel. I could see a tramped down path in the bluff above, but I’ve never seen another soul up there. My dad told me he’s recently walked along the trails, which branch out like fingers. He asked if I ever explored it as a kid, and incredibly I hadn’t and stopped to think how that could be. Then I remembered Old Man Jenkins.

Jenkins wasn’t really his last name and his real name was actually more fitting, but he’s long gone so let’s just let him rest. He was an ornery old fella when he was alive and who knows what his ghost might be like. The real reason I never explored the bluff was fear of death by shotgun. Neighborhood legend was that he once shot at some kids who wandered onto his land, which was only separated from our neighborhood by a tall chain-length fence strangled with ivy and weeds.

Jenkins ran some kind of ship repair shop or hospice for dying boats and he lived alone on an overgrown compound on at least five acres of prime waterfront real estate. He could have sold it and bought himself a house on the Riviera, but I guess he liked his spot and I can respect that.

The town where I grew up has always been a mix of newcomers who just want a pretty water view and people who stick around for what time hasn’t been able to change. It still has the same old country store my parents didn’t want us going in as kids because it was dirty or the clerk surly or prices jacked too high or all of the above. The post office and fire station look the same from the outside and I can still picture the inside of the fire hall from that neighborhood dance in 7th grade when I was allowed to wear eye shadow and mascara for the first time and felt beautiful for two solid hours.

My brother used to walk home late at night from his dishwashing job at the crab house and sometimes burnouts from the rougher neighborhood threw things at him. Once he got pelted with the letter E from our nautical-themed neighborhood sign. It wasn’t class warfare exactly, but there was a clear divide between new neighborhoods and old. Several decades later, all the neighborhoods are old and waterfront lots are scarce. People with money will buy up anything, tear it down and put up window-covered castles on postage stamp lots.

Jenkins’ old land sold and has a handful of new carriage homes on it. I don’t think he would have cared for anything called a carriage home. The undeveloped bluff has to stay that way, according to my dad. For the record, I don’t think Jenkins ever shot at anyone, but the rumor kept me out. I imagined him poised at a murky window, his sweaty, nicotine-stained finger twitching close to the trigger, his eyesight not all that great but his hearing pretty keen.


 

I love visiting my parents and smelling the brackish tides and watching osprey carry off long sticks to nests high above. I love visiting “home” but the place I miss isn’t here anymore. The kids are old now, like me, and most of them gone. The woods we played in are long gone too, except for that bluff I never went in anyway. Now I want in.

We were only visiting for one night and most of a day, so there wasn’t enough time for trespassing. There was barely enough time for a boat ride and a swim in the creek, but we managed both.

By we, I mean the collective we. I stood barefoot on the pier with my sweet baby nephew while my girls and dad swam in the silty brown water below. I paced to keep the bottoms of my feet from burning as they waded in to water that was still cold but sea nettle free. Soon they were swimming and splashing around. My dad offered a bounty to anyone able to locate the sturdy wooden rocking chair that blew off the pier in a big storm a couple of months back.

My girls felt around tentatively with outstretched legs and arms in the murky water and tried not to think about what else might be down there. Somewhere nearby or far away or who knows really, the rocking chair laid on its side, already fuzzy with algae and forgetting what the warm sun felt like on its softly silvered wood or the sound of unmuffled squeals of girls or rumble of motorboats and other things that had once been home.

He might know, but he's not talking.

He might know where it is, but he’s not talking.

 

Blowing my own anonymity

The same week I finally got around to watching The Anonymous People (on Netflix streaming, thanks for the heads up, Amy!),  I had the opportunity to write something for a new blog feature The Fix is running. I could have used a pseudonym and shadowy picture, but it didn’t feel right after watching so many give convincing arguments for the need to remove the shame and stigma of addiction.

When I first started this blog, it hardly mattered that I didn’t post a picture or use my real name because no one was reading. Around the time when I started to interact more with other sober bloggers and wondered what they looked like – did they look like neighbors, friends, family… you know, like me? – I put up a photo as nonchalantly as I could and waited for the fallout, only to find none.

I’ve used my first name only up to this point for a number of reasons. And while my recovery feels like a sacred, private affair, it also feels wrong to keep it hidden. I am not ashamed of being in recovery.

These are some of the fears I have about being open about my recovery.

What will my family think?

My husband is the one who said “go for it” without hesitation when I told him I was thinking about using my real name on The Fix, so I’m not concerned about ruffling his feathers. In general, I wish I had more of his sense of fuck it when it comes to what other people think. It’s pretty liberating to just be yourself. But I don’t want to bring embarrassment or shame to my family. Let’s think about this for a moment, though. What is shameful about being sober and a better parent and employee and person in general? What is shameful about seeking a solution to a serious problem?

What will my future employer think?

There is no hiding thanks to the almighty power of Google, so I would just like to take this opportunity to point out that untreated alcoholism cost the US workforce $134 BILLION in 1998 due to lost productivity from alcohol-related deaths and disabilities. Over 15% of US workers reported showing up to work impaired and 9% reported being hungover at work, the latter of which seems pretty low based on my own informal research.

What will the neighbors/other parents/mailman think?

This is a mixed bag. There will be some who think getting sober is a brave, wise decision. Maybe they too will have family in recovery, which is likely considering addiction affects two-thirds of US households. Or maybe some will think I’m weak or flawed or making too much of nothing. I’ll never forget a haunting line in True Detective where a reverend said (to an alcoholic) “It’s kind of hard to trust a man who can’t trust himself with a beer.” Some people think this way and it isn’t my job to change their mind.

I do feel it’s important to show others that people in recovery look like everybody else. We’re quietly going about getting help and struggling some days and getting stronger in the process. When I drank and struggled secretively, it made little sense because help was there all along in the form of recovery meetings, therapy, online support and more. Hiding my recovery feels even stranger.

I’m not suggesting we all march into work and announce our sobriety or wear matching jackets to more easily identify as sober brethren. There is no shame in keeping sobriety private and sacred if that feels right to you. No one should put their sobriety or personal livelihood in jeopardy by speaking out. There are ways to speak candidly about being in recovery for those in 12-step programs, but I think more often the fear is for how others will see us because misunderstanding and stigma towards addiction feels too big. That same stigma keeps people like us from getting help every day.

I am in a comfortable place thanks to my sobriety, living a life far better than I could have imagined. There is no shame here, only gratitude.

Click above to read full article

Click above to read full article

 

 

My baby’s first 5K

I stopped timing myself when I run. This started in early winter after I’d gone a long stretch without running at all. My fitness level felt like I’d slid backwards from Queen Frostine to the Peppermint Forest, and rather than get totally discouraged, I decided to lower the bar. It worked. I’m still running. No idea how quickly or not-quickly, but speed never was the point. I run because I feel good afterwards. I run because the simple act allows me to eat cookies. I run to connect with nature and other people.

Last weekend was the 5K I signed up to run with Josie, a great sober blog and race buddy. Thanks, Josie, for the heads up on this race and for this photo of us before the start.

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Josie’s the one with the fancy-colored hair. You know, I’ve always said I wanted pink hair and completely blew the chance to get it. Wth?

It was a beautiful day and the run was in a lovely, historic town. I love races through small towns because neighbors come out on their lawns to wave and cheer and occasionally spray garden hoses in the street for us to run through and cool off.

My two daughters also joined us for this race. My oldest is 13 and she found her own pace and beat her previous finish time by an impressive amount. I’m really proud of her and beamed when she told me she wants to keep running and possibly sign up for track next spring.

My youngest daughter is six years old. A 5K is 3.1 miles, which is a long distance for someone with little legs! She’s a determined little whipper snapper though. She told me two Decembers ago that she wanted to race with me. She even had her outfit picked out down to a purple jacket that she promptly outgrew. This particular race was very kid-friendly, so we signed her up and practiced walk-running 3.1 miles and got covered in tar for good measure. We were ready!

Her strategy was a zig-zag pattern of too-quick sprints and walk-dragging, with an occasional skip through friendly-neighbor hose spray.  She did wipe out coming off a curb near the water table, but she didn’t cry due to an emergency bandaid in my pocket and the kindness of a volunteer who saw the whole thing and brought her a cup of water and told her she was “very brave”.

She popped back up and walk/ran/skipped to the finish line, and both daughters are still talking about the post-race bagels. I have no idea where this love of food comes from.

Here’s a couple of pictures, stitched together, that my husband took just before my youngest crossed the finish line. She’s in yellow, I’m in gray.

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