Sobriety

I stopped drinking 18 days ago. For me drinking had become an addiction. There was no way I could pretend that I was in control of the beast anymore. I hadn’t been in denial for a long time. Probably years. I knew it was out of control and I knew I would stop. The actual act of stopping was far harder than it sounded. Every couple of months I would decide that I wasn’t going to drink that week, that I would allow myself a bottle in the weekends (wine was my poison). Inevitably I would white knuckle it through one day, maybe two. Teeth gritting with discomfort the whole way. Then it was back on. A bottle a day, every day. Sometimes on the weekend I would allow myself a bottle of cider as well. I would wake up with a heavy head, energy sapped, joints aching. Limping my way through work and family life.

I was tired physically and mentally. For my last few months of drinking there was a voice in my head telling me every time I opened a bottle “this isn’t working, it doesn’t work anymore”. And it didn’t. A whole bottle of wine didn’t even take the edge off. Although all my emotions were dulled I had stopped getting that light relief or high that alcohol had given me. My brain wanted more to get that same feeling. I knew I was standing on a cliff. Either I could turn back and embrace my family, my career and myself or I could jump off and drown in the alcohol. I chose to back away from the cliff. It’s early days. This could go either way. I feel ecstatic that I am on this path but I know I need to work at it. This blog is part of my toolbox. I am finding feelings and memories emerging and I want to process them so that I don’t attempt to drown them in booze. I also want to be able to refer back to these early days in case I get complacent. So here goes.

The gene of the big dreamer but non-completer

An ineptitude at finishing things or following them through to the end runs in my family.  It travels down the maternal side of the gene pool and culminates in wasted money, drawers of disappointment and general feelings of dissatisfaction. In my Nana; it manifests itself in unfinished craft projects.  Things bought from second hand stores in the hopes of giving them a new life and then stored in a shed for a few years before being on-sold or donated.  Basically, she now runs a storage and sorting business.  When I was a kid I remember a drawer of porcelain doll parts; bodies, faces, arms legs and wigs.  I found them fascinating and waited with deep anticipation for the day when my promised doll would be finished and gifted to me.  My one had a long blonde wig and long, thick brown eyelashes.  My sisters was smaller and had brown curly hair.  They both had exceptional potential.  Mine would sit on my bedside table, my sister’s on her dressing table.  Both would only be played with using the utmost care and treasured; we assured each other.  I don’t actually know what became of that collection of doll parts.  I can only assume they became part of the buy and sell cycle that my Nana ran from her shed.

In my Mother’s case the condition was manifested in symptoms of what can only be described as delusions of entrepreneurial grandeur.  Mum fancied herself as a budding business women.  In all seriousness, this probably arose out of a desire to escape the dull and the mundane menial jobs that she endured.  Mum was quite smart.  In another time or another town she probably would have gone to uni and got herself a profession.  But in late 1970s, small- town New Zealand it was a lot less common to have goals like this.  A marriage, a mortgage, kids and weekend barbeques and binge- drinking with friends were more the norm for those in mum’s circle.  Mum’s list of business ventures included; selling jewellery, linen, Avon and Tupperware. She bought a loom and began weaving.  Wall- hangings, coats and blankets were whipped up and sold.  I remember the adjustment period my Dad, my Sister and I endured as the surprisingly loud loom became part of our evening routine.  The thwack! thwack! competed with the volume of our favourite shows.  Out of necessity we got used to sitting on our knees with our noses almost touching the screen so that we could hear over the sounds of Mum’s new toy.  Her most outrageous idea would have had to have been ‘farming’ snails for French restaurants.  I kid you not.  These ventures tended to just fizzle out, to die a natural death.  No-one was hurt, no money was lost, and Mum just picked up and moved on to her next big idea.  I guess when you are frying fish ‘n’ chips for a living you spend a lot of time in your head planning ways out.

So how has this gene made itself known in my life? Gee, let me count the ways.  University courses were something in which I was a serial non-completer until my late twenties when I finally realised I was destined to a lifetime of serving condescending customers in retail stores unless I got my act together. Uncompleted diets and gym memberships are innumerable in their number.  Perhaps these sound like run-of- the mill symptoms of procrastination and indecision, maybe even pure lack of motivation.  But beyond this, I must confess that I have that little voice inside my head that must be the same one that has talked to women in my family through the generations.  It crops up every now and then promising big success in random ventures; organic cookie- baking (I don’t bake), kids clothing manufacture (I don’t sew), even selling pure merino hats (I don’t knit).  The sheer unlikeliness of any of these things coming to fruition means that I can attribute these to the gene of the big dreamer and limit them to an internal monologue as I walk home from work. Usually.

Really? Wine pangs now??

Arrghhh! Haven’t had a pull to the drink for a while now but today I had that distinct little niggling pang of wine cravings. I know this is forever. I know I can’t moderate. I have tried and failed. But my mind is doing its own bargaining business without my consent. Surely I can be a normal drinker, I can handle it etc.

I’m not going to listen. I want this, I choose this, I love this life. But it isn’t all beer and skittles (haha). I have just had a day that is a bit blah and that’s life. Onwards and upwards. Inching closer to 60 days. Go me!

Outing my sobriety

Well that title might be a bit misleading. I haven’t actually outed my sobriety as such. I have had some tough conversations with those closest to me. I used the word alcoholic. So those nearest and dearest to me know my truth and won’t be supportive of any suggestions on my part that ‘maybe I can moderate now’.

This weekend I have spent with my in laws, big booze guzzlers. I got off the hook by saying I was doing Dry July. Wasn’t a biggie. There was an awkward moment when I ordered a ginger beer that was 0.7% alcohol. I was told by mother in law, “it’s less than 1%, it’s fine, it won’t make you crave alcohol unless you are an alcoholic”. Cue the awkward laughter on my part… I said I wasn’t going to drink it and offered it up to the table.

Anyway, apart from that I am going strong at 55 days sober. Enjoying a body that is less painful and can do more, walking, playing with my wee boy, more cooking. Just life. I had a brilliant moment of happiness the other day when I realised once again how little I was living when guzzling wine and how much more I have to look forward to now. I wrapped my arms around my Husbands neck and exclaimed ‘I love life!’. Sober life that is!

Is this what calm feels like?

So I had a challenge today. I am transitioning my three year old into daycare. It is emotionally tough because it is hard on him and I want to protect him from sadness. I am feeling emotionally fragile. On top of this my Grandmother has been looking after him for the last 6 months until this spot at daycare opened up. She seems to be struggling with not being needed in this way anymore. This is being expressed in funny ways. She is undermining the centre which my Husband and I are both happy with. This is causing self doubt and after a particularly cutting comment from her today I had a serious wine pang.

This took me by surprise; it was a deep, sudden and physical urge for a bottle of wine. So what did I do? I made a cup of camomile tea and I unloaded my feelings to a friend. I calmed down, started to think rationally. I feel like I can choose my response, I feel like I am somewhat in control of my emotions and it feels awesome.

21 days

The first goal I set myself when I decided to stop drinking was 21 days. It seemed significant, not sure why. Well now I am here. It has been easier than I thought. Except for the first few days, they shocked me. My withdrawals were a wake up call, I realised I could definitely not claim I didn’t have an addiction when my withdrawals were so physical? Sleepless sweaty nights, clenched fists physically trying to stop thinking about wine from 2pm on. Then when I did sleep there were vivid dreams of bugs, cockroaches and other nasties. It reinforced that I had a problem, made me even my sure I had done the right thing. After 5 days it eased, I started getting glimpses of happiness, laughter came easier, so did sleep.

I had two great weekends, hangover free, real present in my parenting, alert and alive. Now this my first milestone weekend has been a bit of a downer. I’m tired, I’m shitty, I’m bored. I need a reminder of why this is a good thing. Here are a few reasons why I am happy I am sober;

1. I am proud of my parenting. I am present with my little boy and have a lot less guilt. I am not missing anything.

2. My life is fuller. Before my life consisted of work, going through the motions at home and drinking a bottle of wine at night. Every night. Now there is more. Much more.

3. I am looking forward to the future. I am excited about family outings, holidays, taking my boy to his first movie, starting a book club a sober Xmas… there is a lot to be excited about.

4. My Husband and I are more connected. Before I was a bit glazed, a bit empty, not so keen on conversation. I felt ashamed, not on even footing. Now I feel more connected and like I am more fun to be with.

5. It is easier to think. I don’t have to try so hard to get my brain firing- it is quick. This makes me calmer, especially at work.

6. I am taking care of myself, I am meditating, drinking herbal tea, walking to work, taking time out and I start an exercise programme tomorrow. Writing this down makes me see how far I have come in three weeks.

Next milestone 41 days. Why 41? My only attempt at abstaining (outside of pregnancy) lasted 40 days. Beating that is a little psychological milestone I have. Although this is just the beginning, this is forever – shitty weekends included!

Is this happiness?

Lately I have been experiencing little bursts of what I can only describe as joy. This feeling is new and I can only relate it to those childhood moments of sheer happiness at some outing or gift or excitement.

I don’t remember feeling this as an adult. It’s not that my life hasn’t been good, it has. I have felt many moments of excitement, pride, fun, love… a lot of my adult life (I am 37) has been spent ‘building’. Growing a career, studying, marriage and a house. I have always said that I was ambitious, I have always pushed myself to go further, try harder, be better.

Three years ago we had a little boy. He was and is an amazing human. Motherhood wasn’t an easy transition for me. I was self critical beyond belief. I convinced myself he wasn’t attached to me but that was ok, it was my job to love him, not his job to love me. In hindsight I think this isn’t all that uncommon. We found our groove, I found my inner Mum. He showed me he loved me and needed me. It all got easier, we started to have fun.

Over the last few months I have found myself overwhelmed by this peaceful, joyful feeling and this connection to the moment. I will be watching him making his LEGO people talk to each other, his imagination taking flight. I find myself teary eyed. My shoulders light. My heart almost sore with love.

It feels like glimpses of the meaning of life.