Day 8

“You’ll never regret the days you don’t drink.”

I read that a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me. It’s been my mantra the past week.

But yesterday afternoon I told my mantra to go fuck itself. Yesterday sucked. It was a horrible, no good, very bad, awful, shitty, terrible day. It tested me. Bright and shiny? Nope. Not even a little.

Towards the end of my work day, my desire to go home and drown my bad day in a bottle of Sauv Blanc had started prickling at the edges of my sanity. Soon enough, I was sweating and cursing in my office. An hour later, I had begun to seriously reconsider this whole idea. “What was the big deal? One night? I had taken a whole week off. I reached my mini-goal. I survived!”.

I sat there in my office for a good 30 minutes, willing myself to make a choice. The right choice. I got up, walked around the block, returned to my office, closed the door, queued up Netflix, and started furiously cleaning. Because no. I would not drink my stress away. I would not. I would not. I. Would. Not. I stayed in my office for another hour and fought through the start of my witching hour. I knew I couldn’t go home, not yet.

When I finally walked through my front door, I was a wreck. I had been through battle, and although my defenses were weak, I needed to stay strong and get through dinner and bedtime. To my relief, my son had fallen asleep early. It was like a sign from the universe – “take the night off; rest; be good to yourself“. I laid down on my couch, silently meditated, told myself to breathe, just breathe; in, and out. And, it worked. I woke up close to midnight, and the urge had passed. I had survived my first test. And I don’t regret it.

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Day 7

One week! An entire week. I’m not 100% sure, but this may be the longest I’ve gone without having a drink, except for my pregnancy. Go, me?!? (I know for sure I’ve never made it past 10 days, so just another few dozen hours and I can properly celebrate my longest stretch.)

Last summer my husband and I did the Whole30. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, you give up:  processed food, sugar, all grains, alcohol, legumes, and dairy – basically, the best of the best of your diet goes out the window for 30 days. You’re limited to any and all meats and vegetables, fats, nuts and seeds, and some fruit.

Although the no-sugar was a bit of a mind bender, and I was dying for one lousy cube of cheese, not surprisingly the hardest forfeiture was alcohol. I bought into giving up everything else, but I didn’t want to cork the bottle. Period. Full stop. Deep down in my alcohol-soaked heart, I knew that it would be best (for mind, soul, and body) to give it up, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to. I managed to cheat about once a week. Shockingly, I didn’t cheat in any other category (I don’t do well with diets generally) – just the wine. I was able to successfully moderate, though, and had convinced myself that I would continue in moderation. Which failed. Miserably (duh). C’est la vie. I’m here now, and I’ve got some momentum.

So what changed? First of all, my attitude doesn’t suck. I’m choosing this. I truly hate to fail, so I’m throwing everything I’ve got at the wall and seeing what sticks. Some of which have been:

  • Listening to The Bubble Hour and reading sobriety blogs
  • Chocolate, ice cream, cheese and more chocolate
  • Basically eating whatever the fuck I want; I tend to really limit my consumption of grains, but I’ve taken a one-way train to carb-town, and I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.
  • Italian sodas, fizzy water, tea
  • Going to bed early, rising early
  • Seeing and feeling the sun; drinking fresh air
  • Crazy, ridiculous rants full of giant expletives – in my car. Alone. It’s the best place to scream at the top of one’s lungs.
  • Knitting – so. much.knitting.
  • This blog has helped. Writing it out, seeing it all in black and white. It’s good to talk through some of the shit, and I’m starting to understand why journaling can be so therapeutic.
  • My e-cigarette – at this juncture, as essential vice that I’m not willing to give up yet

Now that the weather has warmed, I’d like to add some exercise to the mix during weeks 2 and 3, probably just walking the dog every day to start. I’m also looking forward to eventually diving back into my long-forgotten yoga practice and possibly exploring meditation. I want to read furiously, talk intimately, breathe deeply, drink in love, and spread joy. Time is on my side. One day at a time.

Day 6 – The Question, Part 2

If you asked the people closest to me whether or not I have a drinking problem, I can guarantee you’d get a resounding chorus of mostly No’s, along with a few “WTF, are you crazy?” looks. But a few hold-outs, one or two, might say “Well…why do you ask?”

Those hold-outs – probably my husband, and a few select friends – those are the people who have a small, tiny clue. They might suspect that something is awry, or that I “haven’t been myself lately”. But they chalk it up to stress, or the mayhem of the last couple of years, or an early mid-life crisis. They don’t really see, though, and that’s because I don’t think they want to see it. That, and I’m a pretty good liar.

I’m secretive. I’m guarded. I will flat-out lie to my husband about how much I’ve had to drink. I’ll stay up late “working” so that I can drink more. I hide wine bottles; I sneak hard liquor. I buy the exact same label of wine so that it’s hard to tell exactly how much I’ve drank. For a time, I started buying boxed wine so that it was more difficult to tell how much I’d consumed. I’d regularly go through two boxes a week (easily 8 bottles) but tell my husband that “Gosh, it’s so much cheaper to buy the boxes, they last almost 10 days!”. (For the record, that didn’t last long, because let’s face it, most boxed wine is nasty).

While I’m terrified of sharing my secrets with my husband and closest confidantes, I’m even more terrified that they won’t believe me. On some level, my husband has to notice that I drink too much, but I don’t think he realizes just how much. How bad it’s progressed, and how desperately I need him to understand. To accept. To forgive. To hold my hand, take a giant leap, and grow with me.

When I made the commitment to cork the bottle for a while, I sat down and wrote out my reasons. There are lots of logical reasons – time (spent thinking about drinking, but also spent not doing shit because of it); money (spent on booze); extra weight (that I can’t lose, because of the booze); the persistent hang-over; my attitude (insolent and isolated a good chunk of the time).

And then, there’s the reason, one I’m certain I share with many “problem drinkers”. Shame. Plain ol’ ordinary, non-sexy shame. Yes, there are some intoxicated events I think about and just cringe. Yes, there are life choices I’ve made due to alcohol that I desperately wish I could reverse. And yes, there are a couple of “oh-shit-I-can’t-believe-that-happened-because-of-drinking” moments (I guess you could call those my bottoms, even though they, in isolation, did not prompt this change). But the over-arcing, solid push to this decision is shame.

Why would any sane, logical person live with a behavior that left them feeling guilty, humiliated, and disgusted if they could reasonably do something about it? Once I asked myself that question and I truly and honestly let myself feel all of the feelings that I truly and honestly felt about alcohol – well, then I knew it was time. I knew I couldn’t continue living the way I was.

Which brings me back to The Big Question, and the only honest answer I can give is “I just don’t know”. After everything I’ve lived with for the past decade – the bad decisions, the guilt, the shame, the deceit, I still can’t bring myself to use the a-word. But you know what? I honestly don’t care. I’m calling bullshit on the labels. Because really, who cares what I call myself? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I am making a choice to take a break. I’ve lived under the delusion for years that alcohol added something good to my life, but that ship sailed a long time ago (if it was ever even anchored). To be totally honest, I’m not going to lie and tell you that I’m done for-like-ever. But I am done right now.

Day 5 – Bright and Shiny?

Day five has arrived. I’m smack in the middle of a massive work commitment (trigger!) and I’m surviving without wine just fine, thank you very much. Not that anyone has asked. They haven’t. And I haven’t confessed.

In no universe would anyone in their right mind call me a morning person. That being stated, I woke up this morning feeling…good. Like, normal I guess? The bags under my eyes are starting to fade, my skin is clearer, my eyes are brighter, my mind isn’t cluttered and foggy. Is this how non-drinking people feel most days? Is this what I’ve been missing out on for a decade? Because if so, it’s something I could get really, really accustomed to.

When my college girlfriends and I get together, we bitch about all the bright and shiny, dewy-as-fuck people in our lives. Think for a minute. You know who I’m talking about. But today? Today there is this sliver of change – this little voice telling me “You – you can be a bright and shiny person too; just give it a little more time.”

Day 4 – The Question, Part 1

“Am I a Real Alcoholic?”

This is the question that has been rolling about my skull for months – well, let’s be honest here. For years. I’ve taken ten different forms of the online tests, and I always score high (i.e., strong indication that I either have a problem, or am an alcoholic). When faced with the very definition of insanity time and time again, I’ve continued to rationalize my behaviors into my own tidy definition of truth. Denial? Yep.

I’ve been furiously unpacking thoughts about my drinking the last few days. The habit of it. The dependence on it. The awareness of it. Arriving home from work, it’s instinctual to pour myself a glass of wine. It’s the first thing I do. For years I couldn’t see that pattern as it was unfolding, literally, right in front of my eyes.

Denial is a powerful mask, and I’ve been using it to protect myself from some really hard truths for a very long time.

Seven years ago, my best friend got sober. We were living together at the time, and we had a lot of fun together. One day, she sat down and told me that she was an alcoholic and was seeking out treatment. I cried with her, I raged with her, I hugged her. I supported her, told her I’d be there for her, would do anything she needed me to do. At the time, we were both binge drinkers, and I could go one for one with her any night of the week, and often did. We rarely drank at home together, but when we did, we put down a bottle each, no problem. The signs were there for both of us, but only she had the courage to accept the inevitable. She’s always been smarter than me.

While I was outwardly supportive of her recovery, I was torn apart on the inside. I truly didn’t think she was a Real Alcoholic. Did she need to cut back? Yeah, I guess a little. Did she sometimes go too far? Of course. But we all did! We were in our 20’s! We were having fun, and we weren’t going to make any excuses for enjoying our youth. I was frankly angry that she was taking such drastic measures. She was my number one drinking buddy and confidante. How could she so severely upend the good times? I distinctly remember thinking “She won’t toast at my wedding? No more Friday nights with wine and cheese? No more drunken dance parties? Who am I going to go out with?” Man, was I short-sighted.

The reality was that her need to get sober was a reflection of my problem too. Our behaviors were so, so similar, if not mirror images. But there was no fucking way I was giving up drinking. NO WAY. I didn’t have a problem, so she clearly didn’t have one either. As I outwardly supported her on her path to sobriety, inside I was a skeptical mess. She doesn’t have a problem. She doesn’t have a problem. I don’t have a problem. Hello, Denial.

That was seven years ago. Seven. She’s been sober ever since and has flourished. And since we only speak the truth here in this anonymous corner of the internet, I must admit that I’ve gotten worse. There’s no more binge drinking, no more awful (public) life choices. But there are more secrets. More lying. And certainly more consumption. Her sobriety should have terrified me. Instead, I’ve spent years rewriting our history together to justify why she needed help, and I didn’t.I’ve made it to Day 4, and I’m halfway to my mini-goal of 7 days. More tomorrow, as I sort through my shit and try to answer the Big Question.

Day 3 – Triggers

Through reading various blogs, listening to podcasts like The Bubble Hour, and participating in the online community, I’m starting to pick up some of the sober lingo. One of the terms I keep coming across is “trigger”. Last night was a prime trigger moment for me. My husband went out with friends to a concert, and I was home alone. It was Friday night, and this was “my” kind of night – a bottle of wine and then some, Netflix, and maybe (if I could keep it together) some sort of knitting or quilting project. By the time my husband returned home, the evidence of anything above and beyond acceptable (i.e., more than one empty bottle of wine) would have been well-hidden in the big recycle bin, and I’d be passed out, either in bed, or more likely on the couch.

After my husband had left and I had put our son to bed, I sat on the couch, queued up Netflix, and promptly thought “How the fuck am I going to make it through the next few hours?”. I thought through my options. There was no wine in the house. DH had finished the last beer. Aha! There’s some whiskey in the cupboard. Manhattan time.

And then it hit me – I was running through these options automatically. It was so second nature for me to get drunk when my husband was out with friends (after all, he was drinking, wasn’t he?) that I forgot for a moment that I was sitting on Day 2.

I’ve learned my first early sobriety lesson – figure out your triggers, and plan for their inevitable arrival.

After snapping back to reality, I regrouped and planned out the rest of my night – baking, laundry, blood orange Pellegrino soda, chocolate, and several episodes of The Bubble Hour. After my witching hour passed (typically from 8 PM – 11 PM), I had calmed down enough that I was able to sit and watch a little Netflix without desperately craving a glass of wine to go with it. “One day at a time” – or for nights like yesterday, more like one hour at a time.

I made it through the night, and for that I’m giving myself a massive pat on the back. Today is a new day, the start of a weekend for most, but for me it’s the start of an incredibly busy work week. I’m working Saturday straight through Thursday, and I need to sit down a reflect a little today on what my stressful work triggers are, so that I can anticipate how to take care of myself. I see a LOT of chocolate and Pellegrino soda in my future.

Day 2

“Today is the last day. Tomorrow, I’ll quit for good.”

Tomorrow became…tomorrow…and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Tomorrow finally became today. Well, yesterday, since today is Day 2.

Today I awoke, mostly clear-headed and feeling lighter than I have in years. Last night was not nearly as tough as I imagined it could have been. There were no tears of frustration, internal conversations about whether or not I needed to walk the two blocks to Safeway to restock. I politely declined a drink at dinner when my husband offered (there is no wine in the house, but he has a few excellent IPA’s stocked in the fridge – a delicious alternative when the wine has gone dry).

But I have to remember that it’s early, early, early in the process. I still have determination about what tomorrow can bring, and am fiercely clinging to what’s next, instead of what’s right now.

I immersed myself in reading the words of other women who have tread these waters before I. Beautiful, candid blogs like Unpickled and Tired of Thinking About Drinking. I read their experiences and I realized something – I’m not special. My daily bottle of wine (sometimes more, rarely less) isn’t unique. What’s was even more reassuring was that my desire to quit quietly isn’t unique either, which is the most reassuring thing I’ve discovered so far.

I’ve wanted to quit this quiet, determined beast for a long, long time, but I know one thing – I don’t want to go to AA. It just doesn’t resonate with me. Knowing that AA wasn’t going to be my path (for now), I needed to find another way, but I was lost on how to get there.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I realized that I could tackle my dependence on wine the same way that I’ve tackled hundreds of other challenges in my life, and that was by saying “I can” and then doing it by shear force of will. I am certain that hundreds, if not thousands, of people will have quite a chuckle when they read those words. “Don’t you see what you wrote above? You’re not special. And just like every other drunk out there, you can’t quit in a vacuum”. And they’re right. I can’t quit in a vacuum, but I can quit on my own terms, because that’s the only way that I’ll follow-through on my commitment. I know myself best, and I know from past experience that the only way I’ll make the most of a situation is by conquering it my way.

I’m slowing making my way through the various other support groups available to me that are not 12-step programs. There are some very specific reasons that I don’t think AA is for me, and some very vague ones as well, that I’m sure I’ll touch on in the future. But for now, I trust my own judgment on this particular point. And right now, what I need MOST is to trust myself – to trust that yes, I do have a problem, and that I can conquer it.

Today is Day 2.