But someone I don’t know and don’t care about might judge me!

There were a number of places I used to buy my brandy.

One was a grocery store within walking distance of our house.  This sounds ideal, but it wasn’t.  For one thing, all their spirits were kept in a locked cabinet, so the cashier had to run get the key and open the cabinet for me.  Then I had to pretend to scan the shelves looking for what I wanted rather than show that I knew EXACTLY where the brandy was (I gave up on this pretense after awhile).  Meanwhile people are waiting in line behind me.  It was all just so … conspicuous.  Plus, I always felt I had to have something else to buy, to justify running to the store.  We’re out of eggs?  Oh, I’ll go!  But I rarely got to go by myself, one or both of the girls would always clamor to come with me.  More conspicuousness.  Who is that lady with the two children buying eggs and brandy?  At 11 am?

There was also a different grocery store, where we did our weekly shopping.  This one was better because the spirits were kept on open shelves near the wine.  Easy to slip into the cart.  But I didn’t always do the weekly shopping, and it was further away — not somewhere I could “pop over” to anytime.

Then there was a drugstore downtown, near the stop where I caught the bus after work.  It was easy to leave work five minutes early and stop in before catching the bus home.  But here again the spirits were kept behind the counter, and you had to ask the cashier to get it for you.  Still, this seemed the best option and it was where I bought my brandy most frequently.

Except … I started recognizing the cashiers.  And were they starting to recognize me?  Standing in line, I would see the cashier who waited on me last time and pray, please don’t let me get her, please don’t let me get her … but it seemed I always did.  One time, a lady waited on me that I knew I had seen before.  She got my brandy without comment and ran my card.  As she handed me my receipt, she said, “See you next time.”

What does she mean by that???

Yes, I really did worry about this.   It’s actually been a real, tangible benefit of the last few weeks that I haven’t had to think about this.  I went to that drugstore yesterday to get some shampoo, and the two cashiers on duty were totally unfamiliar to me.  I remembered how I would have felt relieved at this, a few weeks ago.  Now, it didn’t matter, and I had to smile.

 

Do you have a high bottom or a soft bottom?

Ha, more lingo.  I first came across these terms on this sobriety blog.

In fitness terms, a “high bottom” and a “soft bottom” are opposites, but in alcoholic terms, they are synonyms.  It just means that you quit drinking before you hit the famous “rock bottom” you hear about from AA — losing your spouse, your job, or nearly your life.

I don’t think my experience was a “high bottom” — ending up in the hospital is pretty serious — but others might disagree.  I never was in danger of losing my job, I never had a run-in with the police, and my husband and kids are still sticking by me (thank God).  Regardless, it serves as a single, dramatic reminder and motivator to keep up this sobriety thing.  I’ve since read that “high bottom” people can be more vulnerable to relapse, because they don’t have a single event to point to say “I never want to go back there.”

In one sense, then, I can be grateful for that day.  It’s mortifying, but no one was hurt, unless you count my fork wound.  There are many, many other things that could have happened on that day, which could have had severe and lasting consequences.  I won’t elaborate but just point to the character of Janice in Rabbit, Run.  These are things that still make me wake up in a cold sweat.  That’s my “rock bottom” — what could have happened.

(I do have to point out, though, that in fitness terms, what could be better than a “rock bottom”?  Buns of steel, anyone?)

This blog post is brought to you by Cascade Ice

We had a BBQ on Saturday (day 13).  In preparation, besides the usual mad dash to clean up the house, we stocked up on non-alcoholic beverages.  I may have gone a little overboard.  This is what we had in our fridge:

1.  Perrier, plain

2.  Perrier, grapefruit flavor

3.  Pellegrino, blood orange flavor

4.  Diet Coke

5.  Cascade Ice

Cascade Ice is something we’ve always had plenty of in our fridge.  My husband drinks it like it’s going out of style.  My daughters like it because it comes in 80 bajillion flavors which they love sampling like a wine tasting.  They drink about a quarter of the bottle and then hubby or I will finish it off.  I am not quite as enthusiastic as the rest of my family because I find the flavors too sweet, but for a party it seemed appropriate.  So when I was buying my Perrier and Pellegrino, a few days before the party, I also bought some Cascade Ice.  My husband, running last minute errands with my daughter, found that the Cascade Ice makers have added another bajillion flavors to the 80 bajillion they already have.  Peach Nectarine … Crisp Apple … who could resist?

We also had beer, which was the only alcohol my husband didn’t dump out on the day.  I hate beer, and once we decided to have this BBQ, we decided it would be a good chance to get rid of it.  My husband promised we would send any leftovers home with our guests.   At the last minute (along with all the Cascade Ice), my husband also bought a bottle of wine because … well, because he always has a last minute panic when we host a party or dinner about not having “enough” — enough food, enough beverages.  Which he blames on the “Jewish mother” in him (yes, hubby is Jewish).  He bought a cabernet because, he said, he noticed I never drank cabernet.  What a sweetie, I didn’t tell him if I was going to have a drink that cabernet would have gone down just fine.

Our first guests arrived, a family with kids about our age.  They brought some veggie appetizers, a six-pack of beer, and some Cascade Ice.  We laughed and stuffed it in the fridge, which was starting to look like a beverage display case at the supermarket.  My brother and his wife arrived.  Then another family, who we haven’t seen for awhile, who brought coleslaw (flavored with ginger, yum!) and cornbread (double yum), a six pack of beer, and … yup, more Cascade Ice.  It seems the wife has been doing a weight loss program and had severely cut back on her drinking because of it.  She brought the Cascade Ice because she wanted to be sure to have something to drink.

Well, need I say that I felt completely comfortable not drinking at the party?  About half the people at the party knew about “the incident” and the fact that I have given up drinking.  And the other half … well, I’m starting to get comfortable with not keeping this as some big secret.   The people who do know aren’t blabbermouth types (my brother is so discreet he hadn’t even told his wife), but I no longer feel quite so paranoid about the story coming out.  I don’t need to swear people to secrecy.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve been able to come up with a shorthand version of events, essentially that yes, I drank a little too much and fell on a fork and had to go to the hospital for a tetanus shot.  The implication is that it was the wound, and the tetanus shot, that necessitated the hospital visit.  No need to mention throwing up, passing out, and blood alcohol levels of .275.  It’s only out of an abundance of caution and responsibility (ha!) that I’ve given up drinking.  But, this didn’t come up at all at our party.  I drank my Pellegrino, my Perrier, and tried the new Crisp Apple flavor of Cascade Ice.  It tastes just like Sparkling Cider, and what could be more festive than that?

So cheers.  Happy Memorial Day.  Cascade Ices all around!

Three Dog (Walk) Night

Whose the biggest beneficiary of my new sobriety?  Is it my husband, who has a wife who doesn’t “check out” each evening?  Is it my children, with their mom once again fully engaged and aware?

Nope.  It’s my dog.

Whenever I have the urge to drink, I find it’s helpful to grab the leash and take my little guy for a walk.  Yesterday (day 12) was a tough day.  I was home alone with the kids, feeling stressed and bored, and starting to forget all the reasons I have to, need to, and want to quit.

So little doggy got three walks yesterday.  He loves sober Mom!

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Trigger

Day 11 yesterday.

Hey, I’m learning the lingo.  A trigger is something that consistently makes you want to drink.

I discovered one trigger last night.  Something I knew but never thought about in this specific way.  I had a busy day at work, and then I was due to meet the family and go to dinner with hubby’s mom and stepdad.  They were in town for one night as part of another trip they are taking, and we all went out to dinner.

It was arranged that I would walk over to the hotel right from work, while my husband picked up the girls and drove there.  I was delighted at how the timing worked out, because I had a free hour after work before our meeting time.  I used that time  to go the gym (hurray) and then walked over to the hotel.  Just before I got there I pulled out my phone and found my husband had been trying to call me for forty-five minutes.  “Five missed calls, two new voicemails,” my phone informed me.

I am a notorious flake when it comes to my phone.  In fact, I resisted getting a cell phone at all for many years.  I told my husband that this was to save us money, but really it’s because I didn’t want the responsibility.  Remembering to take it with me every time I leave the house.  Remembering to charge it.  Remembering to turn the ringer off for movies and such, and then remembering to turn it on again afterward.  Remembering to check it periodically to see if I missed any calls.  Plus, I just really don’t enjoy being available all the time.  It is, quite literally, being “on call.”

When I called my husband back, he asked me abruptly, sounding stressed, “Are you all right?”  I said I was and I had just forgotten to check my phone, and this made him even more exasperated.  One thing that happened on the day is that my husband was trying to call me repeatedly, while I was busy throwing up and passing out and impaling myself on forks and scaring my daughter to death.  This naturally has made him somewhat jumpy and unsettled whenever he can’t get ahold of me.  He asked me specifically to try to be more conscientious about taking my phone with me and checking it, and I have been, until yesterday.  I don’t think he really thought I was boozing it up on a bar, but he was stressed anyway because he was running late and stuck in traffic with two girls in the car saying over and over again, “Daddy, I’m hungry!  Are we there yet?”

So, I totally understand.  But hearing the snap in his voice immediately triggered in me a combination of guilt (reminder of that day), resentment (hey, I wasn’t drinking, I was at the gym!), an instinct to snap back at him (it was only forty-five minutes, lay off me buddy!), and then an almost overwhelming desire to drown that instinct in a glass of something alcoholic.  My husband and I both have a tendency to get irritable when we are stressed.  When I do it, my husband is really good at staying calm and helping me resolve the source of the stress and not taking my irritability personally.  When he does it, I would love to return the favor, but instead all I want to do is snap back.

I’m sad to say that one way I have discovered to smother that instinct is take a drink.  I’d rather have a drink than have a fight, I would tell myself.  (See how easy that is?  I got to drink AND feel virtuous, almost altruistic about it!  What a good wife!)

So here I was, swimming in all these emotions, standing outside a hotel with the doorman holding the door open for me, and seeing my mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law smiling at me, waiting for me in the lobby.  So what did I do?  What could I do?  I apologized to my husband, I got off the phone, and put a big smile on my face, and went inside.   When my husband arrived, he hugged me and apologized. We had dinner (no one was drinking, thank God), we chatted.  It was a nice meal.

Later that night, after we were home, I tried to tell my husband about this stew of emotions (we’re supposed to be open and honest, right?  Not bottle up our feelings, right?), and he felt so bad.  But he shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t.  He’s an amazing, wonderful, supportive, and forgiving husband, but he’s not perfect, and I can’t let him feel that he has to be perfect for me not to drink.

Sigh.  I’m telling you, this shit’s hard.

Perfect 10

Hey, I finished day 10 yesterday!  Hurray!

This is a landmark not just because I am now in double-digits, but because of something I read in Jason Vale’s book this week:  that it takes 3-10 days for all traces of alcohol to leave your system.  I think most people are generally closer to the “3” than the “10,” but now I can say either way that there is no alcohol lurking anywhere in my body.

Deep breath.  It feels good.

I liked Jason Vale’s book quite a bit.  I read Allen Carr’s book first (which I will review in a future entry), which posits a similar point of view:  that alcohol is addictive, that anyone who drinks is in danger of becoming addicted (not just those with the disease called “alchoholism”), and that by not drinking it you are missing out on nothing. Alcohol is a poison whose so-called “benefits” are entirely illusory.  It’s a powerful concept and it does help to lessen the regret I feel about not being able to drink.  I can’t say right now that it does away with it completely, but I have hopes that I will get there.

The books equation of alcohol with any other addictive drug is illuminating and helped me to develop a strategy for dealing with temptation.  You know that feeling, whether it’s a bar, grocery store, drugstore, wherever, when you see those rows and rows of bottles, beautifully displayed and ripe for the picking?  It helps me to see them as rows and rows of hypodermic needles, filled with heroin.  Doesn’t sound so appealing anymore, does it?  I’m sure heroin, crack, and meth feel absolutely great when you take them!  Does that mean I want to try them?  No, because I know they are highly addictive and ruin people’s lives.  Alcohol too is highly addictive and ruins people’s lives; the evidence of that is all around me and always has been.  But because it is embedded in our society, I never thought about it the same way.

But it’s not a problem, I swear

I decided to join the 100-day non-drinking challenge over at Tired of Thinking about Drinking.  As part of the challenge, the blogger there, Belle, asked me to write a back-of-a postcard story about a time when I realized that the way I drink is different from other people.  Here’s what I came up with:

 
Parties are always a good excuse to drink, so I was looking forward to going to a BBQ at our neighbors’ across the street.  I didn’t know that’s why I was looking forward to it until we got there and no booze was being served!  The extent of my disappointment was somewhat … excessive.  A bit later, as the sun started going down, my daughter complained she was cold.  And what a good mommy I was as I leapt up and said, “I’ll get you your jacket, sweetie!”  I sped across the street, grabbed my daughter’s jacket, and then poured myself a quick glass of wine.  As I was chugging it down and then racing to the bathroom to brush my teeth, it occurred to me that maybe there was something abnormal about all this.

I’m ashamed to say how long ago this was — 2 or 3 years ago at least.

The Day

Mother’s Day, 2013.

We had gone out to dinner the day before to avoid the insane brunch crowds on mother’s day.  So Sunday morning was a lazy time:  my husband slept in, the girls played outside or read inside.  I had coffee, and breakfast.  And brandy.

What the hell, it’s mother’s day.  I deserve it.

That afternoon, both my daughters had activities they needed to go to.  We joked that the people who organized these were trying to ruin my mother’s day.  But I didn’t need anyone’s help.

My younger daughter’s game was within walking distance of our house, so my husband took the car with my older daughter.  I stayed back and planned to walk my younger one to her game.

As soon as my husband left, I decided to have another nice glass of brandy.  That’s all I remember until a conversation in the back of an ambulance with an EMT.  No doubt I had another nice glass of brandy after the first one.  Maybe another, I don’t know.

There are snippets:  I remember falling on the dishwasher as I was trying to unload it.  I remember pulling the fork out of my leg.  I remember my 7 year old bringing me a band aid.   I’m told that I stumbled to the bed, threw up there, and passed out.   And I’m told that my 7 year old called my husband (my brave, brave girl – how can I face her now?  How can I not, when I’m the only mother she has?)

I remember being at the hospital, getting an IV, getting a tetanus shot. I remember my husband holding my hand, I remember how worried he was.  I remember crying, apologizing.   I remember being told my blood alcohol level was .275.

I remember some hours later the doctor telling me he was sending me home, and wanting to cry out, no, no, keep me here.  Keep me from having to go back to my life, facing my kids, facing that this is what I’ve become.

That was nine days ago.  Nine sober days.

Happy Hour

Day 8 yesterday.

Uneventful day on the drinking front — that is to say the “quitting drinking” front.  There was one moment, as I walked toward my bus stop at the end of the work day, anticipating going home and starting my evening.  “And I’ll pour myself a nice brandy … ”

Oh, wait. No I won’t.

It was like a dash of cold water in the face, remembering.    Yesterday was not a stressful day at work, the sun was shining, I had no reason to feel unhappy.  But I did.  For a moment I went through a flurry of thoughts, that went something like this:  what was I thinking, saying I’m going to stop entirely?  Why not just cut down?  There were always all kinds of situations where I could drink and not have a problem.  Why don’t a just say that I’ll only drink in those situations?  But oh wait, I’ve tried to do that many times before.  How many times did make up all kinds of different rules for myself?  Only drinking after 5 … only drinking with dinner … only drinking wine, no spirits … only drinking three days a week … only having one drink a day.  How well did those rules work for me?  Well, they all did.

Until they didn’t.

So I got on the bus feeling rather subdued.  When I got home I made myself a grapefruit spritzer and had some cheese and crackers.  I sat down for five minutes with my eyes closed, concentrating on my breathing, meditating.  The idea is to give myself a different signal that the work day is over, that it’s happy hour now.

 

Dinner Party

Yesterday was day 7 for me being sober.

I encountered — and cleared — a hurdle:  my first dinner party.

My heart was actually pounding on the way over.  I wasn’t worried as much about being tempted (though I was worried about that too), as in how to navigate the social waters.  Which is stupid.  Was I expecting our hosts to say “Not drinking?  Get out of my house!”  Of course they wouldn’t, and they didn’t.

But, but, but …

My seven year old daughter watched the American Girl: Felicity movie this weekend.  This is by the makers of the American Girl dolls, and is set in 1775.  One scene involves Felicity being taught to be a proper lady and how to take tea.  When she refuses a biscuit, her chaperone lectures her that taking the biscuit is not about the biscuit, but about accepting your hostess’s hospitality.  In other words, you need to take it whether you want it or not.

What is offering alcohol but the grown-up version of this?  When we have a dinner party, what to do we do when our guests arrive?  We take their coats, ask how they are, and then offer alcoholic drinks.  When we offer beer and wine to our guests, we are saying, “I am welcoming you to my home.  I want to you to feel comfortable and have a good time.” And when our guests accept, they are saying, “We accept your hospitality.  We are here to have a good time in your home.”  Isn’t there always a slight  — very, very slight — chill when people say “Oh, I’ll just have water”?

One tip I read this week on a sobriety blog was always to bring a non-alcoholic drink with you to a dinner party.  Not just one, but a six pack of something fancy, like Pellegrino, or a bottle of sparkling cider.  This is a sober person’s equivalent of the six pack of beer or the bottle of wine that guests often bring as a hostess gift.  It’s win/win/win because a) it’s a gift, always a nice gesture, b) it gives you something non-alcoholic to drink, and c) it’s special, so it signals “I’m here to have a good time.”

So that’s what I did.  We brought a six pack of orange Pellegrino.  When my hostess offered me wine, I pretended to hesitate and then said “Oh, maybe I’ll just have one of these Pellegrinos for now.”  My husband hemmed and hawed before settling on water, and told me afterwards that he almost felt like he should drink because I wasn’t!

Then later, before dinner, my hostess was getting out the wine glasses and asked me again if I wanted wine.  I said, “Maybe just some water.”  My husband was out the room so she asked me I thought he would want some.  Again I said, “Oh, probably just water for him too.”  Then I laughed a little and said, “We’re so boring.”  Maybe it’s silly that I felt the need to be self-deprecating, but I felt better for saying it.

Anyway, I had a wonderful time.  I drank my Pellegrino while my hosts had beer and wine. We ate and talked and laughed, and when my hostess offered tea or coffee after dinner, I was able to happily accept.