Halfway to 90

Forty-five days sober as of yesterday.  I went on another weekend trip last weekend and had only a few twinges of desire for alcohol, both times at restaurants when I saw fellow diners at the next table enjoying wine with dinner.  This type of temptation is easy to deal with.  The real challenge, I’m finding, is at home, at “happy hour,” when daily stress is at a maximum — I’m just home from work, trying to make dinner, everyone is hungry, my husband and I are both irritable.  Both yesterday and the day before my husband and I got in petty spats about who needed to do what, or (more importantly!!!) who had more of a “right” to be stressed out.

Both times I dearly wanted to bury my nose in a nice glass of brandy or wine.  I did not, but clearly this is something I need to deal with.  My husband and I discussed it afterward and I told him this is what I meant when I told him back on that day, “I’d rather have a drink than have a fight.”  When the fight is something stupid like who picks up more or who deserves to go have a quiet moment, something that I know doesn’t matter in the long run (I know we both work hard, at work and at home) — I’ve always wanted to find a way to avoid it altogether.

Yes, I know how stupid this sounds — to justify drinking for such a trivial reason.  But, I told him all of this, and he responded instantly, “I’d rather have you snap at me.”

Of course he would.  But I do need to find a way to take things easier and deal with stress better.

Craving

Sigh.  And things were going SO well.

I had a great weekend, a quick trip to visit a friend and her family in a nearby city.  The weather was beautiful, the kids got along, the dogs romped together like puppies.  It was great to see my BFF and her hubby.

Then, yesterday, I was home with the kids again, surrounded by dirty laundry, un-unpacked suitcases, and a messy house.  The girls were bickering.  We had to go grocery shopping and return a bunch of books to the library.  I was trying to quickly clean the bathroom before we left.  I squirted the blue toilet bowl cleaner and looked around for the toilet brush, but it wasn’t there.  Suddenly this was just the end, the last straw.  Where … is … the … goddamn … TOILET BRUSH!!!

Fuck it.  I wanted a drink.  I really, really wanted one.

I went and sat down in the living room.  My dog jumped up on my lap.  I stroked him as I raged inwardly about how it isn’t fair, it isn’t fair, it isn’t fair.

After awhile the feeling ebbed a little.

Then I got the toilet brush from the other bathroom.

I cleaned the toilet.

 

One month

One … freakin … month!!

Technically I am on day thirty … four? I think? today.

Before I stopped drinking, I would sometimes look at “one month sober” blogs, or other online articles.  “Ocsober,” “Dry July,” etc.  Giving up drinking for one month was all I could contemplate or even admit was a good idea.  I read in one of these that it’s good to give up drinking one month each year “just to prove you can.”  This is where the bananas thought experiment comes in handy again.  Who would say that it was good to give up bananas for a month each year just to prove you can?

One blog that I found was “Year of Living Sober.”  The guy’s year has ended now, and I think somehow I expected him to keep it up after he started drinking again, as a way of proving that a year off could serve as a “reset” of his drinking habits, that he could drink more like a “normal person” (whatever that means).  Maybe I thought so because that’s what I wanted.   But he hasn’t kept it up.  He said he wanted to do to prove he could (just like those bananas!).  I’ll be curious if he ever posts an update.

Anyway, I would read these blogs and articles looking for … something to identify with, I guess.  But if I read that giving up alcohol was really difficult, it confirmed that this was something I better not attempt to do.  If I read that it was easy, I thought, “well, obviously this person is not like me.”

It’s funny.  What was I looking for then, really?

So here I am, more than one month sober and I am finding it surprisingly easy.  Yes, there have been moments—moments where I crave alcohol either as part of a ritual (our anniversary dinner!) or as a coping mechanism for some stressful situation.  But those moments pass, they really do.  The ritual is really not that different without alcohol, the stressed-out feeling passes whether you take a drink or not.  If anyone is reading this because they are thinking about giving up alcohol and it seems like an insurmountable challenge, please know that I thought so too.

Take the leap—it’s worth it.

“I can’t take pills, but I can drink.”

Confession time.  I love Vicodin.

I had C-sections for both of my children, the first one an emergency where I was given general anesthesia (I had a variant of pre-eclampsia).  The second I had a standard epidural, and I was awake.  Both times I was given morphine afterward, which I could deliver to myself by pressing a button.  Morphine did nothing for me (except pain relief—booor–ing!)  I would often forget to press the button.

(Speaking of morphine, how about this awesome John Prine song?)

“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.”

But Vicodin was a different story.  I loved it.  The pain relief seemed even more effective than morphine for me (and okay, I’ve never had any other kind of surgery, but let me say that C-section incisions are very, very painful), plus my body just seemed to feel good all over.  And the mental state was a combination of euphoria, calm, and yet a clear head.  Alcohol is calming to me, and occasionally euphoric, but it always clouds my mind at the same time. I was always very, very regretful when my prescriptions of Vicodin ran out.

If it was as easy (and legal) to buy Vicodin as it is to buy alcohol, would I have gotten addicted to Vicodin instead?  Maybe.  Probably.

It’s an occupational hazard in the medical community to get addicted to prescription drugs and anesthetics.  Celebrities also seem uniquely prone to getting addicted to painkillers, perhaps because their status helps them find enabling physicians to keep prescribing to them.  The recent conviction of Michael Jackson’s physician, for providing him with propofol, is a case in point.  Does it all just come down to access?

Once I was sitting near the back of the bus and two scruffy, rough-looking (maybe homeless) men were seated behind me.  One of them was regaling the other with tales of his drinking exploits.  Then he said, “All these rich folks who look down on us just have their little pills instead.  I can’t take pills, but I can drink.”

Me too.

You’re my obsession

My husband tells me that I’m not happy unless I’m obsessing on something and/or going through some of kind self-improvement kick.

When he first said that to me, I thought, doesn’t everyone do that?

Apparently, they don’t.  By “obsessing on something” I mean discovering and then devouring some new author or musician, or some area of study:  a historical era, for example, or some sociological trend.  It means reading and researching about something, getting as much information as I can about it, talking about it to anyone who will listen, and almost having to force my mind away from it to handle work, family, or other obligations.  Looking back at the last twenty years or so, here is a sampling of things that I have obsessed over:

the Monkees

Buster Keaton

History of dieting, including how medical advice about nutrition changes through history

Hollywood during the studio era

Generational theory of history (Strauss and Howe)

Financial planning and economics

Entertainment geared toward women, like romance novels, soap operas, women’s films

NYT Crossword puzzles

Presidential biographies

the Civil War

Weird Al Yankovic

Each of these things, as my obsession ebbs, stays with me, but at a level of more “normal” (whatever that means) interest.  I still listen to the Monkees and Weird Al, I will pick up a new book on the Civil War when one comes out, I still do my daily NYT crossword.  The same thing has happened to me over the years with diet and exercise.  I have gained and lost the same ten or fifteen pounds four or five times over the course of my adult life.  This is not the unhealthy “yo-yo dieting” that doctors warn you about (at least, I tell myself it is not), but rather two different weight set points, my “healthy lifestyle” set point, and my “lazy lifestyle” set point.  They are about 10-15 pounds apart.  To kickstart a “healthy lifestyle” time period, I usually need to find some new hook of diet or exercise that inspires me to make a change, something new or novel that my obsession-prone mind can sink its teeth into.  Then, as the obsession ends, enough of my new habits stick around to give me a nice, balanced, healthy lifestyle that I can stick with, until some major life change (having a baby, getting the house remodeled, etc) shakes up my routine.  I always think it will be easy to get back into those healthy habits after the major life change ends, but doing so always proves elusive.  It’s like being on the other side of a locked door, and I need some new hook to get me back in and get me through the door.

This “hook” is usually something new and sometimes faddish, but not unhealthily so.  One time it was the South Beach diet, another time it was learning to cook with lesser-known whole grains like spelt, and another was impulsively signing up with a personal trainer, and another was discovering a surprisingly economical farmer’s market.  Over the past year or so (it must be said) I’ve put on on some weight, what I might delicately call a “brandy belly.”  Even while being unwilling to give up alcohol,  I have been searching for a new hook, a new enthusiasm, that would get me back into the “healthy living” column.  I think I even had the idea that if I was healthy in every other way, I would be able to justify continuing to drink.   Although, I do also remember thinking once, I’ll get healthy and then eventually it will just be a logical thing to do to quit drinking.   But quitting drinking first was unthinkable to me.

So, I tried yoga, which I enjoyed but it didn’t ignite the spark I felt I needed.  I tried looking back at the South Beach diet, but … been there, done that.   After we got our dog, nightly walks became a part of my routine, which was (and is) fantastic but didn’t lead to any weight loss as I had hoped.  All in all, I did feel marginally fitter, but not enough to really feel good about it.   And through it all I continued to drink.

But now, I have a real opportunity.  I have been exercising more, daily, in fact, over the last four weeks, because I need the therapeutic effects of exercise.  It’s the only mood lifter or stress reliever available to me these days, and it helps immensely to combat the restlessness I feel, particularly in the evenings.  But though again I do feel fitter, I still haven’t lost any weight.  This is no doubt because I have permitted myself over the same period to indulge a little more in desserts and sweets.  I even bought myself a Pop Tart a couple weeks ago, because I remembered how I loved them as a kid and I thought this might be the only time in my life I could justify eating one.

It wasn’t very good.

I’m wary of trying too hard to diet because my sobriety is more important than anything.  If I feel the need to indulge myself with something, better a cookie than a glass of wine.  But I have time now to plan and cook better, healthier meals, if I can find the enthusiasm to do so.

Allen Carr

I read Allen Carr’s book about quitting drinking just a few days after I, well, quit drinking.

I highly recommend it for anyone to read, whether they feel they have a problem with drinking or not.  It really does make you look at alcohol in a different way.   The first couple chapters are essentially a sales pitch for the book, which I didn’t really need, and the whole of it is written in a self-help style that can be a bit cheesy.   But its message is simple, straightforward, and yet somehow revolutionary.  At least, it was exactly what I needed to read when I was on day 3 and still feeling shaky and in shock about what had happened.

Like Jason Vale, he talks about the nature of alcohol, that it is addictive and anyone who drinks can become addicted.  He uses the metaphor of a pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant that lures flies and other other insects with its sweet nectar, luring them further and further in until they can’t get out even when they try.  The difference between a “normal drinker” and an “alcoholic” is merely one of degree.  He says, in fact, that anyone who drinks is somewhere on that slide toward the middle of the pitcher plant.  I don’t know if I believe that is universally true, but there is definitely some truth to it.  I turn back to Jason Vale:  he suggests, as a rather delightful thought experiment, that you substitute the word “bananas” for “alcohol” when you hear someone talk about how they don’t have a problem with alcohol:  I never eat bananas before 5:00… I only eat them a few days a week … I decided to cut back to just one banana a day… I don’t eat bananas during the week but on the weekends I like to cut loose and eat the whole bunch … If you heard someone talking like this about their banana intake, wouldn’t it sound like they had a problem with bananas?  Would they sound like “normal” banana eaters?

In Carr’s book, he goes through all of the reasons that people say they drink and dismantles them one by one.  For instance, when people say they “like the taste.”  Pure alcohol tastes terrible (and is very poisonous); it is the things that we put into it that sweeten and dilute it that we say we like the taste of.  And yet, somehow no one wants to drink a non-alcoholic drink that tastes just like straight vodka, scotch, brandy, even wine.  And even non-alcoholic beer is a tiny, tiny market compared to the market for alcoholic beer.  So if we really liked the taste, wouldn’t we want to drink things that taste like that, whether or not they had alcohol in them?

Of course, I was most interested in the chapter where he talked about people who say they drink alcohol to relax or cope with stress.  Here he made an interesting point that I feel I am coming to see the truth of, over these last weeks.  He says that since drinking alcohol is debilitating, you are actually less able to cope with stress overall.  And that in itself creates more stress, which creates an increased desire to drink, in a vicious circle.

At the end he encourages you to celebrate the fact that you don’t drink alcohol anymore, that you are off the merry-go-round.  Tell yourself “I’m free!” when you see alcohol or see someone drinking.  And this is actually quite powerful.  When I first read this, as I said, it felt almost revolutionary, a “the scales have fallen from my eyes!” moment.  And it’s still there in my head, a little spark,  penetrating old thought processes and old assumptions.  Making me listen differently when I hear people talk about alcohol.  For instance, at that dinner party I mentioned in my first entry, one of the guests poured himself a glass of wine, offered it to my husband and me, which we declined, and then to one of the other guests.  This guest smiled and said “Sure, just so you don’t have to drink alone.”

“Just so you don’t have to eat bananas alone …”

I’m free!!

Fifteensixteenseventeeneighteennineteentwenty

I think it’s a good sign that I’m starting to lose track of what day I’m on.

Today is day 21.  Three weeks.

I had the day off from work on Friday, and a friend came over and we watched the first three episodes of Pride & Prejudice — the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version.  I had seen it before, but he hadn’t, and he had just read the novel last year and then watched the Kiera Knightly adaptation.  I like that one too, but I think the BBC/A&E version is more true to the spirit of Jane Austen — it’s more satirical, sharper in its depiction of the “comic relief” characters like Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennett.  The Keira Knightly version humanized these characters, made them more sympathetic and likable.  This is normally a good thing, but it served to reduce the feeling of isolation for Jane and Elizabeth, the loneliness of being the only “normal” people in their sphere.  I think this is important, because that loneliness serves as a proxy for the true desperation of their situation — the fact that they are two “gentlewomen” with no dowries and low connections and almost zero prospect of marrying well.  And it makes their determination not to marry for material considerations truly honorable and admirable.

Can you tell I was an English major? 🙂

Anyway, this friend, J, was also my only drinking buddy.  Not that I never drank with any other friends, but with him I was able to reveal how much I drank and how I used alcohol to cope — and this is because he was doing the same thing.  A few years ago he and his boyfriend of ten years broke up, and in the wake of that his drinking picked up considerably.   Recently, in our once-monthly happy hour get togethers we were splitting a bottle of wine and talking about how we wanted to cut down on our drinking.

J is glad for me that I quit drinking — in fact he’s excited because now when he and I hang out it will automatically make that a “non drinking” day for him.  Yes, he’s still trying to “cut down,” and it’s not for me to say whether that will succeed or not.  I just know that for me, that’s not an option.  I tried that too many times, and succeeded for awhile each time, until I got complacent and my drinking crept up again.

So, J was really good to talk to.  Because he knew about my drinking before (and because of his own experiences), he totally “got it” why I want to stop.  I was able to tell him about the day without feeling ashamed, and we were even able to laugh about it together.  And we’ll still meet for happy hour once a month — for coffee.