I can resist anything except temptation

Don’t worry, I didn’t drink.  I have just always enjoyed that quote from Oscar Wilde.  It’s funny how we all have different things that we’re drawn to — and that can become unhealthy.  For some people, it’s alcohol or drugs.  For others, it’s food.  Or sex.  Or gambling.  Or exercise.

For me, it’s not an “accomplishment” to avoid overexercising.  Just the idea of congratulating myself for that makes me crack up (“Good job, self, for vegging on the couch tonight!”).  But I know for folks with eating disorders, this is no joke.  And personally, I don’t see the appeal of gambling at all.  Everyone knows the odds favor the house!  How do you think they pay for those big casinos?

But denial is a wonderful thing.  Looking back, the warning signs were screamingly obvious:  drinking in the morning, hangovers most days, thinking of that bottle of wine or brandy in the cupboard as “my little friend” (yes, I really thought that).  Blacking out.  Just like “everyone knows” that the odds favor the house, everyone also knows if you do all these things you have a problem with alcohol!  But I refused to see it.  Because these things were only sometimes, not all the time, I could point to the “sometimes” when I was fine, and delude myself into thinking that was my “real” drinking behavior.

This past weekend I was at my daughter’s indoor soccer game.  At this facility, which is also for adult soccer leagues, they serve beer and wine at the snack bar.  One of the other moms was drinking a beer as we chatted.  She made a joking reference to it, something like “the best thing about indoor soccer …” and the rest of us laughed.  I thought I detected an undertone of defensiveness in her joke.  This is something I have become hyperaware of lately, the way people talk about alcohol, the invitation to share the joke about “yay, alcohol!” or “boy, I sure need a drink.”  Later this woman gave me a hug, and the beer smell washed over me.  I’m not saying this woman was drunk or had a problem — in fact I like her very much — but it made me glad I don’t have to worry anymore about hugging people and subjecting them to my alcohol smell.

Lest I get too cocky congratulating myself, I have to admit that the next day (Sunday) I feeling particularly rushed and stressed, and I had to run out to the grocery store for the second time that day when I forgot an ingredient for dinner.  At my local grocery store they sometimes host wine tastings on the weekends at happy hour.  So guess what I saw as soon as I walked in the door?  I can’t believe how instantly I felt it would be an extremely excellent idea to have a little wine.

I bought ice cream instead.

I counted the days today and I am on day 290 sober!

Ninety!

I passed 90 days on August 10.  Ninety days is the big AA milestone — you get a pin or a sticker and give a speech.

**clears throat**

I have gotten to the point where I’m not thinking about alcohol very much.  In fact, it takes up more of my mental space to stay away from sugar, sweets, and treats, which I am still trying to do.  I used to think alcohol was everywhere, but it’s sugar, sugar is everywhere.

Okay, they’re both everywhere.  And abstaining from both does make me feel like a big ol’ ball of no-fun sometimes.  To the point where when I go out to dinner at people’s houses I pretty much drop the no-sugar thing.  This doesn’t bother me from a health standpoint — I know occasional indulgences aren’t going to kill me — but it does bother me a little.   I guess because I want to treat myself when I want it, not because I feel like it’s impolite not to.  Why does it feel impolite, though?  I don’t know, but it does.  Food and drink are bound up with all kinds of social rituals, and not drinking, or being on a diet, throws a wrench in the works.  A small wrench, to be sure, but a wrench nonetheless.

Anyway.  Back to alcohol.  What have a learned the past 90 days?  For one thing, I’ve learned that it’s easier to quit entirely than it is to cut back.  When I cut back (which I successfully did many times … temporarily) it required constant vigilance, which created tension, which worked against the very reason I was reaching for the bottle at all — to relax.  Why did I not see that contradiction before?

Whew, I need to relax.  Let me pour a drink — (but not too much!) 

Mmmm, that was good, is it gone already? 

I could probably have another one. (But not too much, promise!)

Oops, heavy hand.  Oh, well, I’ll just drink it slowly. 

Is it gone already? 

Am I acting funny? 

Must. Act. Natural.

Aw, who are they to judge me anyway? Just a wee drop more. (Not too much … oh, fuck it.)

Is this relaxing?  I don’t think so.

What else have I learned?  Well, to be honest, not much.  By that I mean, I feel like it isn’t past tense — “learned.”  I feel like it’s all ongoing.   I started having a glass of wine a night when my oldest daughter was still a toddler.  So that “maintenance drink” has been a part of my life for a long time, long before it got to be more of a problem.  In a way, I haven’t led this life, my life as a mother, without a crutch, well … ever.

Huh.  I never thought about it that way before.  So, if I feel I don’t have any wisdom to share, that’s because all giving up alcohol has done for me is to give me the opportunity to learn.  Learn who I am, learn how to live.  And that’s not something you can learn in 90 days, or even scratch the surface.  So get back to me in another 90 days, or maybe 90 months, and I’ll have something to share.

Now, where’s my pin?

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.

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.

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.