Abuse, unspecified

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and they did something they haven’t done before: gave me a copy of my medical report for me to take home. I think they have a new computer system.

This wasn’t a full medical report, just a summary. It listed, for example, medications I’ve taken, recent lab results, date of my last physical, and previous diagnoses. For this last, at the very top it says “Alcohol abuse, unspecified: in remission 5/2013.”

I suppose I should feel good about this (the “in remission” part), but instead it made me feel ashamed and exposed. I imagined every doctor, every nurse, every tech who pulls up my file seeing this emblazoned at the top. I suppose it upsets me to think that this won’t go away. It’s like cancer or something, I can’t make it disappear, it just goes in remission. It will always be on the list.

On another note, my husband and I started watching The Wire on DVD (no spoilers, please! We’re only on season 1), an HBO police drama set in Baltimore. There is a scene where two characters, heroin addicts, are forced to attend an NA meeting. Waylon (played by Steve Earle!) is the former junkie, now clean, who gives a speech at the meeting:

Here’s the line I loved: “When it was almost over for me, when I was out there standing on them corners without a pot to piss in, everyone who knew me or loved me cursing my name, you know what I told myself? I said, Waylon, you’re doing good.”

That’s that wolfie voice that I talked about last time, whatever you want to call it:  the drug talking, the inner addict talking, that little part of you that doesn’t care about anything as long as you can have a little drink.


Over the weekend, I read this article:

Woman charged in car crash

Basically, a woman who was drunk on a mixture of alcohol and Ambien went to move her car from the street to her driveway. She apparently mistook the accelerator for the brake and plowed into her house, killing her husband and son in law and injuring her daughter. She had her grandson in her lap when she was driving. (He was unhurt, as was she.)

This is a terrifying story. Imagining what her daughter must be going through is horrific. But what most jumped out at me in this story was this quote:

“She told a deputy, ‘it wasn’t because of drinking, it’s because it’s a new car,’ the charges say.”

She has just killed two people she loved, injured another and endangered her grandson, and her first thought is to make excuses. I bring this up not to point fingers but because I understand it. She is deflecting blame, certainly. But she is also saying, Officer, this would have happened whether I was drunk or not.

I used to think, if I, say, slurred my words when talking to my husband at dinner, or if I overbalanced and almost fell when I was tucking my daughter into bed, or if I woke up with a bruise when I didn’t remember injuring myself:  anyone can  stumble and lose their balance. Why blame the alcohol?

If drinking is your crutch and your friend, your first thought is to protect it. My friend was not to blame. Don’t make me give up my friend.

It really helps to think of one’s desire to drink as a separate entity, “wolfie,” in Belle’s terminology. I’ve also heard people talk separately about their “addict self,” opposed to their real self. Among other things, it helps to externalize the (potentially crippling) guilt. Instead of beating yourself up (“why do I still want to drink when I know how destructive it is? I must be so selfish and irresponsible …”), you can fight against it. Wolfie wants me to drink, but I don’t want to.

Low hanging fruit update

Awhile back I posted that I was going to try to make healthy choices as long as it was something that I enjoyed. Healthy food, healthy exercise. And not beat myself up over it when I didn’t.

This is actually something that is somewhat difficult to maintain, for me. As much as I like to think I am a person who naturally craves balance, this is only true for some parts of my life. I like balance when it comes to structuring my time — work, family, friend, and “me” time. But when it comes to eating and health I have a surprisingly hard time trying to find a balance between healthy eating and indulgence.

I also have a fatal attraction to extreme diets. I found myself, this week, reading up on cleanses, fasts, detox diets, and  something called a “fat fast.” (This is what it sounds like – you eat nothing but fat!)

I am not actually doing any of these things, however. I was not always so wise. I had periods of disordered eating in high school and college. I was not an anorexic, but I definitely had periods of fasting, followed by periods of overeating. I remember wishing I could be just “a little bit” anorexic – enough to lose, say, ten pounds.

In my more rational mind, I believe something like intuitive eating is probably the most sustainable way to maintain good eating habits. As I understand it, this involves respecting and listening to your body. I find that when I am mindful of how the food I eat makes my body feel, I do all kinds of good things. I eat more slowly and chew my food more thoroughly. I don’t eat until I am uncomfortably full. I don’t eat that last bite just because it is on my plate. I eat more vegetables and less sugar.

But, here’s the thing. The things my body wants are boring.

When I was practicing intuitive eating, my body would tell me it didn’t want dessert! Or I would take a bite or two and it would be enough! And it would make me get off my ass and make a salad for lunch instead of reaching for something more convenient. Stupid body! Why do I have to listen to you?

It is strange to talk about the wisdom of the body on an addiction blog. Isn’t the whole point to conquer what my body is telling me it needs? Isn’t that what addiction means? I don’t think so.  Never having been physically addicted, my reasons for drinking were all in my head. My body did its best, but the nausea, night sweats, and crippling hangovers sent me a clear message that my body wasn’t happy with what I was doing.

So here is what I have been able to do, and what I plan to continue to do:

1) Daily walks

2) Taking vitamin D (I was low in my last blood work) and cod-liver oil

3) Eating slowly and mindfully, and paying attention to how it makes my body feel

4) Exercising outside when I can, at the gym when I can’t, but only for the mental health benefits, not to put pressure on myself to lose weight.

5) Taking a few minutes each day to just breathe, especially when I feel stressed.

Sigh. So boring. 🙂


Addiction circle

I was at a Passover Seder last night, and as part of the ritual, we had to go around the table and talk about a change we’ve made in the last year.  When it was my turn, I said that I stopped drinking alcohol this year.  Smiles and nods all around.

My husband was next.  He said, “I stopped drinking coffee this year.”

Audible gasps — I kid you not.  Someone murmured, “Oh, that’s tough.”  They started peppering my husband with questions:  what made him decide to do it?  Did he have withdrawal symptoms?  Did he drink tea instead?  What kind of tea?

Addiction:  it comes in many forms. 🙂

No, I haven’t fallen off the wagon

Interesting fact:  one theory on the origin of the phrase “on the wagon” is that condemned prisoners got one last drink before getting on the wagon to go to be hanged.  The theory is that it originated as a joke that life without alcohol would be … well, like taking a ride to the gallows.

(Ah, gallows humor — literally.)

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.  My parents came to visit and that kept us busy.  I have told my parents what happened and that I’ve quit drinking.

I mentioned awhile back that I was eager for one of the side benefits of giving up alcohol — dropping a few pounds.  I am not overweight, according to the scale, but I have a little “brandy belly” that I hoped would go away.  Well, it wasn’t budging and I was getting impatient so I decided to drop sugar and refined flour too.  Right when I stopped drinking I couldn’t imagine giving up anything else — in fact, I felt like I was “owed” any other indulgence I could get my hands on!  I still think this is absolutely true at first, by the way, so anyone reading this who is still in early days, please, have chocolate, candy, cake, whatever you want, if it helps in not drinking!

But somehow, after a month or so, I felt ready.  I was feeling so good overall, that I noticed my body didn’t feel as good when I ate sugar or processed food.  It was like removing one poison put me back in better touch with my body and how it felt, how it reacted to what I was feeding it.  And my body feels better when I give it good fuel to run on.  I know, it’s a radical idea, but bear with me here.

So (drum roll), after two weeks with no sugar and white flour, I have finally dropped five pounds (or so), and I think almost all of it was from around my middle.  My pants fit better, and I’m able to wear jeans again that had become uncomfortably tight at the waist.  And I know for a fact that I couldn’t have done this when I was drinking.   Getting through each day was all I could handle.  Actually, I didn’t even feel I could handle that — not without alcohol, anyway.   So glad to be here on the other side.

“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.