What next?

Someone asked me the other day if I still feel like drinking sometimes.

The answer is YES. Sometimes, perhaps most often, it is at social occasions when it would be nice to join in with everyone else.

But my problem was more with “stress” drinking rather than social drinking. I had a day like this last weekend when we had to cram in two soccer games (across town from each other), yard work, grocery shopping, and laundry. Then it was dinner time, and cleanup after dinner, and making lunches for the next day … I stood there in the kitchen really wanting a glass of wine.

We didn’t have any in the house, so you could say this is all moot, but I have two basic strategies for dealing with this situation. If it’s really bad, I just stop what I’m doing. I go sit down somewhere quiet, telling my hubby and kids that I need some quiet time. I turn on my meditation app, or just sit quietly. I check in with myself — am I thirsty? Hungry? Do I have tension somewhere? (Neck, shoulders, back.)

But sometimes this isn’t possible. If I’m out somewhere, for example, or maybe I don’t feel I need a major intervention. That’s when I ask myself, so I have a drink. What next? Do I have another? Do I still have to make the lunches? Most importantly, has any problem been solved? I also visualize that feeling of being tipsy — not the good “ahhhh” feeling, which is really only at first — but the woozy, flushed, over-warm feeling.

It helps take me out of the immediate desire into thinking about what drinking would really do for me. So this has become a little catchphrase for me whenever I feel like drinking. So I have a drink. What next?

Stressful holidays

When I was a kid, I remember watching Family Feud once, and the question was, “What are the most stressful times of the year?” My child mind was completely gobsmacked to see that “Christmas” was number 1! It was not just that it didn’t stress me out, I was completely unable to imagine how it could possibly stress anyone out. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It says it right there in the song!!

Needless to say, I am no longer puzzled by this.

Last year I was not happy during the holidays. It was my first sober Christmas and I spent the whole holiday being mad about it. When a co-worker gave me a bottle of brandy for Christmas, I almost drank it.

This Christmas was actually really nice. My brother and his wife came over, my parents were visiting, and it was a lot of fun. It made me realize something: not only was this Christmas much better than last year, it was better than any Christmas I can remember for oh, maybe a decade or so. I was never good, ever, at managing stress. Being busy meant being irritable and unhappy, full stop. No doubt this is part of what made me start drinking too much in the first place.

Quitting drinking, then, has forced me to learn to manage my stress. Here is what I have learned to do:

1) Living in the moment, only thinking about what I have to do right now rather than worrying about what I have to do later.

2) Slowing down. Instead of rushing through tasks, I do them efficiently, but deliberately. When I do chores that don’t use my brain too much, I use that time for thinking about something interesting. Something I read about, something I’m writing.

3) Asking my husband if I can go take some quiet “me” time before I start feeling resentful that I haven’t had any.

4) Meditating. I did this almost every day during the holidays. And yes, there is an app for that.

5) Not leaving my own interests behind. I still do my jigsaw puzzles, my crossword puzzles, and my history reading. Instead of thinking “I’m too busy for that,” I still do it, just for a shorter time period.

I also made a pre-resolution resolution that all my resolutions this year will be positive and specific (like “I will write another screenplay”), not negative and general (like “I will eat less”). More to come.




Low hanging fruit

Willpower is a limited resource; don’t overwhelm it.

This is one thing I have learned in my 292 non-drinking days.  In other words, when you’re trying to give up alcohol, let yourself indulge in other ways.  As I talked about here, I gave up sugar and white flour for awhile last year.  I did feel good when I did that, but it got to be too much.  Too much self-denial.

But, I feel ready to make some other changes in my life.  So this week I have made a (late) New Year’s resolution.  It’s to do all the healthy things for my body that I enjoy.  I love taking walks, so I am going to do more of that.  Going to the gym helps me clear my head, so I am going to go when I can, but only for that reason.  Not to lose ten pounds.

I am going to drink more water.  Who doesn’t like a nice, cold glass of ice water?  I’m going to eat more sardines (for the Omega-3s!) because I’m one of those strange people that really likes sardines.  I’m going to eat all the fruits and vegetables that I like.

At the same time, I am going to continue to eat dessert when I want it, eat my apples with gobs of peanut butter (this is a major weakness), drink diet soda and lots of coffee, take the elevator instead of the stairs, and veg out on the couch playing Angry Birds when I want to.  And I won’t kick myself for it either.

Above all, I want to be kind to myself.  Kind to my body, kind to my brain and my emotions, kind to my overstretched willpower.  They’ve all served me well these last 292 days.

My mantra for this is the title of this post:  low hanging fruit.

Holiday blues

I had a near miss.  A very, very near miss.

This was two days ago.  Looking back, I can see that over the holidays, my frustration and resentment at not being able to drink was building up.  I both was and wasn’t aware of this at the time — or maybe aware of it, but not wanting to admit it.  Holidays are always busy, and we had guests, two three holidays to celebrate (Christmas, Hannukah, and a family birthday).  Work is busy for me around Christmas.

And I was mad I couldn’t drink.   But I did it, I made it through.  The holidays were celebrated, the guests departed, and life went on.  But, my resentment lingered.  If during the holidays I wanted a drink to cope with the stress, afterwards I wanted one to wind down from the stress.

I was chatting with my sister-in-law, and she mentioned in passing that her husband (my brother) “needs lots of downtime.”  I said I thought a lot of people in my family are like that, including me, and (laughing) I never get it.  Ha ha.

This little exchange stuck with me, as a partial explanation for why I drank.  My husband and I occasionally joke that after a long day of working and parenting we “need a sensory deprivation chamber.”  Well, alcohol was my sensory deprivation chamber.

Somehow, my mind twisted this into a reason that I should drink again.  See, you’re not an alcoholic or anything, you just need alcohol to get through these stressful years!

My co worker (who doesn’t know I quit drinking) had given me a bottle of brandy as a Christmas present.  I didn’t know what to do with it but I thought I better not bring it home.  I stuck it in a drawer at work.  I forgot about it.

Monday I was the last one left at the office and suddenly a voice in my head said, you can have a drink from that bottle.  You deserve it, and no one will know.  I took out the bottle.  I took hold of the little tab to peel off the foil.

Only one thing saved me.  I had to leave in ten minutes to catch the bus.  I told myself, if I’m going to drink this, I don’t want it to be in a styrofoam cup with only ten minutes to drink it.  I want to  have a real glass and I want to savor it.

That night I was making dinner and, I thought, not acting any differently.  But my husband suddenly asked, “Are you all right?”  I admitted I wasn’t.  Later we talked.  I didn’t talk about drinking but admitted I was still stressed from the holidays and having a hard time switching gears.  He said, “I think you’re very brave.  It must have been hard not to drink, not to have that outlet.”

We haven’t talked about drinking, or not drinking, for months.  How did he know just the right words to tell me?

I need to get rid of that bottle of brandy. I don’t want to take it home, or keep it until I see someone who might want it.  I don’t want to open it even to pour it down the sink.  I guess I’ll just have to throw it in a garbage can.

Where it belongs.  Gah.

Give me a damn drink

I love traveling, but I hate flying:  the packing, the getting up at odd hours, the schlepping of luggage, and most of all, the flight.  I am prone to motion sickness and also slightly claustrophobic, and I hate the squished-in feeling of a crowded flight (and aren’t they all crowded these days?).  I used to always sit in an aisle seat near the front of a plane (bulkhead!) and spend the flight reading a trashy novel, but now that I have kids, it usually doesn’t work that way.

Last weekend I flew to Chicago with the family, which is a four hour flight.  On the way out we got up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a 5:45 flight.  My 8 year old was so stressed out about getting up at 3:30 that she couldn’t sleep, and got up at 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 10:45, 11:00, 11:20 … each time telling me, “Mom, I am only going to get (six, five and half, four …. ) hours of sleep!”  Seeing her little stressed-out face was like seeing a miniature reflection of me, and believe me it was an exercise in self-control to try to stay calm and help her relax (“Don’t think about trying to sleep just think about relaxing and how comfortable your body is … “) especially as she would ask me “Mom, are you frustrated?” looking keenly into my face through her tears.

(Through gritted teeth)  “No, I’m not frustrated.  Now … go … the … fuck … to … sleep!”

No, I didn’t say that.  But I’m sure my frustration came through.  And I certainly wasn’t doing her or me, or my husband, any favors, lying in bed practically vibrating with it, thinking much the same thing my daughter was thinking.  I’m only going to get four hours of sleep …

I used to have a drink before, or during, every flight, if I could possibly find a way to do so.  That wouldn’t have been an option for this flight, probably, even in my drinking days.  The morning was a mad scramble, and ordering wine from the flight attendant at 6:30 in the morning would have been a tad conspicuous even if I wasn’t with my family.

So, Chicago was great, but before I knew it, it was time to fly back.  This time our flight was in the evening, and we got to the airport early and had dinner at the airport.  We ate at a sit-down restaurant, and we were seated, of course, right next to the bar.  The full bar.  All those bottles.  The people at the next table were drinking wine, and the smell drifted over.

I had motive.  And opportunity.  If my husband hadn’t been there, I don’t know if I would have ordered that drink.  I feel like I might have.  As it was, I spent the meal in a state of resentment and frustration.  At this restaurant they cover all the tables with paper and give you crayons if you have kids.  The girls asked me to draw something, and I drew an alien.  And a dog.  Then I started drawing hearts to form a grid, 5×5, in different colors.  How pretty.  Except with each row of five, I was grimly chanting in my head: Give. Me. a. Damn. Drink.

I’m sure I was a delightful companion.

So all that’s over now.  That was last weekend.  Back to normal, right?  I’m not sure.  I have a feeling of being back at square one, and I don’t like it.  I think it was maybe too easy to quit before, and I didn’t develop as many tools as I should have.  The tools I did develop were this blog, being mindful, and exercise.  So I’m turning to this blog first, and writing this post.  What else?

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.

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!


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.