early sobriety

IT’S IN THE HIPS

Maybe you feel like this doing recovery? I know I do.

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THE MOST BORING PERSON IN THE HUDSON VALLEY

Let me get this straight. You want me to wake up at 5AM without a hangover, pack up a rental car with suitcases responsibly packed a day or more in advance, then drive 3 hours through the beautiful terrain of the Hudson Valley until I reach a cozy bed and breakfast in a house built in the 1870’s? Fine. I can do all that.

I suppose you also want me to stroll lightheartedly through the quaint vacation town, browsing antiques and old bookstores for hours on end, and I also suppose you’d like me to do all of that without spending a moment plotting, scheming, or obsessing over how I can convince the boyfriend that 10AM isn’t at all too early for a celebratory glass of something.

You’d like me to luxuriate luxuriously on cafe terraces while sipping espresso and eating a delicious, flaky pastry filled with tangy, tart lemon curd, chewing slowly, not wanting the mouth orgasm to end, watching the peaceful wanderers wander by in pursuit of the same contented Sunday afternoon.

And finally, you’d like me to end the day with a delectable meal at a lovely restaurant, all without having chugged a tallboy before leaving the house. You’d like me to decline the wine list, only order stupid food, and leave completely satisfied with what was one of the best meals I’ve ever had? Then you’d like me to cuddle up with the boys, watch movies, and drift off to sleep by 10PM, waking up by 6AM the next morning fully rested and hangover free, ready to start another day of peace and tranquility without the constant chaotic chase of that next sip, that next dip into a dive for a whisky/beer combo to propel me forward miserably.

You want me to have a sober vacation, but more importantly, you want me to LIKE IT?

That’s exactly what I did over Memorial Day Weekend.

It was marvelous. 

I took this very same trip in the fall of 2013. It was a disgusting mess. I packed the very morning we left because I was too drunk the night before to get anything productive done. I drove with a pounding headache, not feeling normal until we made it to our destination and were able to grab lunch (a beer with a side of sandwich). I stumbled through the day, counting down the hours until dinner would arrive and heavier drinking could begin. Fuck antiques. Fuck strolling. Fuck serenity. Me want vodka. ME WANT DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.

In 2013, we made stops at liquor stores all weekend long, him sitting in the car while I ran in to buy large bottles of things for us both to drink, as well as mini-bottles he didn’t know about that were just for me. The minis would be stashed in my suitcase so I could stealthily sneak away, downing a few here and there, hoping to keep the levels in the “public” alcohol bottles located in the kitchen from dropping down too quickly, thus concealing the true quantities I was actually consuming. Side note: These empty minis would be found one year later in the same suitcase as I packed for another trip. I would sneak them out of the house to the trash, the shame flooding back as fresh as ever. 

That trip in 2013 was total misery. I was in a constant state of sloppy, painful drunkenness peppered with extended periods of sloppy, painful hangover. The drunks and the hangovers blended seamlessly with one another until I was never able to tell if I was okay or not okay. Nothing was enjoyable.

When we returned home that year I felt as if I had been through hell. I needed another vacation to recover. And drink more.

I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT EVER AGAIN.

I can live. I can stare at the sky and smile. I can savor time, tastes, smells. I can become consciously aware of sun on my face, of the antiquity and inevitable history built into old objects that I hold in my hand. I can feel the goosebumps running down my spine as my boyfriend grabs my fingers and squeezes while we wander down cobblestone streets, stopping for extended moments to admire the architecture and manicured gardens.

Before I got sober, and even for some time after I put down the drink, this all seemed impossible. During early sobriety I could hardly comprehend watching a movie on Friday night without a cocktail. I’m supposed to SIT? Stare? Watch? That’s IT? You must be out of your goddamned mind.

But I made myself sit there and watch the movie. It sucked. It still sucked the next time I did it, too, but less so. The only way anything started to make sense again was by LIVING. Experiencing. Trying. Being uncomfortable without grabbing for my medicine. When they tell you not to give up before the miracle happens, that actually MEANS something. Actively choosing to endure the discomfort when every cell in your body is screaming for a drink? That makes you stronger. That is lifting weights with your sobriety muscles. It hurts. You’ll be sore the next day. But you’ll never get stronger without it.

If you’re struggling, just know that with some time and effort, you too can be the most boring person in the Hudson Valley. You’ll love it.

NINE MONTHS

Nine months sober and 6cm dilated. Feel like I’m giving birth to my life again. It’s pretty good, and I’ll name her Cathy.

So much has changed in such a relatively short period of time. It has been 3/4 of an entire year since this whole journey began. When I think of the time that has elapsed, it somehow seems to have passed by insanely fast and terribly slow all at the same time. The days and months begin to fly by at a warp speed while the emotional progress seems to crawl along imperceptibly, like thick sap down a tree. We always seem to measure our progress by marking days, months, years, but the work that we do doesn’t seem to comfortably fit into the container of man made units of time. As life begins to resume its normal breakneck speed, I continue to feel as if I’m hobbling along while everything and everyone passes me by.

A simple question pushed to the forward of my mind after hearing it several times on The Bubble Hour: Is this true?

Is it true that I’m being left behind by my peers and that I can’t have a successful career because I’m taking it easy right now? No. The success and accomplishments of others do not deplete some imaginary success pool that will somehow dry up and become empty by the time I’m ready to swim in it. Success doesn’t work that way. The world will not suddenly run out of opportunity for artists to present their work. No. It is not true. Continue taking it easy.

I’ve had to slow down quite a bit over the past six months. I’ve had to explicitly state and enforce boundaries for myself and for others. I’ve had to pull back creatively, socially, and return to a simpler state. I felt as if things were falling around me, and while never once did I come anywhere close to drinking, I knew that something just wasn’t quite right.

Things are better now. If we’re using these man made units of time to describe and mark our progress, I’d say that I feel six months sober now rather than the nine that it actually is. What I mean is that at around six months, when my friend passed away and everything went to shit, I mentally and emotionally feel as if I reverted back to an earlier place, like the floor fell out from under me and I slid all the way back, like I was in some fucked up emotional live action game of Chutes and Ladders.

I am grateful for these nine months. I am grateful for the practice I have had in managing and coping with difficult things. And I’m grateful that I managed to keep alcohol from jumping down my throat.

I think the most surprising of all of the changes is the fact that I just don’t think that much about alcohol or sobriety anymore. At times, that is quite a relief. It seemed that toward the beginning I was constantly thinking about not drinking. I’d be walking down the street and just think, “I’m walking down the street. I don’t drink anymore,” or I’d be falling asleep and think, “Going to sleep without having drank tonight. I don’t drink anymore.” It was CONSTANT. But now there are entire days that go by where I barely consider it.

I recognize that this relief from the obsession of alcoholism and recovery can also be a curse. There is a very fine line between accidental apathy and the prolonged blindness that takes hold leading up to a relapse. Remember, I’ve lived it. So I’m working on inserting myself back into the fold in various ways to keep myself plugged in, connected, and aware of my disease. It takes a concerted effort to make recovery a part of your life, and I definitely could do a better job at it.

Still, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write about recovery or my experience. It isn’t for lack of trying. I’ve sat staring at a blank WordPress page many times over the past month wondering what it is I had to say. The truth is, I’m living a somewhat calm and basic life these days. I’m reading voraciously. I’m spending time with my dog and boyfriend. I’m going to work and attempting to pay down debt. I’m just BEING without alcohol and without very many thoughts about alcohol or recovery.

But I think I could stand to have a few more thoughts about my recovery than I currently do. For these reasons, I’m going to get some meetings in. At the very least, my Sunday morning. But perhaps more. I also think I’m ready to start meeting with someone regularly to begin unpacking stuff more deeply. So fortunate for comprehensive insurance that will help me with that.

Overall, I’m GOOD. I feel fine. But I know I can feel even better and I’m ready to work on that.

GIRL. PSSST. YEAH, YOU. YOUR EARLY SOBRIETY IS SHOWING. AND IT’S OKAY.

I’m forgetting what has been happening lately so when I sit down to blog, I’m starting to draw a blank. Not because things aren’t happening. I think I’m just not being as observant of the progress I’m making as I once was. And I think the sober firsts were coming so fast and furious at the beginning that I almost ALWAYS had something to tell you whether you wanted to hear about it or not. Everything was shiny and new and impressive. YOU GUYS I’M MAKING LASAGNA AND I’M NOT GOING TO THROW UP ON IT! DO YOU LIKE MY APRON? *spin around* -or- GUESS WHAT?! I WATCHED A MOVIE LAST NIGHT AND I CAN ACTUALLY REMEMBER WHAT WAS EATING GILBERT GRAPE! BE PROUD OF ME! -or- I’M AT A GROCERY STORE SHOPPING AND I’M TALKING TO STRANGERS ABOUT HEIRLOOM TOMATOES, HUMIDITY, AND WENDY WILLIAMS! -or- I JUST POOPED NORMAL PEOPLE POOP! COME LOOK! IT’S SO CUTE!

I keep taking the lovely and amazing moments for granted, I think. Obviously not intentionally. But I have a few really fantastic and through the roof days of pure bliss and somehow I repeatedly make the very dangerous assumption that the happy days are here to stay. And then I wake up one morning with the soupy poopies, aches and pains, and a general feeling of malaise. WHAT. THE. FUCK? I was just on cloud nine. Where did this come from? How can I STILL be feeling bad. And I’m not stupid, you guys. I know all about PAWS and that the symptoms can persist for months and months. Even years. But when the intoxicating pink clouds roll in (and they are intoxicating), it’s very easy to forget that I’m not really well yet. It’s easy to falsely assume that maybe I’m different and that PAWS is over for me and that I’m one of the lucky ones and that somehow my recovery is better than your recovery and I fast forwarded somehow and EVERYTHING IS OKAY AND I’M READY FOR A FULL TIME JOB AT BETTY FORD. Then the sudden jolt of a random migraine, back pain, gloom and doom outlook and I’m right back in the thick of it. And I must confess that when I land back in the thick of it (which isn’t often), I do get a bit panicky and just like I assumed the good feelings would never fade, I also illogically worry that the bad feelings are now here to stay. But they never stay. And I always end up back on the other side. And cumulatively, the good days are by far outweighing the bad.

Last night, I was watching Gordon Ramsey tear off the heads of young cooks and shove them up their own asses on Masterchef. It was so beautiful. I’m fully aware that trash television can’t be good for me but it’s better than alcohol. Boyfriend got a text and said, “Oh God. Betty White and Richard Simmons are at the wine bar down the street and just texted to ask us if we want to come meet them.” I’m using fake names here to protect the identities of our friends and also to further the careers of two national treasures. “Well. I’m not going. Do you want to go?” I asked. “Not at all,” he replied. “You aren’t just saying that because I won’t go, right? Because you need to do what you need to do,” I said. “Nope. I don’t want to. But I don’t know what to say to them,” he lamented. “Just tell them no. That we are in for the night and thanks for the invite and maybe another time,” I concluded. So that’s what he told them. And although I really had no interest in going, I got a little frustrated that I’m not at a point where I can throw on a pair of pants and take a 2 minute walk to a bar to see a friend and sip a soda water. Actually, I know that if I really wanted to, I COULD do that. But I would be uncomfortable, distracted, bored, and wouldn’t have any fun. So aside from the obvious need to avoid alcohol, why would I put myself through that? I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. But I must say that I really do look forward to the day where I am comfortable visiting with someone regardless of where the meeting place happens to be. The fact that my early sobriety forces me to choose between myself and my friends sort of pisses me the fuck off. And it’s not like Betty White and Richard Simmons are big drinkers. I’ve never seen them drunk, really. They are sophisticates that sip one glass and eat fucking olives. So the fact that their location was a wine bar was merely arbitrary. But then I wondered what I would have done if Betty White and Richard Simmons sent the same text and asked if I wanted to meet them at the frozen yogurt shop. I WOULD HAVE STILL SAID NO. Because I’m old and it was almost 10PM and I’m not eating sugar and even thought I really truly love Betty and Richard, this was not an invite I had any desire to say YES to. Which led me to the very eye opening conclusion that my frustration with the situation was not over the fact that my sobriety limits what I can do with Bett and Rich. My frustration was over the pressure that I feel to PLEASE Bett and Rich and that I have genuine anxiety about how I will be perceived if I don’t show up. Am I a bad friend? Will I still be in Betty’s last will and testament? I mean, she’s loaded. I don’t want to blow that.

What are my motivations? Where are my loyalties? Why am I loyal? Am I loyal or am I actually just insecure?

Every single day I’m sober and do this very hard and sometimes exhausting work, I unearth new shit that needs dealing with. It can be somewhat stifling. But all I can do is continue being honest with myself and make sure that there is never a drink in my hand.

Ok. Enough whining. Who’s ready to sweat to the oldies?