The Holiday Season, Sober

jingle with wineLast year at this time I found every good excuse to make every night Friday night. After all, it’s the holidays! Holiday Shopping? A nice IPA with lunch. Trimming the Christmas tree? Well, that calls for some adult egg nog or spiked cider! Listening to Christmas music by a fire? Sounds like I need a holiday cocktail… Manhattans on date night, dirty martinis with the ladies… Anyway, you get the idea. It wasn’t a holiDAY it was a SEASON and the season was the reason for the drinkin’.

I started to dread events. I knew I would overdo despite all my best intentions going into it trying to moderate. I didn’t know how to abstain and the idea of that made me really sad. I didn’t feel like any nice scene was complete without a drink in my hand to make it perfect. I bought in to all the marketing hype that alcohol is necessary for a good time. Even when I did successfully moderate by my standards, it was too much.

I spent so much of my time trying to catch up. I needed alcohol as my social lubricant and I used social events as an excuse to drink. I started to hate myself. I felt like I was on a merry round of self loathing. I would sometimes wake up at 3am, immediately filled with dread. I would lay there on my sweat drenched pillow taking a mental inventory of the night before. I would search my memory for details, with my hands shaking, head pounding, chest aching and wonder why? Why did I do it again? At what point in the evening did I decide to have that one drink too many?

Since the last holiday season was a huge reason I decided to give up alcohol all together before I really had a problem (One might think reading this that I obviously did have a problem, but I wasn’t so sure. I felt like I was just keeping up with the crowd) I’m spending a lot of time comparing this year to last. Last year was the first year I didn’t do Christmas cards in a very long time. I just couldn’t get it together in time to do it. When you’re spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking it makes it hard to have time for the other things in life.

This year I ordered my Christmas cards on Black Friday. I am so on top of it! Things I dreaded in the past like our advent calendar (where my kids have developed high expectations) and that mischievous elf that needs to move around every night, I’m totally looking forward to this year.

I love that my cider and eggnog will be a treat, unspoiled by the taste of liquor and I love that my kids can share whatever I’m drinking with me. I enjoy a nice kombucha in a pretty glass but I know that’s not what makes the evening perfect. It’s being present for all this amazing time I’m getting to make magical while my kids are still young. It’s long dark hours snuggled up on the couch in Christmas jammies with my family, watching our favorite holiday movies. It’s meditating on the sparkling lights on the tree and reading classic holiday stories to my kids. All those things are what makes an evening perfect. And I must add, waking up hangover free after a full night’s sleep never, ever gets old.

Now have more, authentic fun than before. I laugh harder, feel more joy, and I also experience my anxiety, disappointment and pain without numbing so I can actually process it and let it go.

It’s a glorious feeling to be free. Sobriety is the best gift I can give myself for Christmas. This year of self discovery and growth has been my best year yet. I have more self confidence, love and acceptance than I can ever remember having. This leads me to stand up for myself. I am no longer left feeling like a shrinking violet.

This isn’t to say it hasn’t been hard. Any major life change and habit change is difficult. At times it’s been so crushingly hard that all I could do was hide on the bathroom floor and text a friend or go to bed. Those days and feelings always ended and I learned that feeling bad isn’t wrong and it’s not necessarily an emergency. I don’t need to quickly cover it up. There’s a huge amount of people, within my friends and family and also within the greater recovery community online, that are available to help.

And you know what? I have yet to wake up at 3am full of self loathing and regret that I am sober.

I hope these holidays find you appreciating the small joys that this magical season can bring. Happy Holidays.

Disclaimer: I didn’t drink every day. I didn’t always drink excessively. I often had a glass of wine with dinner and that was it. But I too often engaged in “risky drinking” that left me feeling sick. Everyone has a different relationship with alcohol. I feel lucky that I ended mine before it was much harder to do so.

Pink Cloud

Recently, I was asked about my thoughts on the “Pink Cloud,” that feeling of euphoria some people feel after they quit drinking.

When I first quit drinking I felt like I had discovered this great big secret to happiness. I wanted to tell everyone I met, “I quit drinking and it’s amazing! You should try it!” But I quickly learned that other people do NOT want you to tell them how awesome it is to quit drinking. They are SO uncomfortable with your new found sober glow. People are either uncomfortable on your behalf, like you’ve just admitted to having a problem and that’s embarrassing for you and them. Or, they feel like you are holding up a mirror to them and judging their own drinking habits and they become quite defensive. So, I learned, probably by alienating a great many people, to mostly keep quiet about it, and instead I write about it here.

So, yes I did feel the Pink Cloud and I loved it! I think it peaked for me around 3 months, alcohol free. I’m almost 11 months now. I was just SO happy to be sober (still am). I think of the Pink Cloud as the honeymoon phase of sobriety. It just felt so good, not feeling bad. Now, thankfully, feeling good is my new normal.

Some people feel really let down when the Pink Cloud passes, like it was a fake. But I would hope that being alcohol free and all the benefits, become normal. It’s like the first rush of being in love. In the beginning it’s all butterflies and sunshine, and then that love grows into a normal everyday feeling. It’s not new and exciting anymore but it’s just as good, or even better, in a different, more stable way, if you can appreciate it.

My Pink Cloud dissipated when my Dad’s cancer quickly worsened and he passed away. I had to deal with all my grief without an easy out. There was no way for me to numb my pain. I had to move through each raw feeling as it hit me, process it and let it go. That was around 7 months sober for me. Now, 4 months later, I am so glad that I was present and able to go through each moment, awake, and also so grateful for my sister, who has handled everything beautifully, as she’s done my whole life.

So, don’t fear the passing of the Pink Cloud. Maybe it means that you are settling into your sobriety and you can start to feel more confident in your new relationship with yourself, being alcohol free. Maybe it means you’re getting a little bored and you need to seek out some new tools to help you refocus on gratitude. Who knows, what goes up must come down. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Did you experience any version of the Pink Cloud? I’d love to hear about it.

Fitting in

I’m wrestling with whether I should continue taking an art class that isn’t the right fit for me. On one hand, I enjoy going out in the evening and having some “me” time to create. On the other hand, I’m not an abstract painter and I don’t fit in. (Also, I’m a morning person.)

Not fitting in has always been an issue for me.

The only time I ever really felt like I fit in and had a great big group of friends was at the height of my drinking. I felt like I could invite people over and get over my social anxiety with drinking the night away and being carefree and it felt good in the moment.

Slowly, I began to have a nagging feeling, a disconnect with myself. I felt I wasn’t enjoying all the crafts and activities that I usually enjoy. I felt like I was avoiding any quiet time or reflection time. I kept the family in a whirl wind of activity so I wouldn’t have to think about it too much.

Cactus Tuna

I felt sick and tired of running and spinning. I had to force myself to pull back from the group so I could remember who I am.

I struggle with feeling like a shrinking violet. It’s as if I can physically feel myself shrink when I feel like I might need to disappoint someone in order to honor my truth. Sometimes, I don’t know what my truth is. And how can I, when I’m running from it?

I’m scared to quit the class because I feel like I may not follow through on my own. There, I said it. Whew.

I also am worried about disappointing my friend who just joined the class with me and the teacher, even though it’s not the right fit. But I can’t keep going to a class when it’s not right for me because I want to please others, especially because they probably don’t care (not in a callus way, I mean, they won’t mind) and what I do has little impact on their lives. Right? People who love you want the best for you and people who don’t, don’t care.

That reminds me of a quote that really helped me break though fear in my early sobriety, “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” That really hits to the core of the matter for me.

It ultimately doesn’t matter if I fit in, especially if it means I need to change who I am to bend to the will of the group.

I’m going to give notice in the class. Tonight will be my last official class. Then I am going to find a day and time that I can commit to painting and I’ll join the community as an individual renting studio space. That way I can be in the community, I don’t need to be a student, which, I’m not, really- I’ve been painting forever. But I can get the accountability of showing up and having a great space to share with other talented artists.

Like how I worked all that out here? Thanks for listening. You make a great sounding board.

Introductions, Please.

…I had anxiety and I was on a constant guilt/shame cycle. I felt like the good times were killing me…

Hi! I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while now. I’m just finding my writer legs here. So, please excuse the rawness of this first post. I will be learning as I go, I hope.

You might be wondering why I am here. Well, first, I love to write. I write mostly to work things out for myself, and to remember.

I recently became sober, eight months ago today, to be exact. Happy soberversary to me! How lovely to be taking a leap and starting a blog to catalog this journey.

A brief history: I’m in my early forties. I didn’t drink until after I turned 21. Even then, I didn’t really drink for several years.

I remember on my 21st birthday being encouraged to order some blended froofy drink to mark the occasion but feeling mildly uncomfortable with it. I never liked the loss of control. I hated it when other people would drink and then change. Often people around me would become baby-like, silly, irresponsible, just, different. I always thought it was strange that we put this mature age limit on a substance only to have that substance revert us back into children, or at least child-like.

I really began to enjoy having a drink after meeting my (now) husband, I felt safe with him. When we were dating it felt sophisticated to have a glass of wine with dinner. I liked the signal to relax and socialize. Over time, the glass was half a bottle and then fast forward to more recently, a bottle. I’d say I’ve struggled with moderation and balance for the past 15ish years. Not coincidentally, I’ve also struggled with my weight for the past 15ish years.

Last December 31st, (the last time I drank) I was at a party at a good friend’s house, bringing in the New Year. We knew we didn’t want to drive home that night and we had pre-arranged to sleep over, with our kids. I found myself with a sense of dread most of the evening. I had been trying tricks to moderate my drinking over the holiday season, for example, I would wear multiple bracelets and move one bracelet to my other wrist for each drink I would consume, so I could remember which drink I was on and remember that I was done when I ran out of bracelets. I would find myself standing at my closet bargaining with myself about how many bracelets I could wear, three? four?…eight? I knew 3 drinks should be my limit, but four was more likely… Anyway, I felt dread. I felt dread all night because I knew I was making myself sick. I was moderating, but still, drinking too much for my body to process.

Also, I was looking around at my environment. The kids were running wild, wrecking my friend’s home with confetti, toys and trash. There were people gathering in the kitchen for shots. Wild whooping of celebration and stumbling laughter filled the rooms. Sounds fun, right? But I was hyper-aware that my kids were watching. I felt we were modeling binge drinking. We were modeling binge drinking. Normalizing it. Even though we planned for it and put the kids to bed before midnight and everyone was still a present parent, the kids were watching and learning.

Let me make clear, I’m not judging. I was just noticing. It was like I woke up that night and thought, is this serving me? Is it serving my kids? No. Not anymore.

A few years prior, I began to have physical symptoms from drinking that lasted beyond the usual headache. At times, my chest hurt for days and antacid wouldn’t touch it. I even ended up in the emergency room after my 39th birthday weekend with chest pain and was diagnosed with GERD. They wanted to put me on a prescription but I knew what was causing my symptoms, so I refused. I was fatigued, my sleep too often interrupted with alcohol insomnia as my body suffered during the 3 am sugar crash. My skin was getting red and ruddy on my face and arms. I was gaining weight so fast and I couldn’t control it. I had anxiety and I was on a constant guilt/shame cycle. I felt like the good times were killing me.

Even still, I didn’t drink everyday. And I didn’t always drink too much. Probably more often than not I would only have a glass or two, but I wanted the bottle. I would try to not drink Monday through Thursday, but I wanted to drink. I thought about it often. I was always looking for a way to fit a “celebration” into my week.

I started bringing wine with me to events. Bonfire at the beach? I got my thermos! Evening playdate at the park? Will people be bringing wine? My kids started picking up my stainless steel water bottle and asking if it was water before they would take a swig. Oh, that always made me cringe.

On January 1st, after the New Years party, I woke up early, gathered my family and things and left as soon as I could. I was very hungover, despite never feeling drunk the night before (I rarely felt drunk anymore). As my friends enjoyed mimosas in the kitchen, I swept my family out of there and headed home to lay on the couch all day and recover. I decided to not drink for a while. I needed a break from drinking. I began to research. I never felt like I was an alcoholic but I knew I was a “risky drinker”. I thought you had to have some rock bottom moment before you could quit drinking and I thought you needed to go to AA if you wanted to quit.

Luckily for me, I started searching social media for information and I stumbled upon “Dry January”. It gave me a name for what I wanted to do. It was a cool challenge. It helped remove the stigma, almost made it trendy. I started searching #hipsobriety, #sobersisters, and other hashtags and slowly started to build a sober community from which to draw inspiration.

Some resources that I found really helpful are Hip Sobriety. She’s all about finding a path other than a 12 step program. I read This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace. She helped me change my thinking. I no longer want to drink. This is life changing and so delicious. There is also a This Naked Mind Community. And I’ve found helpful information in some sober bloggers like, Bloomin’ Ash and The Sober School. Really, there are a great number of wonderful writers out there. The Sober Hipster is encouraging us all that we matter and our story matters. This is just the beginning of mine.

Now that I no longer drink, all those negative physical symptoms I had are gone, plus I’m down 25+ pounds and nearing a healthy weight. I feel like I’m getting a second chance, I’ve taken my life off pause. I’m painting more than ever, taking classes, writing, I have an upcoming art show…Things are just falling slowly into place. I’m present and I have a lot I want to do. I’ll be documenting it here, unfiltered. I’m glad you’re along for the ride.