Friday, September 21, 2012

Clear sailing

I'm going to try to be brief today, mostly because I don't have much to complain about, but I do have an observation.

The hardest parts of sobriety are when the problems just keep piling on and there's no end in sight. Even if I know intellectually that the hard times are temporary, even if I know the exact date when I won't have to worry about the problems, it can still seem like my problems will last forever. Every step I have to take feels like slogging through knee-deep mud.

The best parts of sobriety, though, are the moments like right now, when the problems get resolved and I'm sober enough to enjoy them. I found out today that my student loan has been approved and so I should be all set to start school in January. This was THE biggest worry for me since I made the decision to go back in June, so right now having it resolved is....really, really nice.

It's nice because I succeeded, but it's even more nice because I know that I weathered a fair amount of stress without having a drink. When I told myself, during those dark moments, that nothing lasts forever, I was telling myself the truth. I can use this to reinforce myself against doubts the next time I'm in a tough place.

If something like this had happened a year ago, tonight would involve me going out and getting drunk. Strangely, I don't want to do that at all. It's more than enough to enjoy this relief and satisfaction with my faculties intact. The next few days (before I have to buckle down and study for an intro psych exam for a course I took over the last couple of months) I can really relax and focus on other things.

At any rate (I hope I'm not jinxing myself here), I have 2 weeks to go until my first year anniversary sober, and I'm pretty sure it's gonna be smooth sailing until then.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"I only saw you drink beer."

Today was a frustrating day in being sober. I was out with a very close friend for dinner, just to reconnect. She's been having a rough time of it. We met as co-workers, and we actually left our jobs within a month of each other, so the ups and downs we've had to face have sometimes mirrored each other. She's been crucial for me to talk about some of my work-related, job-hunting-related, and life-is-stressful related things, and I try to be there for her in the same way.

She'd had a terrible day at work, and so she ordered a drink to take the edge off. I happen to know that she isn't quite comfortable with my sobriety so I saw that there were "non-alcoholic slushies" and I ordered a peach one "in solidarity." A few sips in, though, and I felt like something wasn't right. What if the waitress had misheard me or the person who made the drink had misunderstood? Was there rum in my drink? I honestly couldn't tell. I started to feel a little light-headed and worried that it was the beginning of a buzz. I asked my friend to taste it, but she said she couldn't taste anything alcoholic. I ended up calling the waitress over and asked her, but she promised me that it was a non-alcoholic drink, as I'd ordered, and that she'd been there when it was made: just slush and syrup blended together, but she'd be happy to get me a new one if I wanted. I said that was fine. I could trust her, right?

I tentatively took another sip, and this time I couldn't taste any alcohol, just super-sweet peach syrup. My light-headedness was passing and it occured to me that it might have been a symptom of my panic*. Even so, I had to set the drink aside for a while because I just didn't trust it. Having it in my eye-line was kind of upsetting to me in a weird way.

After the waitress left, I apologized for my little ex-alcoholic freak out, and she said something like, "You aren't really an alcoholic, though, are you? I've only ever seen you drink beer."

Like I said, this friend is very close to me, and I love her always, but the only times I ever get frustrated with her is that she's made comments like this before, and I feel like I have to do "alcoholism 101" with her every 3 months or so.

So, I explained that it doesn't matter if it's beer or not, I'm addicted to the alcohol, not the delivery method. I explained how I would monitor what and where I drank, so that most people only ever saw me drink beer, but that I usually had a big ol' bottle of vodka or whisky somewhere at home. I explained that when I said a 12-pack of beer would last me to the weekend, the truth was that 10 of those beer would be gone the first night and I'd suppliment the 12-pack with a six pack the next day (or else the vodka). I told her about how I was stealing booze from my parents and getting a regular buzz on every weekend from about age 14 or 15, and how 3 to 5 nights out of the week I'd just stay home and get drunk, even if I'd told myself I wasn't going to do that. I explained that even if I had one drink by accident, as soon as that drink was done, I would be craving the next one until I was drinking all the time again.

All this explaining happened in a conversation, and it was nice to vocalize my reasons for being sober again. But's frustrating. Frustrating because it's not fun to have a booze-related panic attack in public, frustrating because I didn't necessarily want to "out" myself to the waitress (she was totally cool), and frustrating because sometimes I wish this didn't set me apart so that I could be so casually reminded of how different I am, just from one careless phrase.

And most frustrating, is that even though I know I'm not drunk, even though I'm confident the drink was booze free, I had no lasting buzz other than that (possibly panic-induced) moment of light-headedness...even though there's no evidence at all that there was any alcohol in the beverage at all, there's still a part of my brain going "....but what if it was....what if you just drank alcohol...what if your sobreity is back to day one...."

That, my friends, is frustrating.

*I'm using the word "panic" but it occurs to me that this was more of an anxiety attack. People who've had both know that there's a BIG difference between the two, so just replace the word "panic" with anxiety if you're sensitive to that difference.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Working it out

I still have my 2011 calendar, kicking around somewhere under all my piles of stuff. A few weeks ago my boyfriend asked if he could throw it out and I said "No!" as if I was afraid 2011 would come back again at the same time as a total collapse of the naked man calendar industry (I buy naked man calendars. It's my concession to my gayness). The reason I gave was that I've been tracking the days I go to the gym since October of last year, and I want to have a physical reminder of that accomplishment, which is true, but only partly. That calendar also has the day on October 5th where I wrote "last drink."

It's not a coincidence that I made a commitment to go to the gym regularly around the same time as giving up booze. Part of giving up drinking was a realization that my life was going in the wrong direction, that I was on track towards meeting absolutely none of my life's goals, and while I'm sure no one ever gets to follow ALL of their dreams, it seems pretty sad to have made no progress on ANY of them. To have barely even tried? That was shameful. Drinking had to go.

So, I gave up drinking to get in better shape. But what I didn't really grasp was how getting in better shape would help me to keep from drinking.

To anyone in their early days of recovery: get active. It doesn't matter what you do: swim, jog, join a softball league, go for walks with a neighbour, work out with a Wii fit in the privacy of your home, learn to skate or ski or horseback riding or frisbee ("flying disc"), play catch with your kids or rugby with your mates. The activity and making it a routine will save your sanity.

I started this week with a personal trainer, and while my life is still a train wreck right now, my mood is much, much improved over last week. I still have all my problems (and in two weeks, my automatic withdrawal for the trainer might not go through, har de har), but being in this much pain (I mean, these guys are sadists!) has really cheered me up.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

11 months

I'm 11 months sober, which puts me in new and unfamiliar territory. My last significant time not drinking only lasted about 11 months (I don't remember the exact length, so "11 months" is what I decided on), and that was almost a decade ago. From here on (plus or minus a few days), I will be sober for the longest time in my life.

Unlike that last time, I'm not ambivalent at all about being sober. Sobriety is a good thing for me, and drinking is a very bad thing for me. If the question ever comes up "how do you know you can't just moderate your drinking, now that you broke your habit?" I thankfully have that relapse as an example. Back then, the idea was to drink in moderation and never end up an alcoholic. It took me basically zero time to ramp up my drinking to pre-abstinance levels, and then I wasted at least 7 years of my life as a drinker. I don't want to waste another 7 years for another relapse: that relapse was my last.

It's a good thing, too. I'm depressed. Today, things are looking up 'and maybe tomorrow will be better, but for the last 2 weeks, maybe even the last few months, there's been a cloud hanging over me. This last month there's been a fair bit of disappointment and concern for me and my partner, and the stress is wearing on me. I have moments where things seem hopeless, and the bulk of my time I feel like I'm trudging through a swamp, just putting a foot in front of the other, with no idea if this swamp really has an end. It sucks.

But being sober is not a question. On this front, whether I'm happy or sad, healthy or depressed, I can be a little bit confident. I feel like I've done my homework (not to say I get to stop: there's always homework). I've put a lot of effort and thought into why I'm doing this, and I've trained myself to understand that drinking is not an option. I know that no matter how difficult my life is at any given time, there is nothing so bad that a drink can't make it worse. Maybe I'll continue to be depressed, maybe I'll end up worse off next year, maybe I'm on a slow-motion trainwreck and there's nothing I can do to stop it. That may all be true, but I know that if I relapse, whatever horrors that are in store for me will seem like a picnic compared to what I'll face as a drinker.

I had a conversation today with a good friend, and she kept apologizing for her yawning. She said that she's been drinking a lot more because of the stress in her life, and so she was up late last night having some wine and that's why she was tired today. I get it, I understand. I didn't really get into it with her, because I don't feel like I can comment when someone else talks about their drinking (because if they're "normal" their experiences and my experiences with booze are VERY different, and if they're like me, there's nothing I can say that they'll listen to until they're ready), but what I thought to myself was "Can you imagine dealing with all this stuff AND being hungover and sleep-deprived??" It was a reminder of the life I've given up.

When I look for reminders of why I'm sober, I find them, because they're all around me. I do need to continue working on this, because like physical muscles, my sobriety muscles can atrophy with time, but as far as this sober thing goes, I'm in a very good place. I didn't expect the "unfamiliar territory" of sobriety past 11 months to feel like this: it feels pretty comforting.


Oh! And shout out to Mrs D on her 1 year sober anniversary!! Congrats!