“Do You Miss Drinking?”

“So you don’t drink at all?”

“Nope.”

I can see the light bulb turn on for her; she realizes that I’m an alcoholic without me saying the words.

“Do you miss drinking?”

I pause and smile. I’m honest and say “yeah, I do.”

“How long?”

“Not long… 13 months.”

“Cheers to sobriety.” She clinks her beer against my club soda.

My brain is broken. That’s the only answer for why I would ever miss it. But I did that night. I was in a bar waiting for my husband’s band to take the stage. I was feeling self-conscious and lonely. For a moment, I missed alcohol. I wondered how a shot of tequila would feel after abstaining for 13 months. I thought about how easy it would be to walk up to the bar and order a vodka & soda, instead of plain club soda. No one would even know.

My brain is broken, which is why I entertained these thoughts instead of immediately remembering how physical ill I was when I drank. I did eventually remember the reality of my alcoholism, but didn’t care. In the moment, the good things in life didn’t outweigh the booze. In the moment, I missed drinking.

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My World is Shifting But I’m Strong Enough to Stand

GlobeI was incredibly lucky during my first year of sobriety, in that life around me remained consistent. While I waged a war internally, running through a thick forest of long-suppressed feelings, battling the demons of addiction and the realities of decisions I made within addiction, the sun rose and set every day without a hitch. Little hiccups occurred along the way, but overall, external forces were kind to me.

Fast forward to day 399: the world around me is starting to shift ever so slightly.

My husband is quitting his job today to start with a new company at a 40% pay reduction.

My sponsor has asked to meet with me at my home tonight. I believe she is going to tell me she can no longer sponsor me. She’s been struggling at a dangerous level lately and I don’t think it’s a smart idea for her to be a sponsor right now. I think she’s realizing that now, too.

400 days ago the ball of angst would have started building in my stomach, my mind would try to remember how much vodka I have left and how soon I can get to it without arousing suspicion, and my body would automatically drive to the closest liquor store (my mind not catching up to my body until I’m pulling into the parking lot).

Today, I’m able to calmly and objectively review both of these imminent changes. To me, that’s a testament to the work I’ve done this year in therapy and AA. Sure, my head is swimming a little when I think about how my husband and I will have to adjust to this significant drop in income. And yes, there is a butterfly or two where previously the ball of angst would have been, as I anticipate the uncomfortable conversation when my sponsor “divorces” me. But I’m taking a moment to reflect on how I’m feeling and comparing it to how I think I would have felt had this day happened a little over a year ago. The difference is extraordinary and I am proud of myself.

Even that small piece of self-awareness is enormous. To have the clarity to stop and reflect, instead of falling off a proverbial cliff into a pity party, is a significant change.

I am proud of that, as it makes the work I’ve done feel tangible. Until now, it’s been an abstract awareness of the work I’ve done.

I’ve heard people in meetings say that they’re grateful to be alcoholic because it brought them to AA where they’ve learned how to change their lives and they’ve become part of a supportive family that will absolutely help you when you need propping up. I suppose that’s how some alcoholics in recovery have survived unthinkable tragedy and stayed sober.

If people before me can stay sober through the unthinkable, then surely I can get through whatever I need to today. Again, I am incredibly grateful that my world stayed so stable for that year while I learned how to be a strong enough person to continue standing when the world becomes a little unstable.

 

With Clarity, Analysis Must Come

For years I drowned any and all feelings with vodka. When that stopped working a year ago, I spent the year focussed on simply not drinking. I didn’t think about tomorrow, I only thought about today. After stringing together a few hundred sober 24 hours, I started feeling confident in sobriety. That’s when the focus shifted.

It’s time, now that I can look at the world with more clarity, to look at my life and truly analyze if it’s the life I want in the future. I had a session with my therapist last night and this came up unexpectedly. The emotion that poured out of me as we talked about my marriage was raw. It’s a clear indicator that I need to explore the viability of this relationship.

From the outside looking in, there’s no reason to consider leaving: there’s no adultery, abuse or visible problems. But inside the relationship, we’re little more than roommates. I can’t say that I want more, because I don’t know what “more” is. I’m challenged to describe what a good marriage is.

My therapist has asked me to begin exploring what a good marriage looks like to me and whether or not this relationship has the ability to become that. It’s entirely possible that we’ve run our course.

It’s opened the floodgates to feelings that I used to drown and I’m raw. Emotions are at the surface and it’s scary. Alcohol isn’t a thought today, but some of the related behaviours are there. Relapse happens long before the first drink is taken. It’s important to be vigilant and honest about red-flags in sobriety. I know that exploring the survivability of my relationship has the potential to trigger relapse. So it’s time to double up: double up on meetings, double up the contact with others in program, and double up on therapy.

But first, I think I’ll double up on some Advil and take a nap. It’s no surprise that my head is pounding and spinning at the same time.

Maintaining Tradition vs. Group Evolution

Every long-standing institution, at some point in its longevity, needs to decide whether it’s going to hold steadfast to its traditions or if it’s willing to evolve with the generations. Alcoholics Anonymous is no different. With its beginnings rooted in 1930’s ideology, it seems as though it must naturally go through its own evolution of sorts to “get with the times.”

One piece of evidence of its evolution is the establishment of women-only meetings. The 70’s and 80’s saw droves of women coming into program, to a point where women equal or outnumber the men.

I regularly attend a women’s meeting and think of it as a safe, friendly and warm place to share and listen. This past week, one woman attended for her first time. She’s been in program for 25 years and is an “AA purist.” She’s told people over the years that she doesn’t believe there should be women-only meetings.

We’ve gently altered the readings, scrubbing gender references to use more neutral language. This enraged our purist. She grandly stood and proclaimed to the world that we should all be ashamed of ourselves and she wished us fitful sleeps. For reals.

For whatever reason, she decided to return to the meeting after dramatically storming out. She remained (relatively) civil for the remainder of the meeting until afterwards when one woman attempted to apologize for the “offensive” readings. The purist’s response was: “I hope you don’t die today for what you’ve done.”


Know Your Meme

It’s sparked a conversation among some of us about whether or not AA needs to evolve. Arguments can be made on both sides. I believe it needs to evolve to integrate aspects of the 21st century that the founders never could have considered (technology and social media, the loosening bond between church and state, etc.). Others believe the program is a complete package that works because of its traditions and should not be tinkered with.

I know I’m not the first to come into program, believing I can “make it even better” but I do want to be part of the evolution. There isn’t an agnostic meeting in my city and I want to explore the possibility of starting one this year. A lot of leg work will need to go into researching the local appetite for such a meeting and seeking out the right location (the traditional church basement doesn’t seem appropriate), but it could end up being a worthwhile project for me this year.

I wonder how the AA purist will react to an agnostic meeting? Is it wrong to secretly hope it causes her some anxiety? Yeah, I know… it’s wrong!

(My apologies if the shocked Daschie above is distracting as you’re reading, but he’s just so perfect for the reaction to “I hope you don’t die today”!)

Day 393

I am a Mental Rollercoaster

The mental rollercoaster that is bipolar II doesn’t stop. For the first time, I understand the diagnosis. I’ve spent my adult life drunk, unable and unwilling to bear witness to any real feelings. After a year of sobriety, I am finally connecting the dots.

I’m sinking into depression after several months of consistently feeling good. I was motivated to eat well, be social and physically active. I truly thought that I was witnessing a evolution of myself. Why not? I’ve gone through a lot of changes this past year. Was it so unreasonable to believe I was finally becoming a happy, motivated person?

Today, I realize that it was simply a manic episode. For me, mania manifests itself in the best possible ways. Simply put: I feel good. So here I am, on the downswing of bipolar and I’m longing for the feelings of the past few months, much like a person longing to relive a memorable vacation.

Life’s Little Hiccups

Every day I wonder how I got anything accomplished before I got sober. Little life surprises used to feel so much more dramatic in my soused mind. Today, for example, I started the day by filing a police report: both of our vehicles were vandalized. Later, when I got home from work I noticed that the house felt a little chilly. As I walked down the basement stairs, the scent of burnt metal grew stronger and stronger: the furnace is dead, so I’ve made arrangements to drain my bank account in exchange for a new one.

Sure, all of these are bummers, but a year ago I would have over-dramatized the day. Granted, I’m dwelling on things enough to write about them here, but my focus isn’t so much on the “woe is me” factor, as it is on my ability to handle each of these hiccups. Today reminds me of what I am most grateful about in sobriety: greater control over my everyday life. Greater control has lead to a greater confidence.

I am confident I understand what the problem with the furnace is. I am confident that I made the right decision to replace, rather than to repair. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been confident that I understood. Between my wandering ADHD mind and the looping “act sober… does he know I’ve been drinking?… act sober” record that would have warbled in my head, I wouldn’t have heard more than 3 words at a time from the mechanic.

It’s been a tremendous journey from my first sober day and I often marvel at how much has changed. It reminds me to go easy on myself when I’m frustrated about the things that haven’t changed. And with that, I’ll put the mittens back on and cuddle up near the space heater that the furnace company is lending me.

Shining Ending

Vacation Dreams (aka Nutty Vacation Sleeps)

When I left for a week’s vacation last Monday, I didn’t think I was overly-anxious about facing alcohol temptations. However, the first night’s sleep in my Floridian bed brought a vivid dream of me relapsing hard while away. Within the dream, my drunken self thought about the implications it had on my sobriety date and whether or not I could face AA again. It took a few beats once I woke up to put myself back into reality.

What brings on these vivid dreams? It seems as though we all experience them; FitFatFood recently blogged about a similar lucid dream. Was I more concerned about potential temptations than I realized?

Whatever the cause, that was the only alcohol-related dream that invaded my vacation. It was a great week of sun, swimming and shopping (way too much shopping).

When we arrived at my parents’ condo, I noticed that there wasn’t the usual display of liquor bottles that usually adorn the counter in Florida. Later, when my father was BBQ’ing burgers and I saw my mother come downstairs with a small red Solo cup for him, I realized they’d hid the booze in their bedroom.

Before they left for their usual 2 months in Florida, I told them that I’d asked my sister to store the contents of their liquor cabinet at her house while they are gone. Historically, while they’re down south, I would use their house as my drinking sanctuary. Although I’m confident in my sobriety, I was concerned about old, strong habits coming back.

I think this is why they made the booze in Florida less accessible, because this is the first time they’ve made any effort to minimize the presence of booze around me. They don’t drink to excess (most of the time, anyways), but it’s always there. I think this is progress. I don’t ever want someone to feel put-out because of my addiction, but their increased mindfulness is appreciated.

All-in-all it was a terrific week for rest and relaxation. However, by the end of the week, I was feeling a little “off.” Not in a way that made me concerned, just aware that my internal compass was put off slightly by a different routine. Back to work today (wish I could avoid that routine for another week!) and back to being grateful and amazed by the past year. Day 356 feels good.