Cracking the Safe

As a person in recovery who’s also diagnosed bipolar II and ADHD, finding the right balance in life often feels like I’m cracking a safe. One notch in the wrong direction can lock me into depression for days.

It sounds so simple, but I’ve only recently discovered how important sleep is to my sanity. I always believed I was functional with 6 hours a night or less. Oh how wrong I was! I easily require 8-9 hours, lest the dial slips in the wrong direction.

Over the weekend, my husband’s band played a gig, meaning I didn’t become one with my pillow until 3:30am. 3 days later and I’m still feeling the effects. My mood’s been stable for several months, but today was a steep nose-dive into depression and irritability.

I’ve learned so much these past 2 years about myself, yet I still do stupid things now and again. This old gal just can’t party until the wee hours of the morning anymore. How did I ever do that, plus alcohol? I can’t even remember anymore.

On a positive note, it’s easier to climb out of a depression pit when I understand what got me here and what I need to do to get out. So, whether my misfiring mind likes it or not, I will force myself to sleep early tonight, hit the gym early tomorrow, and remember to take shit one day at a time.

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Recovery Evolves

Before I get started, let me dust off this blog that’s been sitting patiently. I would not have been upset with it, had it refused my login attempt. I’ve been a fair weathered friend. I relied so heavily on this blank screen during my first year of sobriety, hammering out paragraph upon paragraph of fear, sadness, self pity, and every other raw emotion that lived on the surface those first several hundred days.

But, in true shitty girlfriend fashion, I found myself pulling away from blogging as I began stringing more and more happy days between the dark ones. I didn’t think I needed it; emotions have slowly, but surely settled into place, slowing the mental rollercoaster just enough to make myself think that I’m “ok.”

For the most part, I am ok. I have 22 sober months under my belt (I’m still not sure what cosmic anomalies had to line up for that to happen) and I’m feeling more in control of my life and myself than ever before.

That’s why I need to return to this space. Pouring my insides out in this space, even when I’m on top of the world, is immensely therapeutic. I miss it. I want to continue to have a record of this journey, no matter where it takes me.

Recovery has evolved for me in a big way this week and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. For too many months, I was complacent in recovery, treating AA like a casual acquaintance. Yes, much like with this blog, I was a shitty girlfriend to AA, too. I started working with a new sponsor 5 months ago. She has a very busy life and I took advantage of the fact that she doesn’t micro manage. I was attending 1 meeting a week and not connecting with fellow drunks.

She called me out on it just before Christmas (in a very kind way) and suggested I attend more meetings and make a point of connecting with people before and after the meetings. Like the good little soldier I am, I agreed and immediately began going to more meetings.

But I still wasn’t connecting. I was trying, but I’ve always been very uncomfortable in social settings. I knew I needed more. And just like that, at a meeting on Saturday, a complete stranger asked me to sponsor her. She was on day 3 in detox, was scared and couldn’t look me in the eye. I gave her my number, but I wasn’t sure I’d hear from her.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when my sponsor introduced me to someone who is also in need of a sponsor. She and I went for coffee tonight (2 days later) to get to know each other and talk recovery.

As I was driving home, my phone rang. Yes, it was the stranger from the weekend asking if we could get together tomorrow. I may be stretching the interpretation of The Promises, but this is what it means to me today: the longer I stay in recovery and in the rooms of AA, I am given the opportunity to evolve and strengthen my chance at long-term sobriety. And the fact that I have an opportunity to help a fellow alcoholic is all the more rewarding.

I’m spending my evenings and weekends in ways I never would have imagined just 2 years ago. My gratitude is immense.

The Perfect Storm

When the perfect storm of depression, mental illness and addiction comes together, it takes you to some very dark places. It’s difficult to put the internal storm into words for those who have never stood in its eye. Even now, as I’m typing, I’m separated from my last storm by only a couple of months, but the memories of the feelings, both physical and emotional, are fuzzy and difficult to articulate.

What I can say is that I am not surprised by Robin Williams’ suicide. As tragic, unexpected and painfully sad as his death is, I understand it. I suspect he was in the center of his own perfect storm.

Depression, in its most insidious form, removes all rational thoughts and memories and replaces them with truly irrational stand-ins. During my most lucid, rational, depression-free days, I know that I have a wide circle of family that loves me. However, in stormy times, I feel completely alone and as though no one in this world think twice if I ceased to exist.

That loneliness and isolating sadness is not just a thought, but something I know and physically feel. It’s during these times, when depression replaces rational thought with irrational, that suicide is possible. If I feel it in my soul that I will not be missed, then suicide becomes a real option that otherwise wouldn’t be considered.

I’ve been suicidal since 13 and over the past 25 years, the definition of “suicidal” has evolved a few times. Today, what it means for me is that I consider it in passing almost every day. I know that I will not do it today, but I regret that I didn’t do it 20+ years ago. I have the best handle on my suicidal thoughts today than I ever have, however it’s always still on the edge of my consciousness.

On top of living through depression, Robin Williams was an addict. He publicly acknowledged relapsing after 20 years of sobriety. Active addiction, recovery and relapse are all such powerful forces that they change any person who struggles through them. I cannot imaging the struggle through relapse after long-term sobriety; that alone must carry it’s own set of self-loathing irrationality.

I hope that his death has a ripple effect throughout the population. Of course we mourn, but my hope is that we consider his life, angst, and death from different angles. For this recovering alcoholic, it’s a reminder that even in recovery, when mixed with depression and other forms of mental illness, addiction changes the brain, giving irrational thoughts a disguise of normalcy. It’s what allows a person with long-term sobriety to pour a drink.

If I can ingrain that reminder in my head, like spray paint on a brick wall, I hope to keep it in the light during the next perfect storm. At the very least, it’s now painted here.

Outside of the Comfort Zone

I have given myself a new job title: “Conference Queen.” 95% of the time, my job keeps me at a desk, chained to a computer. This month, I’m living the other 5% and spending each week in a different city, whoring out the company that writes me a cheque several times a month.

I’m naturally painfully shy, making it difficult to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Even more difficult is that my only reason for introducing myself is to give them a sales pitch (yuck!). Multiply that by several hundred conversations and that’s my entire experience at any conference.

That said, I’ve forced myself over the past few years to become the person who can man an exhibitor booth on a trade show floor and come out the other side with solid new leads. Hell, I’ve even gotten pretty fast at setting up and tearing down the booth on my own.

However, the one piece I’m having a hard time getting comfortable with is the after-hours networking. Every night is an event designed to outdo last year’s host. I’ve had dinner on a museum rooftop overlooking the nation’s capital, dinner at a historic fort, followed by a fireworks display that would rival most city’s Canada Day celebrations and a 70’s themed cocktail party at a war museum surrounded by dozens of tanks, planes and machinery that date back as far as the 1800’s.

The venues are always amazing and the alcohol is everywhere. It’s free, it’s abundant and it’s an opportunity for attendees to have a good time away from home. I don’t directly struggle with wanting to drink, however I do struggle with interacting with people as they slowly become pickled.

The jokes aren’t as funny to me as they are to everyone else. I’m not “in” on the inside jokes that inevitably come out between long-time co-workers as they become more and more drunk. I imagine a lot of people are uncomfortable around drunks, but as an alcoholic in recovery, there’s an added layer of discomfort.

So I politely excuse myself from attending the after-after-hours hospitality suites that flow free booze until 1am. And when I hear the rumours over breakfast of a broken elevator and vomit on a wall, I’m happy to have missed the “party.”

The setting for one night's cocktail party

The setting for one night’s cocktail party

“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.

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.