Blog

Forcing Self Improvement

Tuesday Weigh In: I am down 1.4 pounds since i quit drinking wine. Yes, this is up from the last time I weighed myself. I don’t seem to care very much. Which is probably why the number is not changing even when i claim that i want to lose weight. I clearly want to eat chocolate cream roll MORE than i want to lose weight.  And in these early days of no-booze, I know that sugar is a darn good replacement strategy.  Clearly it’s not a permanent option. i will eventually blimp out and my long-sleeved shirt will become a billowing sail in a strong wind.

Otherwise, all is well. nothing new over here.

except this.

Over at Abstaining in August, there’s a thoughtful post about what else we could do for 30 days, if we were to extend this sobriety thing into other self-help-y topics in our lives.

I commented with a lovely list of things I’d like to try to do for 30 days. Some typical stuff (run more, lose weight, read more) and some minor but important bits (very clean house, empty inbox every day).

So since it’s nearly September 1 and that seems like a good day to start a 30 day trial, this morning I opened up MS Word, turned on the auto number feature, and put in my list of things i’d like to do for 30 days:

  1. run 5 days a week including one long run
  2. lose 1-2 pounds a week
  3. make 30 new recipes in 30 days day
  4. write 30 minutes a day (for work) for 30 days
  5. read an hour a day (or read at least one book per week)
  6. empty inbox every night before bed
  7. run + read in the mornings before checking my email
  8. Set email checking to download new messages every 60 minutes (instead of every 1 minute).

And then I used the magic random number generator to make my selection for me.

It came up with #4.

Now let’s clarify a few things. Firstly, I don’t like this choice. I even considered pressing random again, to see what else it gave me.  Which is kind of silly since i’m the one who put #4 on my list in the first place.

Also, to be super clear here, i’ve been writing on this blog at least 30 minutes a day for almost two months, and i have more than 60 posts, cuz some days i’ve written more than once.  So we can argue that i have the time and the ability. I have a degree in writing.

I’m mad at this random number generator thing, even though i picked the 8 items myself, knowing that each one would improve my life and stretch me in some way.

and before we say “just don’t write,” i should say that I really do have to do it, because i’m behind on a deadline that i’ve already been paid for, and i still cannot seem to make myself do it.

i think the biggest difference between blog writing and professional writing is … audience. I get no feedback when i do the professional writing.  the client hardly ever says anything, ever, though they continue to pay the invoices. The topics i have to write about are self-generated, so i get to pick how interesting they are — and they are interesting in a technical kind of way — but i just hate it.  Really hate it.  Cannot make myself do it. Which is why i put it on the list in the first place.

All the normal resistance voices start up, just like with giving up booze:  “how can i start September 1st? i’m going to be on vacation.  How can I write every day while i’m on vacation?”

Sound familiar?  Not long ago i was thinking “i can’t quit drinking now, i’m going to be on vacation in X days.” Or I can’t quit now because of this wedding coming up, or until I move, or whatever.  There’s always some imaginary better time to do the thing that we’re avoiding.

and if writing every day for 30 days is like early sobriety, then i’ll hate mostly every minute of it in the beginning, and then it’ll get easier. i’ll reward myself, and then i’ll forget the rewards.  I’ll count days, and then i’ll lose track.

Fuck, i can hear myself talking myself into this 30 day trial, even as i’m writing this post.  Which i didn’t want to do.  Honestly i thought i was going to write something about quitting the professional writing gig and just refunding their money.

I wish i had this sober community support for the rest of my life, and i could post my stoopid professional writing and get thoughtful feedback from you-all.

i wish that there were easier ways towards self-improvement that didn’t feel like forcing myself to do something i don’t want to do.

anyone got a genius idea about forcing self-improvement? blech. double blech.

I cannot learn all of life’s lessons by experiencing them myself

before, even earlier last week, i really was holding myself back from drinking. I wanted to drink but i wasn’t doing it. I’d periodically get some good feeling moments of “yes i like this” and i definitely had positive and pink cloudy times, especially when reading Jason Vale or Allen Carr.

then things changed and now, based on yesterday’s experience, i think it’s pretty clear that now i don’t want to drink. I don’t want any, even by accident. That’s a big huge change.

i credit this shift with several things:

  1. i knew this shift was coming, because other sober people told me that the obsessing would stop, for some it was around 60-90 days.  i was always encouraged that it got MUCH MUCH better, and not to give up before i got to the much better place. i have been able to trust the wisdom and counsel of others who’ve been there before me. I do not have to put my hand in fire to know that it burns. you can tell me and i’ll believe you.  some days i’ll fucking hate your guts, but i won’t quit and i will believe you. here’s the truth:  I cannot learn all of life’s lessons by experiencing them myself. I have to be able to follow sensible, sage advice.Life is short and there’s lots i want to do and accomplish. i’ve always had mentors (and i have to listen to their advice!). This online community is my group of mentors for this task. You rock. In ways you can’t even imagine.
  2. i asked for a sign from the universe that it would be OK to drink, and instead the universe gave me a van on its side on the sidewalk. I barely even believe in signs, but i was feeling pretty desperate that day. the sign was so large, so fast, and so clear that i felt like my insides were shaken. in a good way.
  3. i also still feel like a bit of the 20-year-old’s serene life view has been distributed amongst her family and friends now that she has passed. When she stayed here in our apartment with us, she was like a snail. you couldn’t make her do anything quickly. she had her own time and her own way for everything. She didn’t fight back, she just did her own thing. She didn’t wrestle, or even seem to struggle.  She was just gliding along, singing, this ideal smile on her face.  She was always looking for the best and most enjoyable way to do everything. She took her time and the overwhelming feeling that everyone has in knowing her is that she always seemed to be ‘at peace’ with whatever was happening in her life.  Now that she’s gone, it’s like her attitudes and her life view have overflowed and affected everyone who knew her. and her impact is clear:  from the tributes on FB, to the memorial service held for her outside in the sun, to the cupcakes people brought to the service instead of flowers. Please know, I do not wish a 20-year-old death on anyone. but death does have a way of making your own life crystal clear.

i don’t want to drink. that’s a great feeling.

hosting a client event yesterday, breakfast. i’m drinking OJ. the guy beside me is drinking champagne and OJ for the first time. he says to me “it’s all foamy on top, like there’s soap in the glass. is it supposed to taste like this?” hands me his glass, I take a big glug.

fuckers.

talk about a reflex!

his drink was fine. i handed it back to him and then said to myself: “stoopid, stoopid, stoopid.”

I quickly filled my glass with more OJ and drank it down. then i looked around for something stronger. Tea. drank some.

I waited. afraid that the wolf would be awakened by that mouthful.

shit, double shit.

there was only one small thought:  “you’ve had some, you might as well have a glass now.”

i cornered my husband and quickly explained what had happened “i had a drink of champagne!”‘

he calmly said: you’ve had beer in pork stew, you’ve had beef baked in wine. it doesn’t mean anything.

he’s right.

i haven’t had a ‘drinking dream’ yet but i’ve had a strange near-miss in real life. the feeling of panic was a new feeling.  “Oh my god i drank some alcohol, HELP!”

i had oj and tea and coffee and water for the rest of the day. at the end of the event there was a half-bottle of champagne left and i put it in the fridge for my husband to drink later. it was of no interest to me.

i don’t want to drink. that’s a great feeling.

and it’s a relief.

my first reflex

I wake up in the middle of the night with stiff legs, tossing and turning.  too much running, too many hours on my feet in the kitchen. and i think: Well, here we are. This is sober life. This is real life. There are no blurred edges.  What would my husband do? Would he drink cough syrup so he could easily get back to sleep?

There’s a section in the Allen Carr book about sleeplessness — he says (not surprisingly) that this just happens sometimes. Some nights, you just can’t sleep.  Just like some days you have a cold, and some days you feel out of sorts. Nothing to do with booze.

So i got up and took one advil (ibuprofen) for my sore legs.

It sounds like nothing, but it’s something.

Carr refers to learning to live without alcohol is like buying a new make and model of car.

The turn indicator may be in a different place, and you’re going to try to shift gears with the windshield wiper handle … but don’t worry, that’s just your brain readjusting.  Your hands may reach out and you’ll turn on the wipers when you meant to blow the horn. and the solution is to just shrug, and then take the right action. Same with booze/drugs/medicating yourself. You may instinctively reach for a medicated solution, but that’s just because all of your motor reflexes haven’t been adjusted yet (to the new car!).  If you make a mistake and reach out for your old solutions, just wait a second and then readjust.  Over time your brain figures out where the switch for the windshield wipers are. And don’t give up. You wouldn’t return a new car because the lights are in a different place and your hands kept reaching for the wrong thing. You’d be patient while you learned new skills.

so, do I take a glug of Nyquil [nighttime cold medicine in north america] to help me sleep, when I wake up with sore legs? No. It might be my first reflex, but that’s just me getting used to the new model of car.  Instead, I take an ibuprofen and then roll over and go back to sleep.

10 things i’m grateful for

thanks to jen for the prompt to write this post. Ten things i am grateful for:

chocolate swiss roll
  1. my health: there is nothing the matter with me. i sleep through the night, my heart beats, my lungs function, i run, i eat, i have nice hair.
  2. my husband: my first experience with unconditional love. he really really loves me. a lot.  he’s doing the dishes right now. oh, he just came and filled up my cup of tea while i’m typing … he’s adorable.
  3. the online blogging world: never knew this existed, can’t believe i achieved anything in my life before, without this kind of support.
  4. i’m super grateful that we live in europe, in a beautiful city filled with amazing things to look at, things to do, and provides us with new adventures every day
  5. high school:  i hated the popularity contest stuff, but i’m damn grateful for the second language i studied, which now enables me to live in europe … and i learned to type 65 wpm in high school and that means i’ll never be out of work
  6. junior high school: i hated the pimples, the ‘family living’ classes, and the conversations about birth control.  but i LOVED my cooking class and the independence and freedom that i learned from making apple crisp changed my life, and influenced my career
  7. vacations: my work life is super busy and creative, and so i love having scheduled vacations. they really rock, and they give me something to look forward to. and we’re fortunate enough to be able to take one long weekend a month and go somewhere different, even if it’s just for one night (living in the ‘middle’ of europe means just about everywhere is 2 hrs away). we’ve been to portugal, spain, italy, france, germany, england, belgium, and holland. next vacation is a beach in the north of france where they’re holding an american film festival (movies! in english!) … the countdown has begun, we leave august 31st. i’m looking forward to a sober beach vacation with lots of sleeping, reading, sand, and miniature golf where my husband kicks my ass.
  8. my friends: both those ‘back home’ who’ve known me forever, and the really great group of international friends i have here in my new city. here I have friends from all over the world; the ex-pat community is pretty amazing. i learn lots. like how the woman from tunisia can’t serve herself wine but can drink if someone else pours for her, and how one polish woman will overeat rather than say that she’s been served too much … And the woman from china who always shows up with a gift at all events, even if they’re paid events, because she really really has to give the host a gift… all the subtleties of international cultures and traditions i find endlessly fascinating. i learn so much from everyone i meet.
  9. chocolate swiss roll: it’s chocolate sponge cake, rolled up with whipped cream and shaved chocolate inside. if you think it can’t fix a bad day, you’d be mistaken. there’s a bakery near me that has these.
  10. sobriety, how great it is, even when it’s not: i’m 55 days today. i’m grateful that (for now) i’ve stopped struggling and i’m just looking forward instead of looking back.

… and that I can do

i am well. i am strangely at peace. it is very quiet in my head and i can assure you that NEVER happens, so i have to take note. it’s momentous.

nothing like a bit of young-kid-dying-too-young to make the penny drop. does tend to put one’s life into perspective.

and it’s like the 20-year-old’s “serene, can’t be rushed, all is good” energy has been distributed amongst her friends and family. all at once. you should see her FB page. we’re all feeling and saying virtually the same thing …

So yesterday and today, for whatever reason — because i’m grieving or because i’m awash in 20-year-old’s serene spirit — i have simply stopped resisting alcohol. the white knuckling, counting days, feeling tempted, trying to distract myself — it has all simply stopped.

abruptly.

Facing backwards in a car never suited me, anyway, as I get car sick. And now i’ve stopped facing backwards, I’ve stopped yearning for the thing i’ve left behind (wine). when i face forward i realize it’s not part of my world view. it has just vanished.

why? because i realize now, thanks to everyone, that living sober is NOT about resisting booze. It’s about dealing with life without having blurry edges.

I can do that.

It’s a weird sense of relief.  it’s like i’ve just been handed the ticket to understanding and surviving sobriety:

Here’s the HARDEST part, Belle.  You can no longer stuff down your feelings, and you can’t numb yourself with booze.

Hooray! I’m not wanting to make light of the situation here, but man-oh-man my response to that is it’s WAY EASIER to confront my emotions than it is to resist drinking. Resisting drinking is freaking nearly impossible.

[I wonder if that even makes sense.  If i was 3 days newly sober i’d think that Belle was delirious.]

Let me try to explain it again.

It’s a relief to know that the way THROUGH a life without wine is entirely within MY control, within my ability, and is something I can DO. There’s an action I can take that makes this easier.  It’s called: living life in its natural state. No artificial coloring, no additives. No booze, no smoothing the edges, no hiding.

Fuck man. Really? This is great news because I CAN DO THAT. 

yeah, i can’t do it all at once, and I can’t do it all today. But it is something i totally have within me to do.

cuz white knuckling and feeling tempted by wine and continuously having to turn away … that I can’t do.  I just can’t do it any more.  it’s exhausting, and unfulfilling.  I realize that’s what I was writing when I said that I was tired and couldn’t do this any more.

for today at least, i feel like i’ve got the ticket out.  it’s accepting life. No artificial colors, no additives.

and that I can do.

this is living sober

I’m fine (she says, again). thanks for all of the comments, direct emails, and cyber hugs.  all received and pretty darn helpful.

I cried off and on yesterday, from grief, heat, and terrible fatigue, having slept about 4 hrs the night before.

I did manage to run yesterday, though, mid-day, mid-sweltering heat, even though i was feeling like a bag of shit. it seemed liked good advice (from nomoremerlot) and it was a scheduled running day. better to do 20 minutes than skip a day.

that I went for a run is significant because while running, I asked for a ‘sign’ that I should continue on this sober journey a little while longer, or maybe it’d be OK if i had a drink or two at the end of my two months.  I saw a bird flying by, and i thought “that’s not the sign that i should drink.”  There was a sticker on the wall … no, that’s not it.  And not 2 minutes later, literally, I came around the corner to see a gigantic car accident, big white passenger van on its side on the sidewalk, smashed up against the pedestrian guardrails, having overturned a few parked motorcycles alongside.  Traffic diverted. police with whistles in their mouths, arms outstretched. no ambulances, no people around. just this van there waiting for the tow truck.

it was a freaky clear sign, and I barely believe in that kind of shit … [this is what i wrote in an email yesterday to cricket]. but whether i believe it in or not, i asked for a sign, and i got one.  I burst into tears right there on the sidewalk beside the van. (some witness-guy watched the not-thin girl go by in tight spandex on a jesus-hot day, sweaty from head to toe, dripping from all orifices, and clearly thought i’d lost my mind.)

OK, maybe i don’t really believe in signs but, being the hot mess that I was, it did seem brutally clear. and abrupt. and fast.

in the blink of an eye, the van can be on the sidewalk. you can make a tiny mistake with huge consequences. bad shit can and does happen. not often, but it does happen. life is already fragile enough. you don’t need to add mind altering drugs to that mix, do you Belle?

it was nearly 10 pm before i got the official news that my 20-year old friend had passed away after being taken off life support.  her mom describes it as a very spiritual experience, not as painful as you might imagine. Here’s a quote from the mom’s email:

“… There has only been one message, according to [daughter’s name]. And that is Love and Happiness. So I am not suffering as much as you’d think right now. Instead, I am feeling a profound sense of peace, and even gratitude for this experience, with occasional bursts of sobbing and grief. … Going through her end of life — from the call that she was in critical condition — to her final hours and the decision to donate her organs, was the most profoundly spiritual experience I have ever had.”

When i read this i felt somewhat better. it’s certainly not every day you get to witness someone losing their daughter like this… and the girl was really a special kid. we hung out quite a bit when she was traveling alone through europe, and she stayed with us a few times, bringing her guitar and her gigantic smile. she kept in touch with me directly, outside of my relationship with her mother, and we became ‘buddies’ (as much as a 45 year old can be buddies with a 20 year old).

And it was after receiving the news that she was gone, that I checked my blog and read the comments from yesterday’s post about sadness. In particular, Mrs. D saying that this is sober life. this is it – the shitty and the rough.  Well, she says it better than I can:

“Belle, this is living sober. This is what it is. It is crying, and getting frustrated, and angry. It is sadness, it is hopelessness. It is raw, it is real. It is hard, and it is relentless. It is sober living. This is why it is tricky and it takes some work getting used to it. This is raw life, without the drug. The drug is attractive because it bends our brains and shifts our attention to a more blurry place.”

because all the way through the day yesterday, i kept thinking that a shot of grand marnier would take the edge off, would numb me — just a bit — so that i could deal better. i don’t drink ‘for fun’ or because i’m ‘thirsty’ or to ‘be social’ or ‘to relax’…. i crave booze when i want to HIDE.

thanks everyone for the well-timed truths. I am fine. Day 53.

and just a PS, i’ve been feeling draggy and shitty and out of sorts and not enjoying my vacation for about a week … i did hunt to try to find the specific point that i started feeling bad, when the unraveling began.  well, it’s the same day we learned that the smiling 20 year old was in the hospital on life support after her heart attack. I hadn’t realized the direct correlation in the timing.  [sigh]

time to have a shower and begin my day.

sadness

i’m fine. i’m obviously going through some temper tantrum things right now. disappointed that the summer is nearly over and i didn’t enjoy it the way i wanted to. disappointed that i feel like i haven’t gotten anything done, that i’ve been obsessing.  and mostly i’m just really tired.

i do have to tell you though that after i posted last night, i felt some relief. like my personal alcohol obsessing will stop soon, and that i can find some new kind of normal — whatever that is. i know. i know. moderation is virtually impossible, and i do believe that. i would like to go back to some magical place where one glass of wine is enough and is soothing.  i know it doesn’t even exist but i’m really pitching a giant sized (internal) temper tantrum right now.  i don’t know how to articulate exactly what’s happening, but something is definitely up.

And yes, i’d like to be able to stop resisting and start just living, and i’m not sure how to navigate that yet, or if i can.

but also, to complicate things terribly, the 20 year old daughter of a colleague/work friend of mine is going to die today. i know the family fairly well, and the daughter and i have hung out on several occasions… the loss of this young girl, the knowing that after a week of uncertainties that she is now off of life support, and they are waiting for the end … this seems (understandably) to have pitched me into a “why bother” kind of despair.

i’m glued to my facebook page waiting for her mom to update her status (for the last time). i was up through the night waiting for the news, watching people post pictures of the girl, tagged, everyone saying how great this kid is/was (and she really is an amazingly bright soul). I’m far away, i can’t travel for the funeral. i can’t even reach the family in a meaningful way now with all the influx of communication they’re getting. and it’s not the right time to say anything except sorry. it’s really all just horrific. i slept a bit more early this morning, and now i’m up again. drinking coffee, crying, and waiting.

i think struggling is unfortunately a part of life, and me wanting the struggle to be silenced with booze is my default reflex. i think of my friend’s daughter, who is right this minute navigating her way into another phase of life, and i just fucking want it all to stop.  all of it.

the end of an experiment

As I come up to my 60 day anniversary, i’m finding myself in a place similar to where I was when i was coming up to 30 days.  Am i continuing this sober experiment or not? I won’t bore you with all of the thought processes, because i think they’re predictable. I didn’t set out to quit forever, my goal was dry july. I’ve done nearly 60 days with your support and encouragement. but i don’t feel like i’m doing it for myself anymore.

i continue to vacillate between pink clouds and wishy-washy-ness in the same day, moreso in the last 10 days.

sigh. I feel like i’ve spent my summer doing this, and i regret it, which is ridiculous. But i feel like i’ve wasted my summer staring at my computer screen and trying to find answers in books instead of being out in the world (or baking in my kitchen). Being on quasi-vacation for the month of August is also turning out to be terribly long and hot and supremely boring and mostly disappointing.  Our ‘official’ vacation, where we get to travel, doesn’t start until August 31st.  And by then summer will be over.

I should have done this differently.

So anyway. I’m just announcing this now, so that there’ll be no big shocking ending, or weirdness.  I am going to end my sober experiment at the end of the month.  i am not planning to drink that day, and I’m not going to return to drinking every day, but i’m tired of this. Like, supremely tired. Yes, the wolf is getting quieter and quieter.  Yes it’s getting easier. But to what point? I’ve lost the plot now.  I’ve saved some money and lost a few pounds and i’ve exercised my self-discipline in ways that most people don’t or can’t. That’s super.

Yes, i’ve had lots of good days, and i’m happy that i’ve done this because i got to hang out with you-all.  amazing support and guidance and grit and warmth. But lately it feels like i’m spinning my wheels, and that my life is on some kind of gigantic pause. I know that drinking a glass of wine won’t lift the pause button, but over-focussing on not drinking certainly has put me on pause …

sorry. i’m not trying to be dramatic. i’m not crying or flailing around.  i’m trying to be real. every time i post something like this, i think i’m going to delete it in 10 minutes. i’m tired of thinking about drinking. that’s the name of this blog. i’m in a pit now of thinking too much again, just on the other side of the topic. I am not drinking. And i don’t have specific plans to drink.  I’m just really really tired of the pause button feeling. i don’t know how else to describe it.

Dehydrate the wolf

If you can picture booze like a Big Wolf With Black Eyes, he represents the voice in your head.  Now you have to very calmly starve the wolf. Or better yet, you have to dehydrate him by not giving him anything to drink.

At first he’ll be mad at you. “Where’s my drink?”

You’ll say … I have all this free time now. I can’t talk to you, wolfie. I’m running, baking, singing, reading, cleaning, spending time with my kids. I’m paying my taxes, cleaning off my desk, enjoying the weather.

The wolf will taunt you. “Everyone else is drinking, why can’t you?”

You’ll say … sorry, wolfie, can’t hear you. I’m too busy cranking up the volume on my new iPad that I bought with all the money I’ve saved. 50 days of sobriety @ 3/4 bottle of wine per day =  $225.  And some days were more, and other days included booze in restaurants, so it’s really more like $400 (or probably even $500).  At an even $10 A day, that means that in a year it’ll be $3,650 saved.  That’s a trip to Australia. That’s a small car. That’s a new wardrobe, le creuset cookware, and 2 new books a week with money left over. Sorry wolfie, can’t hear you, i’m COUNTING MY MONEY.

The wolf will throw temper tantrums. “Why can’t I? What about now? When is this sober thing finished? Can I drink in a few more days? When exactly can I drink again?”

You’ll say I’m too busy snuggling with my husband, staying awake for conversations, i can see the look in his eyes, how proud he is of me, how supportive. i would never want him to look at me any other way, wolfie, don’t you understand that one glass of red wine does NOT equal my marriage? I pick my marriage. I pick it every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I pick meaningful conversations with friends. I pick sober laughing. It’s the best. Have you tried it wolfie? Sober laughing? you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.

The wolf will nearly be dehydrated. He’ll try a few more last-chance, desperate attempts. “You’re broken,” he’ll snarl. “you bitch, you can’t be fixed, you’ll always be a fuck-up, you suck at this, you might as well quit now.”

And you’ll say:  You want to fight? I’ll win. I’ve got so much more energy now that i’m sleeping through the night. I can outrun you wolfie. I’m light on my feet now.  I’ve got so much more spunk, clearer thinking. I’m planning to take over the world, wolfie, me and my clear-headed genius.

What is that? Sorry I can’t quite hear you. Your voice is so quiet wolfie. are you nearly dehydrated? you’re going to dry up and turn to dust.

[puts palm of hand up to lips and blows across the surface … dust disperses, wolfie is specks of gray in the air … and then gone]