The sober coach shows up with a lantern

Article originally posted on Medium.

photo courtesy of rob taylor

She writes a depressed, hungover letter to her Sober Coach.

Dear You: I need to have you in my corner. I need to know that someone thinks I can do this. I know you’re not me (you’re sober!), and maybe I really am broken, and you’re not and that’s why you’re sober and I’m not.

Or maybe it really IS the booze that makes me feel like this, like you keep saying. Maybe if I remove the alcohol, this all low emotional garbage will stop.

I’m afraid to quit drinking. There I said it. I’m afraid to leave behind the toxic, lying, cheating boyfriend that is alcohol.

Well, because, who am I without this backpack of rocks?

I don’t know who I am.

Is it possible that I’m in here, under all the false promises to quit drinking each morning only to drink again by dinnertime.

What kinds of thoughts will be in my head when the “Drink Now” noise is gone. Is it really possible to drink coffee on the balcony at 6 a.m. like you do, sober coach, and just be there peacefully, looking forward at your day.

Is it possible that I will discover that once sober, other aspects of my life are fixable, and that instead of wanting to continue hiding, I’ll view my life (like my sobriety) with an attitude of: “OK. What is this gonna take to do this?”

Sober Coach, it’s good to know that you’re in my corner. Does that expression come from boxing? Maybe I am boxing the ‘Drink Now’ voice in the ring, and you’re there putting my mouth guard back in (saying: take care of yourself), and you’re handing me the water bottle when the bell rings for a break.

Ever notice that the coach does not hand the boxer a bottle of alcohol? (You know, to take the edge off, to give her liquid courage, to make it more fun.) The boxer needs mental clarity, physical agility, so that she can box, as well as get through life, soothe a rabid 2-year-old, and safely walk down the stairs.

I’m worried, because I have a voice in my head that says: Fuck this boxing thing. You suck at it anyway.

The voice in my head never says: You’re becoming a better boxer, keep training, learn new things, maybe you need another strategy for this situation, keep your wits about you. I need you, Sober Coach, for that.

My voice says: Go home, wrap yourself in a blanket like a burrito, prone on the couch, drink a shit ton of booze, because what’s the use in even trying. Tell that fucking coach to go and peddle her ‘hope’ somewhere else.

Because the coach must be crazy, right? I don’t need her. I have to do this on my own. I got myself into this and I have to get myself out of it. Will have to do that alone.

I am waiting for the day when I wake up and KNOW that it’s the right time to quit drinking.

It will feel different, there’ll be some magic day when it ‘clicks’ and in the meantime I wait. No coach, please. Pass the wine. I’ll just sit on this short stool in the boxing corner, in the dark, and I’ll wait. I’ll wait to feel like it. As I pour the will-never-feel-like-it liquid on my head. And as that liquid wears off, I will apply more.

Where are you, Sober Coach? On the balcony drinking coffee?

I am riding the booze elevator in a downwards direction but I’ve heard that there is another boxing ring on a lower floor down, where I can sit alone in the dark. What do you mean it gets harder on lower floors?

I disagree. It’s too hard now but if I wait for things to get worse then I’ll have to quit. It’s not worse enough yet. It’ll be easier to quit if there were some shitty and terrible consequences.

What do you mean that I can’t play this like a game; how do you know that I want to drink as long as possible, and then quit later just before it all goes wrong.

And who fucking says that the booze elevator doesn’t open on every floor? You mean I might get stuck wanting to get off, and then the door won’t open?

When the Sober Coach responds, she says:

Even if you have two days sober in a row, or three, or four, then that’s momentum. And it’s a gift because the elevator door opened, and you stepped off. How many days until you can feel proud of yourself? How about today. You’re heading to a better place. Lots of people can’t find the door, ever. And you may never find the door again later, tomorrow, next week.

Consider how long it took you to find the door this time.

You have 30 days sober? You’re out in the sunshine on pale thin legs after (years) of sitting on a stool like a burrito in the dark. No shit you feel better — and not yet good enough. But it’s not Day 1. You’re at least progressively getting better (not riding down and down).

You’re on Day 100 sober? You think maybe you’ll drink again, since you could quit this one time you believe you could maybe quit again later whenever you like. You think: I did it once, it’ll be fine.

You misremember how it feels.

You misremember the pride of new days, beating your personal best, never having been HERE before. You misremember the feeling of accomplishment as you get your sober days for the first time. How much fun is it to do it again? Decidedly less fun, but necessary. Then a third time? Grinding, but required. A fourth? You misremember that the ceiling light in the boxing ring is on a timer, and that the light eventually turns off.

Then you can’t find the door out even when it opens.

You’ll bang on the walls trying to turn them into doors.

So if the Sober Coach comes towards you, with a lantern and a flash light and a lighthouse, saying “the way out is over here,” then you will say …


from Belle: Here’s the email I received that prompted today’s writing. Yes, it was written on the balcony with a cup of coffee at 6 a.m. This email came to me from H, thanks for the inspiration: “Thank you, Belle, for always being in my corner. I know that you know what it’s like to wake up the morning and think ‘oh fuck, what did I do’. I’m so sick and tired of that feeling. I’m an adult, I like to think I’m a pretty responsible adult. I need to have people like you in my life so I know what sobriety can look like and know that it’s possible.”

Instructions on how NOT to be an ass while I’m learning to be sober.

Article originally posted on Medium.

sober pineapple. image courtesy of noah markus

Belle, my husband doesn’t understand why I can’t have a few drinks and then stop. To him, the idea of entirely quitting drinking and being 100% sober, seems overly dramatic. He doesn’t get it. What can I say to him to help him understand?

Dear loved one who doesn’t get it,

I have a noise in my head that you can’t hear. I’m not crazy and I am not hallucinating. I’ve checked with others who have this same ‘Drink Now’ voice, and it turns out we all pretty much experience the same thing. We hear our regular thoughts AND a radio station broadcasting at the same time.

And the radio station? It’s saying: “Drink Now. Is there enough to drink? Will I get enough to drink? Did he have more than me? Is there enough alcohol? When is it time to drink? Did they notice how fast I drank that first glass?”

For me, honey, that voice will start — oh it could start at 10 a.m. — but it probably used to get rolling mid-afternoon and continued non-stop until I gave my head a glass of wine (is it 5 p.m. yet?).

I see that frown.

You know how some people get carsick and others don’t? It’s not something you can see. It’s something that happens in our heads. And this is happening in MY head. The Drink Now voice.

That’s why I wanted you to read this article on Medium, it’s about how to explain my goal with being sober. Belle assures me that the longer I’m sober, the easier I will be to get along with (yes!), and the happier I will be in my own skin (fan-freaking-tastic!).

I’m supposed to make sure you read this part: The longer I’m sober, the more sex there will be (highlight for emphasis).

I’m more likely to buy groceries and cook, as a sober human, rather than letting the nice food languish in the fridge. I will be more likely to get out of bed before noon on the weekend. I will be more likely to be patient with the kids. I’m more likely to be empathetic and compassionate about other people and dealing with their shit. I’m going to evolve into a new version of me. You don’t need to look so worried, I’m not going to evolve into someone who doesn’t love you (unless you’re a jackass, in which case all bets are off). I’m doing this sober thing so that I can evolve into a better version of me, for me.

And I’m doing it right now.

I understand that me consuming no alcohol at all seems unusual, since you don’t hear that same voice in your head that I do. I know that alcohol is not poison for every single person on the planet, but it is for me. It poisons my thoughts, and my heart, and it gets into mood, and it dumps on my sleep.

Learning to live without booze is hard. I might be grumpy. Sometimes I don’t take very good care of myself, and I fuck up my sleep or I forget to eat, and I make it harder for myself. But I’m learning this self-care thing through a process of trial and error, with hopefully more success than error.

You’re still here, so that’s good because this next part is going to be really hard to say.

If you are mean to me, it makes things worse. I already know that things are grim. You want me to stop being an over-drinker, that much we can agree on. You perhaps think that ‘moderation’ should be possible for me. (Ha! What do you think I’ve been trying? I maybe didn’t use that exact word, but I’ve been trying to moderate, to drink less, to drink one — and it hasn’t been working. For years.)

Tough love doesn’t work with people like me. Tough love makes us rebellious and angry and it kicks off the toddler in our heads, the one that says “fuck it, I’ll just drink to spite you. I’ll drink AT you.”

I’m not going to blame my drinking on you, and I’m not going to say that if you’re mean to me, then I will drink because I am responsible for me, and I decide what I consume and what I don’t consume.

But if you’d like to be supportive, and if you’d like to be helpful (and that really is the only choice here), then I will share with you that I am doing a 100-day sober challenge, and during that time you can pledge for 100 days to not be an ass. For 100 days, you can offer me a replacement drink at 6:30 p.m. And perhaps you could avoid leaving open wine on the counter. And you can resist the temptation to bring your boozing friends home and sit up until the crack of ass.

Sometimes I am going to do things, to take care of me, that you will think are selfish, or ridiculous, or mean. (What? Not cook dinner?) I am dealing with a noise in my head that you can’t hear. You’ll have to trust me when I say I need a time out RIGHT NOW. Do not give me grief about listening to sober audios. Don’t comment on the time I spend reading sober blogs. Yes, I have a sober penpal, and no she is not part of a cult. Don’t tell me that I should just have a drink to ‘relax’. I am going to ignore you when you say shit like that. Or worse, it will eat away at my self-esteem and make me think that I’m doing something wrong.

The crappy thing is that unless you have the same voice in your head, I cannot rely on your advice on how to get sober. I have to listen to other people who have done this same thing, because they know what it’s like to be me.

Since you would like to be supportive (because that’s the only option), and I know you like short, declarative, sentences, here are some instructions for you:

  • Offer me a replacement drink every night at 6:30 p.m. Bitter is better. Present me with a tonic water and cranberry juice. In a nice glass. Not a wine glass.
  • Do NOT offer me alcohol. Don’t make me say no.
  • You don’t have to tell your sister that I’ve quit drinking because I had a ‘problem’. You can let me tell people how I want, when I want.
  • I have a time limit on how long I can hang out with boozers. You may not realize this but boozers are boring. And sometimes the situation is tempting and so I’ll reach a place where I gotta leave. You will be supportive. You will say “I’m ready to go, too.”
  • I will need a lot of sleep (write that down).
  • There is to be no shit given about many hours a day I spend on ‘recovery’ or sober stuff. If I think that I need to go to five meetings a day, then I do.
  • If I buy myself a pineapple and call it a sober treat, you will understand. You will then try very hard to refrain from eating my sober pineapple. In fact, you will come home and say to me, with the sweetest of tones, “Can I buy you some sober pineapple, my love?” You will come home and say “What can I do to help?”
  • You will accept that I totally and completely suck at identifying that I need help, and then I absolutely and no-denyingly suck at accepting help when it’s offered. You will be patient with me when I ask you to do things for me, and then I get mad, and then I get grumpy, and then I cry, and then I go to bed, and then I get up the next day and life is fine again.

My sweet, I’m like a little baby chick in traffic, trying to find my way. Tough love? It would just squish the chick. (That’s a terrible image.)

Please. No chick-squishing. Because really, I do enough of that myself.


you are not the same human

from my inbox:

MrB (day 2): “Finally had a long talk and discussion with the husband. It turns out he is very concerned about his own drinking and also wants to stop, which is why he instituted a dry January on his own. It’s so interesting because I always felt under his microscope, that he was watching my consumption, when in reality, he was, but he was comparing it to his own. He eventually got to more than a bottle of red more than 4 nights a week, and it’s just time. Alcoholism runs in his family and he has vowed (very scared) never to become his father (who is drunk every day by 10 a.m.).

It is thrilling and, selfishly, comforting to know I am not alone. It’s also a huge relief now that none of our social plans will involve drinking for a long while. It’s movies and book club versus parties, etc. So, I have a resource, a sounding board, a partner in crime as it were.

But here is the bad part … he has now, for 11 days, quit drinking, quit smoking, started to exercise regularly again, and is eating healthy and vegetarian again. It is simply remarkable and totally infuriating. It hits all my shame gremlins. Now, granted, he is sleeping a lot and essentially just surviving (he is supposed to be looking for work to take some of the pressure off of me, but that’s another story), but still, he’s doing it and it’s inspirational.

It’s inspirational and yet causing me great resentment at the same time. Because it’s just hard for me to flip a 100% switch. I have GAD and I’m a Libra – all or nothing is a disaster for me. With my anxiety, I can’t stop thinking most of the time, and quitting all three of my vices at once makes the voices in my head become a chorus of doubt and panic. The desire is there – I want to be rid of my booze and cigarettes, for me (yes, for my kids etc., but for ME too). To be free, for my health, my sanity, and just to spend time actually figuring out who I am and what I want out of life, without numbing. But I know I can’t do this all at once like he does. Plus I have to survive my stress at work …

It’s so infuriating to me that I have resentment towards him for this. WTF?”

me: it is very common for people in the very early days of sobriety to feel pissed at everyone and everything. we all feel resentful and raw and shitty and irritated. it could be your partner, but if it wasn’t him you’d be irritated with someone or something else. we can always find something EXTERNAL to us to be irritated with.

here’s the truth. you being sober is about you. it’s about no one else. what your husband does or doesn’t do has nothing to do with your sobriety. if you have anxiety issues, you will be taking good medication, seeing a psychiatrist once a year for dosage adjustments, and doing some mentoring with a sober coach. Your husband is doing his own thing, and it has nothing to do with you.

you can feel ashamed if you like, but here’s the thing: you are not the same human. you are not him. you are you.

and you focussing on him is you NOT focussing on you.

being sober isn’t something you think yourself into. it’s something that requires supports and tools and external things. you will want to add some of those. it’s time to try different. it’s not about trying harder. you’ve done harder. you’ve done thinking too much. it’s time to try something else now … hugs