Tough Times

Things are tough these days. A good day is followed by a bad day. My cravings for alcohol have been more frequent and intense these past couple of weeks than I’d like. Last night I just wanted to buy a bottle of wine and some good Scotch, and sit on the couch with my husband, listen to music and get drunk.

I’m probably going to have to kick my own ass to get to my meeting on Sunday because I still want to self-isolate and push away the “good” messages about sobriety. I know they are true. It is just that right now I don’t want them to be true. What I want to be true is the the lie that alcohol will make me happy.

This is nuts. I don’t get it. How is it that I have been sober for 138 days now, and still, despite ample evidence to the contrary, believe that my life just *might* be better if I hit the bottle again?

I guess this is the seduction of alcohol. I was thinking a little bit about how people (including me) have described and thought about their relationship with alcohol as something that is, all at once, heady romance and dysfunctional fuckery. Your Drunky Voice is a bad boyfriend (or girlfriend) who is always waiting to suck you back in. The resonance of Caroline Knapp’s book title, “Drinking: A Love Story” lies, I think, in her insight that the addict’s relationship is intensely emotional in that way that an unhealthy romantic relationship is.

Perhaps the emotional relationships we have with alcohol explain why reasoning your way out of it seems, by itself, an inadequate strategy. Right now I feel like I’m hanging on to reasoning, but all my feelings say GO DRINK! I’m honestly not sure what to do about this. Not today at least.

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An Angry Kid and No Answers

One of the first times I thought really, really seriously about my drinking was six or seven years ago with a pissed off teenager in my face. I had picked up my 15 year old daughter from a school rehearsal mid-evening, and said I’d just need a minute to (of course) stop at the liquor store.

“Why do you always have to buy beer?” she stormed.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation specifically, but I do remember the voice of reason (not Drinking/Pirate Guy — I think I’ll call him Cap’n Mo,) screaming “You DO always have to buy beer. Red flag! Red flag!” I remember fumbling around like an idiot trying to soothe my daughter and explain myself in a way that would sufficiently minimize and excuse my daily drinking. Basically she called bullshit on me. I had nothing, and I knew it.

The whole thing blew over quickly, and I don’t think my daughter has ever brought up my drinking since. But that exchange and the shame I felt have never left me. What should I have said that evening if I could have been honest with her and myself? “I always have to buy beer because I feel uncomfortable and anxious if there isn’t alcohol in the house. I have to buy beer because I like to drink.  I couldn’t wait to pick you up tonight so I could get home and have this beer. I have to buy beer because I think I might have a drinking problem.”

Think. Six or seven years ago. All this time with the whisper: “I think I might have a drinking problem. Do I have a drinking problem?” This whole sobriety thing isn’t easy, but God it feels good to take the ambivalence out of that statement. To remove the question mark. To just accept that my relationship with alcohol has, over many years, developed in to something unhealthy, and that I will be a happier healthy person if I abstain.

 

Triggers

I was thinking about “triggers” after my wine-in-cooking episode on Sunday. How and why did a recipe with wine in it set me off?

I recently read an interesting conversation about booze glasses. Some folks had to get wine glasses right out of the house because they were too triggering; others enjoy their non-alcoholic drinks in pretty glasses without difficulty. This surprised me, as I haven’t had that experience of being triggered by glasses.

I was also surprised when, the day before my little meltdown, I read a post about how non-alcoholic beer triggered the schizzle out of a guy. Sober Tony confessed he swilled a six of them, and wondered if you had to drink alcohol to reIapse. Now for me, having a near-beer doesn’t trouble a wit. I don’t feel like I need a real beer, or I need more than one. It seems to satisfy the beer urge without causing any problems.

However, I now better understand the negative reactions I got in my support group a couple of years ago when I said I was enjoying non-alcoholic beers. I felt oddly… judged. Well no. I felt judged. Period. But I can see now that this behaviour could very well be triggering for others, and that these folks might well assume I was on the downward road based on their own experiences.

More importantly, I can see that they were wrong. I mean some triggers would have to be such no-brainers as to be universal. For example: don’t open a drink and put it in front of you and stare at it. Probably a trigger.

But beyond obvious stupidity, we probably all have unique complements of triggers and temptations, and I think it is important to respect that every sober journey has its own quirks and characteristics. I don’t have to feel bad about drinking near beer if it works for me and my sobriety. I just have to stay self-aware about what works and what doesn’t.

Also on a happy note family dinner last night the wine was flowing, and I was just fine with my lemon-lime and bitters! No cravings. Huzzah!

One Big Mofo of a Craving

You just never know what’s going to set you off. I expect this is something one learns over time.

Last night I was perusing supper ideas. One of my recipes called for a 1/4 cup of white wine. And I was THERE, baby! Bring it on! 1/4 cup in the sausage and peppers, and the rest in the world’s largest wine glass. Noooo problem.

I spent my trip the grocery store desperately wanting to buy a bottle of white wine. The fact that I hadn’t been to this particular store and taken this particular route since I quit probably contributed to associations with alcohol, as I’d usually load up at the liquor store after groceries. I can see why people find driving routes triggering!

At any rate, I survived. Once again, having a craving just pissed me off. I’m not mad at myself per se; I am mad at the craving, if that makes any sense. I want to master it.

I seem to need a strategy, because I’m not about to stop cooking with wine! The trick would seem to be buying a baby airplane sized bottle and giving the rest to my partner and getting the damn stuff out of the fridge and out of my sight lines.

I’ll add that as I shared my craving episode and mulled “safe cooking-with-wine practices” with my daughter and partner, I was very grateful to have a supportive family. From my sobriety forum boards, it is clear that many women are struggling to overcome addictions while they are living in chaos, with assholes for partners and family members. I hurt for those ladies. I am so thankful to have stability in my life. I do not take that for granted for a heartbeat.

Day 15 and Counting…

Day 15 and things are still going, really, better than expected. It is kind of freaking me out. I keep looking over my shoulder thinking “When is Drinking Guy going to pounce?” He doesn’t as often as I thought he would, or with as much muscle. Drinking Guy in the voice in my head  whose only raison d’ê·tre is to persuade me that drinking is awesome. For whatever reason, it’s a guy’s voice. Specifically he’s a pirate. I don’t know why he’s a pirate. He just is.

Anyway, Drinking Guy does tend to show up when I contemplate the rest of my life without alcohol instead of just today. So I try not to think too much past today. My original commitment to myself was 100 days without alcohol, but it’s kind of a bait-and-switch tactic, because I know that it has to be for good, not just for three months. The 100 days thing I’m calling a window, and an opportunity to really get to know an alcohol free life and gain confidence that there is Life After Booze. From talking to others, including my daughter who is also in recovery, that time period is the minimum required to get your head wrapped around abstinence.

The last time I tried the thirty day thing I achieved it, which was cause for celebration, which was cause for a drink! “Yeah! Go me!” Clearly the logic here is flawed. It was Drinking/Pirate Guy’s idea. I’m not going to knock anyone who curbs their drinking for any reasons, or any length of time, because all efforts are good. However, for me, the thirty day thing was just long enough to build a false sense of confidence that I could go right back to drinking, but “moderately.”

This lesson learned, I appreciated these words from nowinei’mfine:

“Having ‘a break’ from drinking will not mean that I will become a ‘normal’ drinker if I start again. Whether I stop for one month, one year or ten years, my drinking will be right back where it was – or worse – the day I quit. There are lots of reports and empirical evidence supporting this. So I’d rather not take the chance.”

 

Reprogramming “Fun”

Well. Last night I finally had what I’d describe as a more difficult alcohol free night. We went to my sister-in-law’s for drinks, and then out to a pub for a bite to eat. First there was wine. Then there was beer. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was foaming at the mouth for a drink, but I did feel antsy and on edge all night.

There were many beers on tap a the pub, an I was missing the ritual of perusing the menu and engaging my Beer Snob Superpowers to grill the server about unfamiliar micro-brews. I had a tiny flash of the fuck-its. I felt a little sorry for myself ordering my soda and lime.

Then I felt pissed off. Because there just isn’t any logical connection between alcohol and fun; yet, this tape was playing in my head that the evening was somehow less complete, less “fun” without drinking. That turned in to a self-conscious kind of “Here I am socializing and not drinking. Am I still having fun? What is fun anyway?” It was like being a third party, watching and evaluating a stranger called Abstinent Moi.

Times like this I’m grateful for the stories of others who are further along this road than I am, and who provide reassurance that drinking does eventually fade in to the background of your life so that you are not uncomfortable or anxious in social situations.

I can also imagine what it must be like for folks who go the “white knuckling” route, feeling more like they have to quit drinking rather than that they want to.  The stress of carrying that around every day would be dreadful. If nothing else, last night re-affirmed to me that I want to quit, because I just kept reminding myself that it’s going to be worth it to get through the difficult days and events. I do have faith.

My Drinking Story is Boring

When I think back to my last effort to quit drinking a couple of years ago, I remember feeling confused by the lack of drama in my own history. I read Jean Kirkpatrick’s Turnabout, and listened to stories from people in my group meetings and I thought “Whoa. I am such an amateur as an alcoholic!” Now THESE people were drunks!

My drinking story is really boring. No epic benders. No blackouts. No elaborate, secret drinking rituals. So in the past, when I  compared my experiences to those of others, I really wondered if I did in fact have a drinking problem. On the one hand was the underwhelming tale of my own drinking. On the other hand was that thing that alcoholics in recovery know, which is that you can always find someone with a more harrowing story than yours: someone who really has a drinking problem. That way, you can minimize your own shit. So which was it for me?

This time around I’ve decided my drinking story doesn’t matter. It is a non-story on the outside. In fact I doubt anyone has ever noticed my drinking or would consider it a problem. But it is a story that has lived in my head. It is a story that has run in a loop of resolving to quit or cut back, and then caving in and breaking my own resolutions, often within 24 hours.

This time around, I’ve been listening to others’ drinking narratives in a different way. It is less about what you do with alcohol than how you think and feel around alcohol. I may not have had a lot of drinking horror stories in my past, but when I hear people talk about their thoughts and feelings around alcohol, I recognize these things in myself. I have come to accept that these internal dialogues are the heart of one’s addiction.

I’m a Drinkaholic!

I had the oddest realization over the weekend. As I mentioned, my weekend sucked. It was a big holiday weekend here in Canada — Canada’s 150th birthday — and I missed all of it because I was chained to my computer working. (I’m still not over it, clearly.)

Anyway, because I was sitting so much I was also drinking  a ton of non-alcoholic bevvies. Drinking, drinking drinking… holy hell how much can I actually drink? Only if you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t get drunk.

Surprise!

I know. Obviously. But I’m so accustomed to the anxiety of pouring a drink at night, that the anxiety is still there. This drinking without stress is going to take some getting used to.

I’ve never been a black-out drunk. But I have been a daily drinker, and quite conscious that if I had more than two pints of beer a night I was going to be good for nothing the next day. Seriously, I never did learn how to hold my liquor. But the anxiety of wanting more than two pints was constant. The first one disappeared so fast. The second one a little slower but I’d feel tense so I’d enjoy it less.

Sometimes we’d have wine with dinner too, but I’d have my glass and watch my partner finish off the bottle and feel really pissed off because there wouldn’t be any left for me just in case I wanted it.

And this, I have figured out, is the hallmark of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol: your pre-occupation with it. No matter how much you drink, if its a big deal in your head, if you obsess about it and think about it and count your drinks and want more drinks, you’re probably somewhere more or less along the road to fucked.

I know this weird anxiety I feel about pouring an drink, even though it is non-alcoholic, will pass. In the meantime, it’s teaching me a thing or two about the psychological weight I’ve been carrying around these past years.

And unless you’re pounding back sugary bevvies in lieu of alcohol, it’s actually okay to be a drinkaholic! Really! How cool is that?

It just makes me pee a lot is all.

I Thought I Was Different

On a sober forum, I mentioned that I couldn’t quite reconcile my daily drinking with my near daily fitness regimen. I know some folks take up a fitness regimen of some sort as part of their recovery, so in this context, I was wondering what the heck I was going to do with the antsy business that would inevitably come with not drinking. “You’d be surprised how many people are fitness freaks except for alcohol,” someone in the forum replied.

I suppose I had it in my head that I might be a bit different because I was fanatical about exercise. Wow. That was silly of me. People with alcohol dependency come in all shapes, sizes and ways of being in the world. One of those ways of being is using exercise to manage your drinking, punish yourself for drinking, or prove to yourself and others that you are well, and in fact “healthy.”

Okay. So I wake up a bit hung over. (Like not today. Before this abstinence thing, I mean.) And do a bunch of work, and then go for a run, and probably do a bunch of weight training after that. And if I can exercise and otherwise be productive like that the next day, alcohol can’t be a problem for me, right? I’m healthy. I’m fit.

So when I started in on Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story” (which is beautifully written), I twinged in particular when she described going for a long, hard row while feeling like hell after a bender: “That’s a pretty common strategy among alcoholic drinkers,” she said, “sweat away the hangovers.”

Man, did that burst my bubble. It also crystallized what I think, for me, has been a mounting tension in my life: a battle of sorts between “fitness me” and “drinking me.” I genuinely love yoga, running, cycling, and going to the gym. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s taken on shades of repentance, shades of addiction in its own right. I would have never imagined that fitness can be used as a denial strategy but hey… this is a thing I apparently didn’t invent. Can you be addicted to alcohol and then addicted to exercise as a way to redeem yourself for being addicted to alcohol?

It’s going to be interesting to see where all of this goes. There are wonderful, healing qualities to my workouts, but they are all entangled with something darker: the relentless push to “achieve” that probably has something to do with my drinking, too.

Am I good enough yet?

It always seems to come back to this question. And the answer has always been “no.”

 

Red Wine is Good for You!

Ha. Gotcha. No it isn’t. Or it certainly isn’t that simple.

I’ve been in on more than a few social occasions — mostly with women where chick-bonding and wine go hand in hand — and the joke inevitably comes up that “wine is good for you!” And then we laugh because the joke part is that you are rationalizing your wine consumption, and you know it, but we’re all doing it, and it can’t be that bad after all, and ha ha…

So here are the problems with the “wine is good for you” thing. First, we don’t properly qualify it what that means. It means “moderate” consumption. That is, for women, one standard unit of alcohol a day tops, which in wine land translates to about 5 oz. of wine. So go measure and pour that… especially if you are pouring it in to one of those glorious, bucket-sized wine glasses that feel satisfyingly elegant to drink out of. Now look at how much wine is in that glass:

“Are you fucking kidding me? I can drink that in 5 minutes!”

Exactly. I don’t know about you, but my definition of a “glass of wine” is twice that size for sure. Which is twice (or more) what you should be drinking if there are any benefits to be had from drinking red wine. Beyond that 5 oz pittance, research suggests that any possible health benefits go downhill quickly. For a balanced review on this topic, you can read “Alcohol: Does it really offer health benefits?” which offers a pretty balanced discussion that draws on peer-reviewed research. The gist is here is two-fold: First, more than “moderate” is more bad than abstaining. And lets be honest, that 5 oz isn’t going to cut it. Sure as hell not for me, anyway.

Second, the harms and benefits of drinking are bound up in a host of other lifestyle considerations: diet, exercise, smoking, and stress. And the problem with the “wine is good” research is the same problem with all of the “research” we’re offered by the media. We get dumbed down sound bites of “health advice” that are taken out of context, and mutated into truisms that aren’t true.

“But I want it to be true!”

I know, I know. Me too. I want it to be true that wine is good for you. But even if it is in very small doses, I’m just not a small dose kind of girl. Go big or go home. Thing is, going big isn’t working too well for me anymore, so I guess I’m going home. Buh-bye, wine!