Life Lessons

This week has been hard. I’ve been holding onto my sobriety with a tight grip, knowing that drinking won’t do anything good, but desiring the fade out and numbing of my feelings that drinking would provide. Epiphanies, small and large, have been coming one after another, along with a lot of self doubt and uncertainty that I am on the right path.

Epiphanies are cool yet sometimes painful. I have been seeing more clearly the ways in which I have, and still am, living in fear a lot of the time. It is a hard thing to look at honestly because it hurts to see those flaws in myself- to allow myself to be truly vulnerable, even to myself.

I know that isolation is the bain of many alcoholics, but I never saw myself as isolating per se. Instead I told myself that I was a loner. I enjoyed my own company more than that of others. Instead of looking for my people I decided that there were no people like me in the world. I longed to write and needed the space and isolation to do so. Artists have to suffer! They have to weep and self destruct! There are some truths to these words, in these thoughts, but they are not the whole truth. They are not MY truth. I have been living my life shielded by my loner status to avoid the possibility of being rejected by others. To avoid having to show my true self to others. To avoid being vulnerable. And the truth hurts.

That’s the thing about quitting drinking. You no longer have a shield of alcohol to rely on when you are around people or things that scare you. You have to look people in the eye and see them and let them see you. This is a wonderful thing because it allows relationships to develop and form and grow. But it is also hard, especially when you have spent your entire life hiding from others. When you grew up hiding because your family hides and that is simply what people do.

I’ve begun to think that this blog is another way of hiding, which is not to say that it hasn’t been absolutely crucial in getting me sober. I don’t have to talk to people face to face about my drinking, or lack thereof, if I stay home and write about it on the Internet.** When faced with the shortness of life, I have realized that I don’t want to live this way anymore. Instead, I want to ravage life. I want to live it to the absolute fullest. I don’t want to hide away to stay sober. I want to mingle with all the people and experience all of the things, though I think I have experienced about all the alcohol I can handle in one lifetime, so that’s still out.

I was reading an article the other day. I don’t remember where it was from, or who wrote it, and I apologize if it was someone reading this blog because I didn’t like what it had to say. The individual spoke of treating her alcohol addiction as a disability and learning how to work around it for the rest of her life. I have been living my life like my addiction is a disability, so I see where this idea comes from, but I hate the idea of disability in the first place. Why can’t we just be people, with differences. Why do we have to “work around” anything? Why can’t we accept each other as we are? I want to heal the reasons that I drank so much in the first place so that I can go anywhere and do anything without requiring the fake fix that alcohol provides. I want to find my own elation in the world. A way of being that simply does not require or want alcohol to be a part of it. I don’t want to sequester myself into a tiny corner of the world and hide there forever.

Whew. Felt good to get that out.

**Edit: I am not judging anyone for writing about sobriety online. It has been a totally cool, amazing thing for me. Any way you get or stay sober totally freaking rocks. Not that you need to hear this from me, but I wanted to clarify my statement a little.

I Ain’t Perfect, But I Sure Do Try

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The need to be perfect is a common trait of ACOA’s, and maybe all alcoholics. I don’t want to generalize, but I have heard it said a lot. I sought my father’s approval throughout my childhood, and still do to a certain degree to this day. Alcoholics can be mean when they are drinking; they don’t always have the sensitivity that comes with being fully present in life. My father was critical, and it stuck with me. I still have a seriously hard time being criticized by anybody, even when it is meant to be constructive and helpful.

Of course, perfection is unattainable in real life, which leads to problems if you have a hard time doing things if they are not perfect. Why bother doing them, then? The fear of doing something badly is very visceral, and I avoid it at all costs. I would rather do nothing and be a lazy bum than do something and have it be mediocre. Which is a huge problem in real life, where mediocrity is a necessary step towards getting good at things, or even just getting things done at all. ALSO- THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT. So, there’s that.

I am trying to embrace a ‘good enough’ attitude. Where it matters more that I suit up and show up in my life than anything else. Trying is a good thing, perfection is NOT a realistic goal, and it is okay to take care of myself instead of being perfect. Wow! What a relief, this idea.

The tricky thing now is figuring out how to hold myself accountable, and push myself forward/onwards/upwards, without going overboard. It is a balancing act that I am just learning about for the first time, well… ever. I am learning how to take care of myself by taking breaks when needed, not pushing myself too far, making reasonable goals, etc., but at the same time putting myself out there and TRYING. Being persistent, fighting procrastination, and telling laziness to shove it. So… you know, finding balance and stuff.

Now that I think about it, drinking helped me avoid failure from any attempts at perfection, as I was taking myself out of the game. Spending my time drinking/planning to drink/recovering from drinking meant that there was no failure, no perfection, no nothing. Nothing gained, nothing lost. Except I was losing myself the whole time… down a bottle of booze.

If you need me I will be right here, finding balance, and trying for something a touch better than mediocrity.

Sunny Day

I am no longer feeling angry, thank God. It didn’t last too long. Writing really helps me process and release my feelings, so I am freaking thankful that I started this blog. Back to normal and feeling happy most of the time.

I enforced boundaries with my younger brother this weekend by telling him not to visit me this holiday season because he won’t stop calling me drunk. I feel bad about it. Guilty. I think it was the right thing to do, though. Drunken phone calls from relatives really mess up my day. Especially at 8 in the morning after an all-night bender.

Enforcing boundaries in this situation caused problems with my mother, too. She was angry and hurt. Relationships are all kind of codependent in my family. We talked and worked it out, and she is going to fly here for part of the holidays instead of driving with my brother. I feel better about it now because we cleared the air by saying some things that needed to be said. Everything isn’t resolved or agreed upon- that will likely never happen- but we see each other more clearly.

And again, I feel bad that I hurt my mom, but I HAVE to do what is best for me right now. I am choosing a no stress, no drama, feel good kind of holiday season. I will work on my relationship with my brother as I grow stronger being sober. It is going to be really hard for me to be around active alcoholics for awhile, but hopefully he will gain an understanding of how serious I am because of this situation. We will see what happens, and I will hope for the best and try to be kind. I know how hard it is to be stuck in that shitty cycle of addiction. It took me a long time to break free, and I have to work at it every day.

Other than family stuff, being sober is wonderful right now. I don’t miss drinking very often because I genuinely feel GOOD most of the time. It is pretty sweet and cool and I am holding on tight to my new life. I am definitely a less social creature, though. That might change, but it might not. I think I will always be more of a one-on-one, quiet coffee date kind of girl than I used to be. I am also a pretty new mother, and I think it is all tied together. I like being home with my husband and child.

We had a nice weekend decorating our tree, doing craft projects, making homemade candies for gifts, shopping and cooking. I don’t think alcohol would have made it one iota better, and it quite possibly could have made it worse in some way. I think I have cleared the obstacles in my path (with family, mainly) to have a happy, sober holiday season, and I am totally excited about it. Happy Monday!

I Hate Alcohol

Booze has taken so much from me. It is pretty futile being angry at an organic compound … a substance that has no agenda … but I am, dammit! That is where I am right now. Fucking angry. Maybe it is part of the process of recovery? Who knows. I hate alcohol, though. Like, really fucking hate it.

I feel angry because alcohol stole my childhood. I then proceeded to give it the reins to steal time in my adult life.

It has stolen people I love. People who continue to choose it every day over other people in their lives.

I am angry that alcoholism might be lurking in my child’s genes.

I hate the fact that it almost killed me, and that it does kill people, and that it probably will kill me if I give it the chance.

I hate that people believe that alcohol is worth giving up their lives for. Worth giving up hope, love, friendship, family, hobbies, work, values, morals, etc. It is not worth it! Those things are better!

I am angry because alcohol is sneaky and tricky and mean and vicious. People choose to drink it, but some people feel compelled to drink it more than others. I can never know the depths of someone else’s pain and reasons for drinking, but it makes me angry that it is so fucking hard for some people to stop. And that it is so hard to stay stopped for other people.

So yeah, that is where I am today. I am hoping that by writing it down I am helping to release it.  Bye, bye anger!

Surrender

“That’s the secret to happiness and life: we don’t resist what is. We know that there aren’t any real differences between sadness, joy, anger, and fear. Each is a feeling–emotional energy. Happiness is the peace we get when we surrender to it all–being aware of and present for each moment as it comes.” –Melody Beattie

I read this the other day in ‘The New Codependency’ and it really resonated with me. I think I am starting to ‘get’ the idea of letting go of things that I can’t control. Surrendering to what is. Whoa.

Drinking was such a huge escape for me. My whole family does it; I wasn’t really taught to deal with things head on or feel my feelings. I was taught to withdraw, hide, pretend, and escape. I am finally realizing the error of this type of living…the harm it does to you and the people around you.

After I started realizing this stuff a few months ago, I started a campaign to make my family members understand the error of their ways. I thought that it would be simple. Speak the truth and it shall be revealed! Um, no. I was shut down in so many ways and basically denied. Called uptight, told I wasn’t really sober…ouch, ouch, and ouch. It reminded me of the way I used to feel as a child, way back when, before I started drinking as a way to alter my reality. In a way, I came full circle.

How many times does life give you the chance to meet yourself head on?

I realized this time that it isn’t my fault that I can’t change the situation. I can’t make my parents stop drinking or treat me the way that I believe I deserve to be treated. I can’t force my siblings to see that they are continuing the cycle of alcoholism that they hated when we were growing up. I can’t make anyone do anything. This time…it is okay. I do not have to beat myself up, chug the booze, or hurt myself in any way because of this stuff.

I feel a lot of empathy for my younger self now. I wasn’t capable of handling some of the emotions/situations/events that I was faced with, and it really doesn’t surprise me that I turned to alcohol as a way to deal. My toolbox was pretty empty back then. It makes me sad to realize that, but I also feel redeemed. I mean, I am not a total fuck up! I did what I had to do at the time. It just happens that it no longer works for this adult woman. This person who values different things and wants to grow and change.

So I am trying to surrender to what life brings my way. To me, that means trusting that life knows more than I do. It sure was hard work trying to control everything.

Be Here Now

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” – Maya Angelou

I am starting to find peace in the present moment. It is a constant struggle to be here now. When I get it, even for a short period of time, it helps me relieve tension. It lessens anger and sadness from things I cannot change, that happened so long ago or yesterday. It keeps me from traveling down those well-worn paths in my mind…thought patterns that don’t go anywhere good. That keep me stuck.

Reminding myself to be here now helps me remember that I am safe, and that I create my safety in this world by staying sober and taking care of myself and those around me. I was not safe when I was drinking. I was vulnerable to things happening to me…an accident, drinking too much and poisoning myself, being hurt by someone because I couldn’t take care of myself, falling down. I also wasn’t safe on the inside because I was letting fear rule my life. Fear of feeling. Fear of failure. Fear of being hurt. Fear of doing something I couldn’t take back or apologize for. So much fear it was causing me to have massive amounts of anxiety, which led to the desire to drink it all away. I was hurting myself from the inside. How can you feel safe when you are hurting yourself? Who will protect you from YOU?

I feel safe here in the present moment. I don’t have to travel down those well-worn paths anymore. I can choose new places to take my mind. So…I remind myself to be here now. I also like stay here, though I am not brave enough for a tattoo just yet. Maybe a bracelet. They are simple, but very powerful, mantras that help me feel more balanced and centered, even if just for a few moments.

This is usually how it goes: Remind myself to be here now. Breathe…take a deep breath…take another…pay attention to my breathing…look at my hands…touch something nearby…stop and look around me…really look…is everything okay in my immediate vicinity? Yes? Then I am safe. I am okay. And it is okay to relax. I can think about these other things tomorrow if I need to. Really, though, I probably don’t need to.

If I really can’t let it go I can write about it or talk about it or pray about it. Letting my mind spin in circles just makes me feel helpless and hopeless….more likely to seek comfort in my favorite mind-numbing substance. Why make life harder than it has to be?

Living in the moment takes practice. It is funny/sad that I used to think I was practicing when I was drinking, but really I was taking myself completely out of the moment. I read all sorts of meditation and mindfulness books, but didn’t realize that my alcohol use made it virtually impossible to be in the mental space I was seeking. I think I am finally starting to learn how to do this for the first time ever.

Gaining Understanding Vs. Playing the Victim

My parents are alcoholics. Admitting that is almost as hard as it was to first admit that I am an alcoholic. My mother is an active alcoholic and my father is dry (I think?) but not recovered or in recovery. It is stupidly hard to admit that I grew up with parents who put their addictions before me. I feel so guilty about it, like I am saying that they were bad parents. I still love them even if they WERE bad parents, and feel fiercely protective of that. They did a lot of good things, especially in my early formative years- travel, cultural events, books, extra-curricular activities, family dinners- but our lives gradually grew more and more out of control as I grew up. I adapted the best that I could with my limited skills and abilities, but I really needed more help learning how to navigate the world around me.

Part of my recovery process is learning why I ended up where I did. Gaining knowledge and understanding is one of the main things that drives me. I want to know WHY. Not just about this, but about everything that sparks my interest. In searching for answers I have been reading a lot of literature geared towards adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs). I have found that I fit in with this group better than any other groups I have found (not the support group, just generally). It is so comforting to finally understand why I do some of the things that I do and feel the way that I feel. This article, Adult Children of Alcoholics ACoAs: Qualities and Traits, is so right on. I exhibit almost ALL of the qualities and traits outlined in the article. It is interesting that being an ACoA is comparable to experiencing PTSD, and that it can be triggered by beginning a family of your own. I have felt traumatized, like something BIG was happening in my psyche, since my son was born. It is gradually getting easier and easier, especially with the clarity that comes from sobriety, but I totally identify with that. I am really thankful for this validation. Feeling “off” is the pits.

What do I do with this information now that I have been awakened to it? It is tempting to dive into a blaming, victim role and live there for a time, but I know that isn’t very healthy. I can’t really talk to my parents because they are not ready to face their denial or the ramifications of their actions. My brothers are stuck in an addictive hell that I can’t enter. (The article I referred to has an interesting section on ‘survival guilt’ that is already becoming an issue for me.) I think my husband finds my story increasingly sad as I make further realizations about who I am and where I come from, so I don’t want to heap too much on his plate. I put a lot on his plate anyway, as he is truly my best friend. My good friends have their own lives, struggles and family problems, even though they are always willing to lend an ear. I have decided that what I want, what is best for me, is to find a therapist who is experienced in these matters to help me sort it out. It seems like a big task to do alone, and since part of my family is still stuck in the cycle of addiction, it will be an ongoing struggle. I want to talk to a professional who understands what I am talking about. Also- self-care is where it’s at these days.

I think it is so helpful, regardless of where you are with being sober, to remember that you are not alone. xx

** Writing this post was really hard for me because so many people have had childhood experiences that were much worse. I have been pretty lucky overall, so who am I to complain? I am gradually realizing, however, that I have to tell my story and own my life experiences to truly move past them.