Two Reasons I Am Staying Sober

I’m shocked I’ve neglected this blog for two months. It doesn’t seem that long since I’ve written.

There was indeed a change in the job situation I wrote about last. The incremental change is that I have gone part-time, which means I am spending half the time in that toxic environment and more time with myself and my family. It’s financially stressful, but emotionally healthy – so it’s ideal.

I thought that once this change of job status took place, my anxiety and stress problems would be resolved. This is a ridiculous notion and I should have known better, as I have fallen into this trap before. But there you have it: I thought once I got the job thing sorted out, I would be walking around in a state of bliss and harmony. (Spoiler alert: this did not occur.)

A new truth to me is this: I can have my entire life sorted out and I am still going to be anxious and fearful. I can be sober and activley engaged as a parent/partner/friend/daughter/sister/employee/citizen and still feel anxious and fearful.

I can have all my shit in a pile and still be rocked by uncertainty.

This is true because, it turns out, I am human and I live with other humans.  And no matter what sober and thoughtful tools I develop, I will always be human and live with other humans.

And humans are messy. The level of mess varies – but we are always messy. And it is the mess of being human that makes me anxious and fearful. That mess is FREE WILL. And free will is the reason we can drink and sabotage our relationships, or choose not to. We can beat up our animals or rescue them.  We can treat the Earth like an ashtray or pick up after ourselves.

Free will is the way the system works. It does not matter how I feel about the system. The rules of the system don’t change because I did.

And so this brings me to the Two Reasons I Am Staying Sober:

1. Drinking brings more anxiety and fear into my life. While I cannot be free of these demons entirely, I can mitigate my circumstances to give myself a fighting chance. I used to think drinking could help soften the blow of being human and help me tolerate the mess of life. Sometimes I still think this. But more often I think, No. So, while I am not leaning into the mess and breathing it in (like certain Buddhist nuns recommend), I am at least living parallel with the mess. I’m not looking at it full frontal, but I am not hiding from it either. That’s about all I can stomach right now.

2. My sister. My sister is a fully-blossmed alcoholic. To compare our drinking is to compare apples to oranges. I just dabbled in alcoholism with my silly jelly jars and hangovers, but my sister is the real deal: two bottles a night and the domestic wreckage to prove it. Many, many times I compare myself to my sister and think: 1) I don’t really have a problem with alcohol and 2) I don’t want to be anything like her.

And here is where I bring it home to you, sober blog reader. Because I bet you’ve thought this, too. I bet you’ve compared yourself to other drinkers and thought “nope, I don’t have a problem like they do. And I don’t want to be anything like them.”

I’ve not only thought this about my sister, but I have also thought it about the dozens and dozens of alcoholics I’ve listened to at AA meetings.  And those alcoholics are a gift to me: a glimpse of a possible future that I wouldn’t want for all the jelly jars in the world.

I dodged a bullet last December when I quit drinking my measly one bottle of wine a night and went to an AA meeting. And instead of spending time wondering how much damage that bullet really could have done to me, I just need to go to another meeting and hear another story and then make my grateful way home to my house – full of messy humans.

The Company You Keep

Instead of binging on Grey’s Anatomy and jelly jars of Chardonnay, I spend my nights reading.

(I’ll spare you the part where I talk about how I used to love reading and how I got away from it and how, now that I’m sober and have some time on my hands, I’ve taken it up again. You know all of this already.)

Unless I’ve come across a really special book, such as Vincent Deary’s “How We Are,” I don’t limit myself to reading one book at a time. (Again, sparing you commentary on my dislike of moderation.) Instead, I have a little book buffet on my nightstand and each night I choose a book based on my mood, how tired I am, stage of the moon, whathaveyou.

After a few weeks of humming right along in my sober reading ways, this week I found myself thinking about jelly jars and how are effective they are at helping me Zone Out. On Wednesday night, instead of pursuing my book buffet, I was instead in my kitchen eating a brick of cheese and feeling very sorry for myself.

Why? Why now?

I could just toss it up to the notion that “these things happen” but really, no, there is something going on here. So instead of picking up a jelly jar, I went back to my books and found a nice little Overlap. (Overlaps are, quite simply, my favorite. They offer some meaning in the chaos. A once-hidden pattern now brought into bold relief. In my experience, you cannot find Overlaps if you’re hung over all the time and just trying to get through the day so you can trash yourself again that night. Overlaps require some attention and quietness – two things lacking in a life of overindulgence and self-loathing.)

In her fantastic essay “How to Be Friends with Another Woman,” Roxanne Gay provides 13 suggestions for success. Item number 13: “My mother’s favorite saying is “Qui se resemble s’asseble.” Whenever she didn’t approve of who I was spending time with, she’d say this ominously. It means, essentially, you are whom you surround yourself with.”

In her book “Stitches,” Anne Lamott writes: “If we’re pressed for an answer, most of us would say that most of the time we find plenty of significance in life as it unfurls in front of us like a carpet runner – at least when it goes as expected, day by day, with our families and a few close friends.”

And finally, at the AA meeting I drug myself to on Thursday afternoon, there was Isaac, a weathered and optimistic black man, sharing on his seventh sober anniversary, talking about “my drinking associates” and chuckling at his own dismay when those “associates” ended up drifting away after he got sober.

The overlap: it’s the company you keep.

The company I keep, the company I work for, is coming apart. A chronic lack of leadership has a left us adrift and directionless.

We are a charity. Charities attract a certain kind of employee. We love the underdog and want to help her. By seeking and accepting a job at a charity you have to be, in some ways, attracted to brokenness.

When the company, as well as the company’s clients, are both broken – well, that is a lot of suffering. My coworkers are smart and tired and all done. A malaise has taken over. It’s not an actively toxic environment. It’s more like Stepford Wives in Haiti. We’re going through the motions, but our hearts aren’t in it. And this kind of work is all about heart.

For me, newly sober, this environment is actively toxic. The malaise seeps into my thinking, which starts to go something like: “This is stupid. This isn’t working. Being sober is stupid. Being sober isn’t working. Why try so hard? Just forget it. Let’s get the fuck out of here and fire up a jelly jar.”

Hence Wednesday night and a brick of cheese.

Here is where I want to write that, armed with this powerful insight, I am quitting tomorrow or that, better yet, I will single-handedly rally the troops and set the ship back on course.

Alas, no. Extremes no longer suit me. Armed with this powerful insight, I am going to begin to make some small, incremental changes to get me to a better place, in better company. I want my next destination to be somewhere specific, not just somewhere else. I want my next company to be worth keeping and worthy of me.

 

Boo

My cat spent the night out and she’s still not home. This hasn’t happened in a long time and I’m worried.

Boo is an indoor and an outdoor cat, but she’s been mostly indoors since we moved to this new house 6 months ago.

I was the one that let her out last evening. I purposefully left the side door open and then didn’t wait up for her to come back in before going to bed. I called her once or twice, but that was it. I thought: “She’s been wanting to go out. She’s been waking me up every night vandalizing furniture in frustration. She’s capable and I’m tired.”

So I went to bed. And now it’s 5:15 a.m. and she’s nowhere to be found.

This is my struggle lately. I try to control things and arrange life so my people/animals/things are successful. They, in turn, have an entirely different vision of success, say “no thank you” and walk out the side door into a dark, scary, not-controlled-by-me world. The result can be debilitating for me as I wrestle with the anger/guilt/responsibility for their actions or inactions.

I know I have to LET. IT. GO. Let go of the anger, guilt, responsibility for things not in my control. But I am so afraid. Afraid of what will happen if I’m not working all the angles, all the time. This fear is powerful stuff and my mind is consumed with images of carnage and disaster and failure – all of which could be prevented if I could just control things.

I recognize that this ranting is folly and sound and fury. In my deepest, darkest heart I know that I am not IN CHARGE and that even if I could control MY things, I could never ensure the desired outcome, which is happiness and fulfillment.

I see this with Boo, my cat, because I could, of course, never leave the side door open and declaw her and lock that bitch down. I could control the fuck out of my cat. But she would be miserable and handicapped and diminished. And the things I love about her – her disdain, her attitude, her brashness – would be completely gone.

So really, what would that control get me? I would have my cat, but she would be empty of life.

******

She’s home! It’s now 6:00 and Boo just sauntered in. She seems just fine, thank you. In fact, she seems quite satisfied with herself. She’s lying here on the rug next to my bed, having rolled onto her back, and is looking up at me as if to say, “What’s all the fuss? Relax. You need to LET. IT. GO.”

The C Word

Control.

I want it. I cannot have it.

I want Control over my life, yes, but even more I want Control over my children’s lives. I want them to be happy, but not selfish. I want them to be smart, both in books and street. I want them to be respectful, but wise. I want them to understand that our culture is sick, but I don’t want them to disengage/numb from it. I want them to seek adventure, but always with a helmet and an exit strategy.

I want them to wash their fucking hands and brush their goddamn teeth.

I want them to be Perfect.

And why shouldn’t they be?! I have spent a lot of time thinking about them and finding them the perfect schools and the perfect milk and the perfect limitations for electronics and sassiness.

And still they are defiant and whiny and ungrateful. In fact, they even seem UNHAPPY sometimes. How dare they be unhappy? Don’t they know how hard I am trying here? Why can’t they just get with the fucking program and be happy and self-actualized (whatever that is)? Instead, I look at them and think, “holy hell, they are just like me, but without concern for hygiene.”

I wish I could gracefully give them the Gift of Failure. I wish I could look at them serenely when they are insisting on not following some rule and say, “Ok, son. Go ahead and touch that hot stove because I can see that suffering a first-degree burn is the only way you’re going to believe that the stove is hot and dangerous.”

But we live in a zero tolerance world. Especially for boys. Failure could easily turn into broken bones, an overturned car, a prison sentence. (Yes, my boys are 9 and 11 and I can totally see that these concerns are not, most likely, going to happen today. But the future is right around the corner and we need to prepare, people.)

If they would just LISTEN to me, everything would be perfect. They would be perfect. Because, it turns out, I have the power to raise perfect children. Right? Because I am perfect, yes?

Deep breath. Heavy sigh. My little “24 Hours A Day” book tells me that “worry is terrible mental punishment.” And it is. It really, really is. But how to do this? How to let go of these destructive thoughts of perfection and this desire for control?

Not yet, at least

I’ve been getting caught up in my mind about AA and am starting to get agitated.

AA can be so helpful. But with every story of DUI, divorce, incarceration, etc., I (thankfully) have to add my “not yet” ending. These things had “not yet” happened to me, but I quit drinking anyway.

But it’s getting harder to connect, rather than easier. There are some truly broken people in those rooms. I am so glad that they are there, surrounded by people who get it and get them.

But I don’t really get them. And I don’t think they really get me. And I feel like an impostor.

Some of their stories are so funny the entire room laughs out loud. Some of their stories are so sad that there is barely a breath taken and the silence is all consuming.

But not one of their stories is like my story. Not yet.

When I read the sober blogs, I say “yep, that’s me.” Pretty much every time I am reading one of you, I feel a connection, albeit virtually. But that doesn’t happen in AA they way I want it to and they way I need it to. I can almost talk myself into drinking again, just so I can get really shitty and then fit in at AA.

How fucked up is that?

I’m reading Brenee Brown and she keeps talking about the human need to connect … she keeps saying how we are “hard wired for connection” and has all this data to make her point. I don’t need that much evidence to convince me. I know the power of having someone say “Me Too.” It’s better than any bottle of wine ever was.

I know I want to live my life clearly and intentionally. And “clearly and intentionally” do not happen when I am drinking. A lot of other things do not happen when I drink either. For instance, I do not “break out in handcuffs” or punch coworkers or climb into random limousines.

Not yet.

The truth is “not yet” feels a hell of a lot like “at least.” And there is no connection with “at least.” Instead, it’s all judgement and distance and “I’m so glad that’s not me,” rather than “that is exactly like me.”

I don’t know what any of this means. I love the spirituality of AA. I love the honesty of AA. I love the acknowledgement of brokenness at AA.

But I don’t love AA.

This Cup Had My Name On It

It snowed here overnight. A few inches of snow, which was immediately covered by the famous “wintry mix.” Schools, offices, bases all closed today.

Last year around this time we had a similar storm. I was on Day 46 for that snow day. Today, here in the 2.0 version of NoMoreSally, I’m at Day 57. Last year I was dreading the “informal social gatherings.” This year, I don’t have that problem, as I don’t really do social gatherings of any kind – informal or formal.

I do: home, work, meetings and morning runs with my two girlfriends.

Certainly, there are also a few extracurricular coffees and extended family gatherings. Once a week I gather for decaf coffee with three friends to do a Brené Brown study. But, honestly, that’s about it. My husband and I no longer head out to the local beer bar or wine cafe. We don’t host Friday night socials. I am no longer the crew director for my neighbors and friends. I am certain they are gathering without me, which is FINE (she said in a high-pitched tone), but is also totally okay (normal tone now). I don’t drink and these events are drinking activities.

But I am a little lonely and that loneliness adds to my increasingly-apparent Anxiety. This Anxiety is something the wine “fixed” (at least during the drinking hours). Now, without my wine fix, my Anxiety hangs around all day chatting me up and bringing me down.

I am concerned that my newly defined, every-so-slightly-smaller social circle will not be enough for my husband and my children, whose social calendars are historically filled in by me, usually with the same activities I’ve planned for my neighbors and friends. I worry that these same friends are not going to be my friends for much longer. That our connections were/are tenuous and as I go further into sobriety they will think I am too serious, too different, too SOBER.

I am also worried that my opinion of them will change and I won’t be able to connect with them in a meaningful way.

There are new connections at the AA meetings I attend. People are recognizing me and greeting me with warmth and familiarity. I was meant to go to a meeting last night, but as a Virginian, I don’t drive in snow. (It’s part of our Virginian charm, Sherry.) Later last night, I received a text from a friendly AA pal that said “The cup had your name on it!” with this picture attached.

Image_1424133852209

Sweet, yes? Agreed. It also made me anxious (what doesn’t these days?) and I immediately thought, “Wow, this AA shit is starting to creep into my real life.”

Yes, that same real life that I just said was pretty much nonexistent.

But here is my truth: even though I am scared and lonely and my only constant companion is Anxiety, I still want to stay sober.

I still want to keep moving forward into the spooky cave ahead, hopeful that it opens up into a light-filled, warm, wonderland of sober goodness.

Onward.

The “F” Word

Feelings.

Yes. In this post, I’m going to write about feelings.

Writing about feelings is, to me, the blogging equivalent of looking for your seat on a crowded international flight and realizing it’s next to the single mom with a newborn and a toddler.

A special kind of hell.

As I’ve committed more time to sobriety, “feelings” have begun cropping up. Nothing happens in a vacuum and my drinking/hangover hours have been filled with other activities, not necessarily of my choosing. In the evenings, rather than have a glass of wine, I have a sober conversation with my 9-year-old about his anxieties. In the early morning hours, rather than deal with a hangover, I deal with my “committee,” the voices in my head that love to go on about things, both trivial and great.

A great deal of my feelings have to do with things that happened many years ago. Things that cannot be changed, but things that changed me. These things made alcohol an attractive partner. Together, we would numb my feelings and stuff them into uncategorized emotional cells, to be processed never.

Alas, despite my best efforts, that emotional penitentiary system is no longer working. And so, here I am, feeling things from ten years ago and trying to act all cool about it. Trying to act as if nothing has happened. Trying to act as if the only tool I know how to wield against “feelings,” i.e. my trusty prison cop, my bottle of wine, is still at my disposal.

“Get your shit buttoned up,” I’ve been telling myself for years. “Other people have real problems. You’re being ridiculous.” And I did keep my shit buttoned up. Successfully. Except for the isolated, nightly, over drinking. And even that I successful kept buttoned up. So much so that I now have to convince my husband and my friends that I really do have a drinking problem. Really.

I think it was another sober blogger who shared Brené Brown’s “Empathy vs. Sympathy” video clip. It made an impact on me when I saw it last year. I sent it to my friends and we talked about how we needed to avoid offering the “at least” advice/comfort in moments of distress. We laughed at how easy “at least” comes out of our mouths even when we know better.

“At least the Navy pays people to move you every 9 months!”

“At least you have a husband, even if he’s always deployed!”

“At least your kid only has ADHD.”

These, clearly, are not helpful verbal offerings. And yet, these poisonous sentiments are what I’ve been offering myself for ten years – those sentiments and a daily bottle of wine.

The past few sober weeks, as I’ve been talking to my kid, and my committee, and myself, I’ve heard myself use “at least” a lot. I can’t stand it anymore. Yes, other people have terrible problems. Yes, I have much to be thankful for.

But I was in a deep hole. I was stuck. It was dark and I was overwhelmed.

You see, I was alone on that international flight, except for my infant and my toddler. I was that woman.

I am that woman.