Category Archives: Sobriety

Cause and Effect

Apparently there’s a correlation, for me, between working too hard and being stressed, irritable, and generally in a horrible mood.  Huh.  This should not come as a surprise, should it?  For so long, though, my moods weren’t related to external events, not really.  They were related to how much I drank, primarily, and how the alcohol was affecting my brain chemistry.  I was actually surprised today when I realized that the last two times my emotional well-being dipped were the last two weeks that work was drowning me.

So, last week was awful.  This week, with another big project finished, is just lovely.  Today, I went to work around 10am for a quick meeting, took an hour lunch, and then left at 2pm.  I came home, took a nap, went to a yoga class, took Petunia to the park, and ate fish tacos outside, wearing a sundress, as the sun was setting.  (Why yes, I do live in LA.  How could you tell?)  It. Was. Glorious.  I plan to “work” just as much tomorrow, and then maybe I’ll get back to real life.  Or, better, some sort of balance between the two.

I’m fascinated to see how this bizarre thing I’ve noticed–that is, that things that are happening in my life have an effect on my mood–plays out.  Stay tuned.

Cheers,

Hilda

Wherever You Go, There You Are

A week ago, I finished a huge project at work, one 4 months in the making.  For the month prior, I had been working weekends, 15-hour days, and all that fun stuff.  So once it was completed, my first thought was, “Where can I go?”  I schemed about renting a cabin in the mountains nearby, or heading to a desert spa for some sunbathing and relaxation.  I dreamt of hot tubs, and books, and fresh white hotel sheets.  And I almost booked the trip, too.  But then I stopped myself.  I stayed at home.  I hiked. I went to yoga class and the farmer’s market.  I cleaned the house, which was in desperate need.  I downloaded NPR’s Top 100 Songs from SXSW and listened to all of them.  It was pretty fucking glorious.

That’s new for me, though, that idea of staying put.  Of making the best of it where I am.  My flight instinct is strong.  In the sobriety world, I’ve heard it called the search for a geographical fix, and I’ve certainly been guilty of that.  I went to a great college and transferred after one year.  (I thought I hated the town; I later lived there again and fell in love with it.)  I moved every year or two for the entire first decade out of college, with the exception of the three years I spent in law school.  That’s me:  I leave.  I escape.  I’ve always fled cities and jobs and relationships.  Problem?  Quit.  That has always been my solution.

It’s so interesting that all the things I’m learning about simply sitting with myself instead of drinking seem to be translating to other parts of life, too.  So I’m able to sit with the situation instead of fleeing for some different place whenever possible.  It’s a novel idea, just dealing with life instead of trying to escape it.  Picking fight vs. flight, for really the very first time.  I’m excited to see what other changes will come about.

Our Past Selves

Someone from this AA meeting I go to once a week sent me a Facebook friend request.  When I was scoping out his page, I was struck by how the person represented there — the person he seemed to be before his recent sobriety — seemed like a lot of fun.  Seemed carefree, and funny, with a wide social network.  Seemed like a much more compelling, attractive person than the introspective, almost timid newly sober person I’d seen at the meetings.  I caught myself thinking, man, it doesn’t seem worth it.  If you had to trade that irreverent, funny, up-for-anything, doesn’t give a fuck dude for this new, painfully self-aware, vulnerable, navel-gazing version, maybe just drink instead.

There are (at least) two things wrong with that reaction, of course: First, the life that Facebook tells people we lead is never very close to the truth, so that fun-loving, social guy probably wasn’t really who he was.  I know, from having heard his stories, how miserable he was.  So when I get nostalgic for him over the fun times he’s missing, I’m surely projecting – it comes from my own sense of loss.  And second, the version of him that I see in meetings is almost certainly not who he is now, either.  Those meetings are all about getting vulnerable.  All about exploring feelings, and stuff like that.  So probably the dude is still funny and irreverent sober.

But yeah, the projection.  I know I sort of miss the person I (thought I) was, who was willing to live dangerously, who said yes, who was up for anything.  The life of the party, the most fun at weddings, the one who never said no to just one more.  Now, I’m this tea-drinking, early-morning-waking, ducking-out-early-from-social-events person.  I was just going to type that I don’t recognize myself, but that’s not true — I actually recognize myself, a past version of myself, closer to the version I was pre-booze.  But I still miss that drinking Hilda, that drinking version of me, that party girl.  Maybe that was never me, but it was nice to pretend.  It’s just a little sad to say goodbye.

The First Month

The first month was sleep, and boredom, and pneumonia.  The first two are pretty common, I think.  The third may have just been me.

Andrew left town the day after my first AA meeting, which ended up being the actual first day I spent without alcohol in god knows how long.  He was gone for two weeks.  I spent that time going to meetings — something like 5 my first week, 4 the next week, and tapering so on until my current level of 1.  I spoke to Andrew every day but never mentioned that I had quit drinking.  I kept that to myself, for some reason.

I remember the exhilaration of driving to meetings at night, sober.  The exhilaration of feeling like I was doing something amazing for myself.  That I was doing it, finally doing it.  I also remember the panic when I got home each night and realized I couldn’t drink.  The panic thinking of trying to sleep without wine.  At some point in the evening, usually around 8:00, I would crave unconsciousness and would go to bed.

I’ve since read something that makes a lot of sense to me about why we sleep so much when we quit drinking:  It’s our only remaining escape from ourselves.  We used to use drinking as the escape valve at the end of the day — now our only option is sleeping, so off to bed we go, often ridiculously, absurdly early.  And that’s okay.  Also, I remember facing the expanse of the evening and wondering if I would ever want to stay up past 9pm again — if I couldn’t drink, what was the point?  But I’m glad to report that in month 2, most of the excessive sleeping has tapered off, and I’m once again staying up later than I should.  Sober.

I remember eating candy by the handful, having read somewhere that us winedrinkers need extra sugar at first because our bodies were used to getting so much of it each night through drinking.  I ordered sour watermelon candy by bulk and didn’t hold back.  As it turns out, I’m now having a hard time letting go of the sugar, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that particular stopgap.

I remember having an internal battle every single evening when I drove home from work past the two, three, four places I rotated my nightly wine-buying.  I would hear that little voice, and I had to fight it by almost arguing out loud.  When I got home and parked my car, when I climbed the steps up to the cottage, when I was safely inside, then I knew I had won the battle.

Oddly, I kept booze in the house.  I was never tempted to drink hard alcohol even when at my worst, though I went to pretty great lengths to make sure the wine flowed.  But Andrew bought me a bottle of wine the day before I quit, and I have kept it in the house.  It’s a sort of vote of confidence in myself, an acknowledgment that my drinking is just between me and myself, a realization that I want it enough to ignore that bottle of wine.  It has been a reminder of my strength.  A reminder of my desperation and of my commitment.  I like having it there.

My first sober socializing happened the first weekend after I quit drinking.  Some friends invited me over for sunset drinkings in the yard of their new house, and I accepted.  I was pretty nervous. I felt it might be a mistake.  But I grabbed a few bottles of kombucha and went on over.  And you know what, it was great.  I had a great time.  I realized right then and there that maybe my drinking had been hindering my ability to socialized.  I felt so present.  Undistracted.  (Thirsty Still has a great post up that touches on this topic.)  Although I will say that having committed to attending an AA meeting after the cocktail hour was a great incentive.  And it was absolutely thrilling to drive to that meeting, sober, after successfully navigating my first cocktail event.

I made lists in a journal I bought to help me quit.  Every day I would make a silly list, like:  1.  Get up early.  2.  Walk Petunia.  3.  Shower.  4.  Work productively.  5.  Go to a meeting.  6.  Do not drink.

Every day, the last entry was, “Do not drink.”  And the next day when I checked off the ones I had accomplished (usually all except work productively – more on that below), I took great satisfaction in checking off the “do not drink” entry.

Maybe the hardest part about that first month was the brain fog.  I had this idea that I would quit drinking and my job would be easier — I wouldn’t be distracted/hampered by hangovers, for one thing, and for another I wouldn’t have to skeedaddle out of the office as soon as I could to get that first drink.  But that brain fog was NO JOKE.  I no longer had hangovers, but I just felt like I couldn’t get my brain to engage.  Days and even weeks went by in that first month where very little got done.  I was panicked about it.  I’m a lawyer, and I had a lot of big deadlines coming up.  I quit drinking when I did in part because I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of work I had and felt I simply couldn’t balance my drinking with it anymore.  And so I had quit, and I couldn’t get ANYTHING done.  It was a horrible feeling.  Sinking, desperate.  What do you do when your brain just won’t WORK?  And on top of that, I got the flu and then pneumonia.  I was bitter that I couldn’t even enjoy feeling great after quitting –  I still felt like utter shit.

The brain fog passed, fortunately, probably around week 5 or 6.  I lost all that time, and since then I’ve been playing catch up, working weekends, 15-hour days, etc.  It sucks that I’m way behind schedule now and working all the time to catch up — in all my cases; these things tend to snowball — but when I think of the alternative, it’s just a small price to pay.

Hilda

Oysters and Champagne

It was a pretty intense meeting last week.  Some dude told a story about pawning all his relatives’ stuff, some other chick told a harrowing tale of living on skid row, doing heroin, and turning tricks to fund her habit.  And then it came to me, and what did I want to talk about?  How damn annoying it was that the manager of some fancy restaurant had the nerve to bring us complimentary glasses of champagne just because they were out of the oysters we ordered.  God, what an asshole I am.

And if you’re wondering whether I checked myself and saved my tale of woe — woe!  not only were they out of oysters, but also I had to face a glass of champagne! — for another time, the answer is no.  I mean, my struggles are my struggles, right?  Or, if my life is unmanageable for me, it’s unmanageable, right?  Yeah, I keep telling myself that.

But it really was sort of hard.  Dinners out are hard for me.  Of all the types of drinking, I romanticize them the most.  If I had quit drinking 10 years ago, I would have those pangs about bars and clubs, I’m sure.  But recently my favorite drinking, the drinking I think of wistfully, through rose-colored glasses, has occurred in restaurants.  A good bottle of wine, good food, good conversation with my love, or with friends.  That buzz.  The color of the wine, the smell.  The taste.  So for the first month or so after I quit, I avoided restaurants with wine lists.  Truthfully, I avoided restaurants, period.

Anyway, this particular night, we went to a favorite place.  Andrew and I had both been working like crazy, and we needed to reconnect.  I ignored the wine list, sucked it up, and ordered sparkling water.  He ordered a beer.  We settled in, food started coming, and all was well.  Until that damn champagne arrived.

Maybe I should have sent it back, I don’t know.  It was just a friendly little gesture from the manager, and I guess I was surprised by it.  So the glass just sat there.  I sipped my water and tried to ignore it.  Tried.  Tried being the operative word, here.

It just kept sparkling at me.  Those little bubbles rising charmingly to the surface.  The candle flickering behind it.  I kept it there in front of me because  I wanted to prove that I could ignore it, I guess.  That I would be okay with it sitting there.  And I mean, I guess I didn’t touch it.  But it was so incredibly distracting.  And it not only distracted me during dinner, but I kept thinking about it afterward.  I mentioned it on the way home, as a sort of celebration of the fact that I didn’t drink it.  (P.S. I enjoyed driving home.  Sober.  Fast.  Try to pull me over, copper.  Have I been drinking?  I fucking wish I’d been drinking.)

I guess all that’s to say that, look, okay.  Me facing down that dastardly glass of champagne isn’t the hardest, toughest shit I’ve ever done.  It just isn’t.  It’s also not exactly sleeping in a car on skid row, getting stabbed, spending time in jail, or any of the other shit that even the put-together-seeming folks in my weekly meeting have gotten themselves into.  And it’s not to say I haven’t had my rougher moments drinking, either.  But at this point in my sobriety, having quit at precisely this wine-sniffing, restaurant-fetishizing point in my drinking career, a glass of champagne is a challenge.  It is.  It’s a challenge that tests me.  And while one slip up would just lead to me having a glass of wine, I know that that tantalizing glass of champagne would lead me right back down to guzzling, and right back down to the depressed, helpless, hopeless state in which I found myself two months ago.  So I guess I take that stab wound and raise you a nice Barolo.  Happy 60 days sober to me.

The (Little) Good Things

I breathed, I went to a yoga class, I took the dog for a hike, I logged some hours in the office.  I feel exponentially better.  Maybe a little gratitude will improve things even more.  Off the top of my head, here are some of the little things I’m enjoying:

1.  Hangover-free mornings.  Always, always, always, always, always.  Each one is a miracle.

2.  Not being insanely thirsty and dehydrated all the time.  I used to drink more than a liter of water just during the night. Now I fill a bottle, but I rarely take a sip.

3.  Driving (sober) at night.  It surprised me how odd this felt at first.  My mind almost played tricks on me and convinced me I was drunk; I was that unaccustomed to driving (sober) past the hour of 8pm.  (Ask me another time about those parentheticals.)

4.  Being able to make plane reservations without taking into consider whether a) the early morning flights would be a hungover nightmare or b) the late night flights would interfere with my drinking.

5.  Going to some of the restaurants in my neighborhood that were long-neglected because they didn’t have liquor licenses.

6.  Not being afraid to talk on the phone after 7pm.  I’ve been a bad friend and a bad daughter because I avoid the phone while drunk.  Nice to be able to talk now whenever.

7.  Not having to check my emails/texts/Facebook in the morning after a heavy night to see what kind of nonsense I’d been up to.  (Toward the end, I’d learned my lesson, but there was a rough little while there.  I cringe.)

8.  Saving cash.  I estimate that I spent about $18-20/day on wine on days I stayed in, and sometimes $40 or more on days I went out to eat or drink (maybe twice a week).  So, approximately $685/month.  That is an embarrassing, horrible amount of money to spend on booze–ugh, what a wine snob I was, and what an expensive way I chose to justify my drinking–but a seriously nice amount of money to save each month.

9.  Becoming aware of when I’m actually tired and actually hungry.

10.  Not having to double check before leaving the house in the morning to make sure my lips aren’t stained red.  Not having chapped lips all the time.

11.  Actually washing my face and brushing my teeth before going to bed.  Sometimes even showering!

12.  Being able to do errands after work instead of just rushing home to drink.  Having more time on the weekend as a result.  Okay, I’m just spending that extra time at the office lately, but it’s there!

13.  Spending more time with good old friends of mine who didn’t drink enough to make the cut toward the end.

And these are just the little things….

Onward.

Hilda

Grumpy as Hell

This past week was maybe my hardest yet.  I didn’t crave a drink, but I definitely craved an escape.  Work was (is) stressful, and I feel like I don’t have a release valve anymore.  I got a new secretary and was snippy with her when she didn’t read my mind/do things as well as my former secretary.  I was snippy with Andrew because he was working 16-hour days and Petunia, our dog, was all my responsibility.   I was just grumpy and pissy and wretched, in general.  Friday after work, I had to go to a happy hour, and while my tonic + grapefruit juice was tasty, I was annoyed that everyone else got to relieve the week’s pressure with delicious craft beer.  I’m on edge.  My neighbors have put their radio in the yard and are disturbing my quiet morning with their shitty taste in music.  I want to burn their house down.  My floor is dirty.  I have to work all weekend (again).  On and on and on.

Okay, deep breath.  I have to assume this all will pass.  Right?  Right.  I’m going to hit a yoga class today at some point (injured foot be damned), and maybe that will help.  Maybe just writing this will help.

Bachelorette Weekend

I got back last night from a trip to [insert name of party town] for a close friend’s bachelorette party.  This is a woman with whom I’ve put away countless bottles of wine.  Truly, for the past ten years, no evening-time meeting between us has come and gone without at least a bottle of wine between us (and sometimes more like 4).  Also along for the trip were our mutual friend who drinks just as much as we do (did), two normal, non-alcoholic women, and the guest of honor’s sister, who from what I had heard was probably also a bit of a drunk.

We showed up around 3pm, and the owner of the house we rented met us to give a tour.  He offered beers, and everyone except me accepted.  It was early enough that I didn’t get any questions at that point.

After the tour, we headed out into town in search of a late lunch.  We found a pretty cheesy place right on the water (the hipster in me recoiled) and ordered our food.  They also ordered a bucket of beers, and then another bucket of beers, and then another.  Probably 3 apiece over the hour and a half we were there.  I had lemonade, like a nerd.  Convinced I was pregnant despite my assurances to the contrary, people cracked jokes about “the baby.”  I laughed and let them.   Good-natured ribbing I can handle.

Later in the evening, we made a trip to the grocery store where the guest of honor loaded the cart up with approximately 25 bottles of wine.  There were six of us, and we would be there three days.  But look, I don’t blame her; running out of booze is like a nightmare when you’re drinking.  Two months ago, I would have been relieved at the number of bottles and backup bottles we had.  As for me?  I bought lots of sparkling water, some fruit juice mixers, lots of limes, and a couple of San Pellegrino sodas.  I had also brought tea from home – sneaky.

The first night, we stayed at the house and just sat around the patio firepit, drinking our various poisons.  This is what I was nervous about — I love wasting an evening with wine and conversation.  But I had a nice surprise, as I was able to participate and enjoy myself.   I made sparkling beverages and, later, tea.  Around midnight, people got a little slurry and started repeating their stories, and I crept off to bed.  Most of the others lasted a bit longer, though they admitted the next day that they didn’t really remember the end of the night.  Anyway: One night down, one to go.

And then, dudes, this was the best part.  One of the things I kept promising myself in exchange for the wine I would otherwise have had was that I would get up early, before anyone else (such a luxury for this introvert in a house full of people), make coffee, and take my book out to the patio or pool.  And you know what?  I did.  I got up at 7 and had a good three hours to myself before anyone else stumbled groggily out of bed.

The second night was harder.  We went to a nice dinner, and the pretty courtyard, with its strings of lights adorning the trees, made the wine glasses beautiful.  I had sparkling water and was kind of bummed.  I wanted a glass of wine – just one.  But really only in the abstract.  I wasn’t willing to trade my sobriety for it.  But it wasn’t the siren call of my beloved red wine that made the dinner difficult; it was the absolute refusal of my friend’s sister to let go of the fact I wasn’t drinking.  She seriously would not let up.  In the guise of joking, she “brainstormed” other excuses I could use for not drinking.  Serious illness came up, as did a couple of other ones.  I laughed but kept trying to change the subject.  She wouldn’t budge.  As some point, I said something like, “Well, I don’t really need so many reasons, because most people don’t care.”  Still she persisted.  Finally, laughing, she said, “You could tell people you’re on your 12th step!”  Like it was the funniest thing in the world.  Like she thought the idea was so absurd that it fit in with a faked pregnancy and fake chemotherapy.  Earlier, I had given another woman there a bit more info — just that I had been drinking too much and was not drinking for awhile (and liked it).  Even she seemed uncomfortable when this woman refused to stop pestering me.  The guest of honor, who would have probably managed to get her sister under control, was sitting at the other end of the table and didn’t hear our exchange.

I guess the take-away from this dinner is that: a) 5 of the 6 people there, even the really, really heavy drinkers, were able to just accept the fact that I wasn’t drinking.  I mean, they thought it was really weird, but if they were disappointed, they kept it to themselves.  b) some people are annoying.  c) I need a better plan than simply saying I’m not drinking right now — maybe.

The rest of the night was hilarious — we basically revisited our college days at a serious of cheesy bars that would normally be my worst nightmare, and it was awesome.  I drank water and still managed to get into the bachelorette party spirit.  I did go home earlier than the others, but in all honesty, I would have done that anyway.  I am not afraid to be the first to leave a party.

And then, the next morning, another blissful, relaxing time again with my cup of coffee and my book.

I feel like if I can survive that — the bachelorette party of my best drinking buddy — I can probably at least white knuckle it through any other social situation, if i need to.  It sounds super self-help, but I’m proud (and relieved) to have made it back in one piece.  And I didn’t just survive, I enjoyed myself.  So, onward.

Kick Off

I’ve been (obsessively) reading sober blogs for the past few months, after (obsessively) reading sobriety memoirs for years before that.  I’m ready, I think, to participate in the online sober community as more than a spectator.  Here goes!