Friday, January 31, 2014

Sober Day #94: Calm Today

Today feels calm, without stress attached to alcohol vs. no alcohol.

Another weekend without any alcohol doesn't seem difficult much things have changed for me.  Or, perhaps, how much I have changed.

I am in a holding pattern now, I think, focusing on the upcoming end of my initial 100 days.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sober Day #93: Diets vs. Lifestyle Changes

A long time ago, I used to be fat.  For many years I struggled with being on a diet, off a diet, dieting strictly, rebelling by eating.  When I finally decided to make a permanent change, it was effective, and I have now been slender and fit for 10+ years.  How?

Baby Steps and Sustainable Changes.  For me, with my impaired fasting glucose, low carb eating is the healthiest choice.  So I made really tiny changes- baby steps- one little tiny bit at a time.  A change like, eating something instead of nothing for breakfast every day.  A change like waiting 10 minutes before having a higher carb snack I wanted, seeing if the urge dissipated (sometimes it did).  And I made these slowly and kindly enough that they were sustainable, something I could easily live with long term.  And it has worked well.

How does this apply to alcohol cessation?

(1)  How I got to the place of tackling 100 days.  For about the 6 months before starting this, I'd been thinking about modifying my alcohol intake.  One baby step was having 3 days a week of no alcohol.  Another was waiting an hour or more after arriving home before pouring a glass of wine.  Another was having a glass of water before pouring each glass of wine.  And so on.  The aggregate effect was to loosen Wolfie's hold on me enough that I could even contemplate 100 days in a row without alcohol.

(2)  Once I began my 100 days, I used another set of baby steps.  Although the No Alcohol was, in a sense, equivalent to a crash diet, there were so many other aspects of my life impacted by this.  I spent the first 2-3 weeks mourning the loss of my old reliable friend alcohol.  The baby step of using Belle's approach, providing non-alcohol treats, was commitment-saving.  Continuing to confront (with the help of my therapist) the issues I'd used alcohol to avoid- this made a number of away-from-alcohol steps, all strung together.

(3)  So what is Diet vs. Deprivation vs. Sustainable for me as far as alcohol is concerned?  To be determined.  If I even whisper to myself:  "No more wine, ever", that deprived, rebellious feeling begins to kick in.  On the other hand, if I think of drinking a glass or two of wine daily, no more?  That really doesn't compute.  I know I wouldn't be able to do that.  Too often, that glass or two would compel me onward to another 2, or 3, or more.  So that isn't a type of moderation I'll try at all.  Between those two, however, there is a vast space.  Ranging from one glass of champagne each year on New Year's Eve, to wine on other 'special occasions,' to wine once monthly, or once weekly.

I am pretty nervous about this, but I also feel compelled to experiment.  To my surprise, I have not had a huge amount of trouble getting through what will soon be 100 days.  Perhaps this bodes well for mixing mostly abstinence with occasional days of wine.  If not, it will be back to no-wine-at-all, at least for a period of time longer than 100 days. Something sustainable...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day #92. What is _______?

What is relapse?  What is sobriety?  What is alcohol moderation?  I guess it depends on who you ask.

Relapse according to Google: A deterioration in health after a temporary improvement, a resumption of addictive behaviors after a period of abstinence, the return to drug use after a drug-free period.

For myself, I'm going to take 'resumption of addictive behaviors', and in drinking compulsively.  NOT, as in having a glass of wine now and then.  NOT even, having a lot of alcohol very occasionally.  And I will see how this plays out.  And I will continue to post about my experiences even after I hit day #100, even if, by my definition, I find myself falling into a relapse.

Sobriety per Google:  Not having any measurable levels or observable effects of mood-altering drugs.  Moderation in or abstinence from alcoholic liquor.  Temperance or moderation, especially in respect to alcoholic beverages.  Others point out that just abstaining from drinking alcohol does not equal sobriety, that sobriety also means successfully dealing with the emotions and problems that alcohol permitted us to avoid.

So I guess I need to wait a while, experience a bit more, before I decide exactly what my personal definition of sobriety is.  I have spent much time and effort looking at and delving into the problems alcohol allowed me to put on hold.  As well as abstaining from alcohol.  I shall see.

And moderation?  Two standard alcoholic drinks for women and four for men, with one to two alcohol free days per week.  Or half that, depending on who you read.  For me personally (the one with off-switch problems, remember), I can't imagine that a future moderations could actually include 5 or 6 days a week of drinking alcohol.  Maybe the flip of that, one to two days a week.

As I hit 100 days, another time of experimentation and learning is about to begin.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sober Day #91- Mental Indigestion.

It's another very cold day here-  cold and calm.  I am thinking about only 9 more days to my initial 100 days without alcohol goal.  I embarked on this not really thinking it was something I'd finish- and now I am sure that I will.

How do I feel about that?  Astonished.  Proud. Challenged, as in, What's Next?  Grateful- for having been given, for giving myself, a different way to look at and experience the world.

I guess it's a sort of mental indigestion-  so many conflicting thoughts, incompatible ideas, diametrically opposed desires.

I will continue ruminating.  And not drinking.  At least until 100.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sober Day #90: Neuroplasticity and Alcohol, Again

I went to a small, last minute dinner gathering last night.  A kind friend who knows about me doing the 100 day challenge brought (non-alcoholic) ginger beer for me.  As I sat sipping it, she later asked me discretely if it was difficult for me, gesturing to the wine glasses the others were drinking from.  I answered, "Oh, no!"-  and really meant it.  It did not bother me to see others drinking wine at the table, or even to smell the wine.  (Of course they were drinking red, and my personal demon is more of a white wine kinda guy, lol!).

Thinking about it this morning, I am astounded that it really was not hard.  What a transformation in my experience!  Four months ago, if you'd mentioned someone doing what I did, I would have pictured them taking deep breaths, chewing on their fingernails and generally being miserable.  Ha!

So once again I am learning;  Not only about the great neuroplasticity of human brains, but also how quickly some of these changes can take place.  How very encouraging for the next set, and the next, of changes I am intending to explore!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sober Day #89- Being Here.

Nine and a half hours of sleep last night-  wow, does that feel great!

Dense snow is falling, making it difficult to see even as far as the ravine in back.  It will make driving to pilates class this morning an adventure!

It is so eye-opening, this different way of being.  In the past, a snowed-in weekend would have been a perfect time to start sipping some wine with lunch, continue with a gentle buzz all afternoon, skip dinner, and be snoozing on the sofa by about 8 PM.  (Snoozing, but not actually enjoying restorative sleep).  This soft cocoon of escape was irresistible!

And now, instead, I am choosing to be present.  The heat of the fire radiating onto my back while my toes are just a bit chilly (put on your slippers, silly Carrie!).  The snow piling up, erasing details until the outdoors looks like an intruiging and new land to explore.  The little dog barking to be let out of her crate after eating her breakfast.

How trivial that sounds - but it feels profound.  To see and feel my daily details instead of blurring them, slinking away from them with wine.

This sobriety is very interesting-  except when it is hard and nasty.

To be continued...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sober Day #88: Accepting Help!

In Chinese culture, the number 8 is considered very auspicious, and I have TWO of them today!  There must be something extra-special coming my way!

I am continuing to tackle demons-  that is, things, thoughts, habits, emotions that I suppressed or hid from with alcohol.  As so many have mentioned, simply (although it is by no means simple!!) stopping drinking does not solve all our problems.  Instead, it allows us to see, to become aware of, all the things we have been avoiding by trying to pickle them in alcohol.

Early sobriety is a very mixed experience.  There is the pride (Me!  I went another day without alcohol!  I can do this!), and we find ourselves staring right into the faces of the problems we drank to avoid.

The help of my therapist is invaluable for me in this process.  I could try to wade through all these issues on my own, and I would probably eventually come to resolution.  Happily my therapist has the knowledge, experience and insight to short-circuit some of what would be lengthy paths with a focused question or honed observation.  I love those Ah-Ha moments!  AA's 12 steps are another way to tackle processing these avoided-by-drinking issues.  Reading about others' experiences on these Sober Blogs is yet another way to gain critically-needed insights.

Stopping drinking is the first step, not the final one, to being my/your authentic self.  And none of us has to do this alone.  There are tools and processes that help.  There are many resources for learning these, ranging from in- or out-patient treatment, one-on-one counseling, 12-step and other group programs, reading books and Sober Blogs, etc.

At least some of these resources are available to each one of us.  Although many of us subscribe to the I Can Do It Myself school of life- Dumping that fiendish alcohol from our lives is not easy!!  Be bold in accepting help!!  This is the mark of a strong and determined person!!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sober Day #87- How to Count?

Today my life is calm.  Approaching the end of this initial 100-day challenge seems surreal.  But my days - when not traveling- are developing an evening routine of happy stuff to replace my old drinking habit.  Travel is still challenging, as far as not drinking any alcohol.

I think that once I hit 100 days, I will start counting in months.  All of  November and December 2013, now most of January 2014.  I've been thinking about this a lot, since I know the AA approach to counting is definatively black and white.  If you have been sober for 20 years, for example, and have a sip of wine?  You are back to counting from day 1 again.  This absolutism does not fit into my world.

So how will I count once I have the initial 100 days under my belt?  How will I count when I do my planned experimentation with how drinking wine seems to me after this hiatus?  I could do number of months, allowing up to 2 evening- or 1 or 3-  of wine a month and still counting this as sobriety.  Or, I could do number of months, minus the number of days of wine?  Or it may be that I decide to be a never-ever person, as in, the taste and experience of wine are not worth the havoc in my body and head?

I am certain I will never be a daily drinker again.  And, I need to experiment with how this time with no-drinking has affected my Off Switch, if at all.  If, as I suspect, I still have trouble saying no after that first glass of wine- then I will very seldom be drinking.  But, to preserve my sanity (and commitment to sobriety) I must allow the possibility of having wine now and then.

As a very competitive person, numbers, achievements and setting goals are really important for me, both for motivation and for satisfaction in what I have accomplished.  .  I'm just not sure how to count after these 100 days.

How are you counting?  Or do you count? What advice do you have for me?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sober Day #86- Dreaming.

Last night was the third time I've had a dream where I casually drank wine in a social setting, then remembered I was doing the 100 day challenge, and was very very upset in the dream.  And very relieved to wake up and find it was a dream.

How I interpret this:  Something deep in my psyche has become totally invested in this sobriety challenge I undertook so casually.  I think that means my true self is cheering in the background, loving what is happening to my body and my mind as I wean myself from years of using a substance as a substitute for being authentically alive.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sober Day #85- Thirst and Hunger and Alcohol Longings

Hunger and Thirst and Wanting Alcohol-  I think I get these confused.  Not intentionally, of course.
When I was having wine every evening, I'd arrive home after work, feeling desperate for that first glass of wine.  I was always a bit hungry on arriving home, but after a glass or two of wine, the hunger dissipated.  I should have been hungry, since I usually don't take time for lunch at work, but I often ended up eating no dinner at all, or sometimes (if one of the kids had brought it into the house) a high carb snack of the kind I usually shun.

And I almost never drank water.  After starting this challenge, I began paying more attention to drinking water, especially toward the end of my work day, and found that this seemed to calm my desire for alcohol in the evenings.

So now I am making a project for myself:  When an Alcohol thought comes along, I ask myself:  Am I thirsty? Am I hungry?  And if I am, the pull of alcohol became much weaker when I was full of good food and reasonably hydrated.

It's almost as though my body/mind didn't differentiate among these hungers, and I am having to relearn which is which.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sober Days #83 and #84- Tolerance, Acceptance and Resilience!

This sober blogging community-  we are amazing!  I have been aware of Sober Blogs and reading (and writing) them now for about 3 months.  The power of this group astonishes me!

I have read many blogs detailing not-quite-making it.  A one night deviation from a plan of abstinence, or a several year dive back into alcohol.  Some just go quiet during these time.  Others, the very bravest, post the details of these very difficult experiences.   And are received with kindness, acceptance, acknowledgment of how any of us have been there, could be there, will be there again, disappointing ourselves in our struggle with that most seductive of false friends, alcohol.  There is always encouragement, support and suggestions for new strategies.

And the resilience we show here!  Those who fail in their abstinence plans, and start again, once or a thousand times.  What is braver, more determined, stronger, than someone who fails, and tries again, fails and tries again.  This takes a very special kind of courage, to face not-doing what you intended, and coming back for another pass, for as long as it takes.  It takes a very special kind of self-acceptance, forgiveness and gut-wrenching determination.

And that's just those of us who are working on this out loud- er, in semi-public writing via blogs or comments.  We also include the vast numbers of lurkers, who draw strength, education and a knowledge of not-being-alone from reading and thinking, without feeling the need to write.

Nobody planned this.  No one said, Gee, everyone who struggles with alcohol, listen up!  Let's all write blogs about our experiences.  Nope.  This community is like the best of off-line, in 3D life communities, a spontaneous evolution of people with a common challenge-  letting alcohol become a bigger part of their lives than they like-  finding and helping each other.

I am so glad this community exists.  Without the support and education I've found here, I don't think I would have been motivated to tackle 100 days without alcohol.  I know I will experiment with drinking alcohol again, after I finish these 100 days.  I know I will be honest here about my experiences.  And I know that whatever role alcohol takes in my future-  Whether I decide I am a never-ever person, or a glass of wine 3 times a year person, or one who vacillates back and forth from over-use to abstinence, back and forth-   I know y'all will be here, learning from my experiences, and helping me bring into focus how alcohol fits, if at all, into me continuing to be my most authentic self.

Thank you!!!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sober Days #81 and #82: Anticipation vs. Reality

I made the decision to embark on 100 days without alcohol at the end of October last year.  I tried many ways to talk myself out of it.  The anticipation:  Can I possibly do family Thanksgiving without alcohol?  Or, OMG, Christmas and all the parties that precede it?  Oh, and then there's New Year's Eve-  without alcohol, without even a glass of champagne?  A travesty!!

And then some tentative part of me said:  Well, Carrie-   If you can carry this off, through all these holidays, you will know that you are truly divorced from needing alcohol.  If you can do this, you can handle any event or crisis without needing alcohol.  Go for it, babe!!

Belle had mentioned something about the anticipation of an event without alcohol often being far worse than the actual event, and I kept that in mind.

I'm not gonna lie-  there were some terrifically difficult moments.  When a glass of crisp white wine would have felt like the greatest!  But the less I thought about what I was missing, and the more I focused on my 'Here and Now'- the better it was.  When the regrets began to feel overwhelming, I used my Focus Tactic:  Sitting down, pulling into myself, and Noticing all that was around me:  The crackling fire, the murmur of multiple conversations, the smell of roast turkey in the air, the cool bubbly-ness of the club soda I was drinking, the fresh scent of the lime slice I had in the glass.

And, lo, it was not as miserable as I'd been anticipating.  When I added the lower-than-expected misery quotient to the pride I felt in my success-  It really was not too bad an experience at all.

I thought I couldn't fly without having a glass or two of wine before getting on the plane.  I was very nervous anticipating my first flight without alcohol, about 3 weeks into this 100 day challenge.  I was prepared for, anticipating a tooth-clenching, shaky and sweaty flight.  I treated myself to a new glossy magazine and boarded the flight.  I mentally got a firm grip on the arm-rests, and we took off.  When the drinks cart came by, I asked for a diet coke.  An hour and a half later, we landed. Whoa, I said to myself.  That was fast.  And I realized I was no longer a nervous flier.  How many years had I been self-medicating before flying-   for what turned out to be a no-longer-active problem.

Another anticipation far worse than the reality.  So now when I notice I am fearful/nervous in anticipation of a future event-  I give myself a mental shake (picture one of my dogs coming in from the rain) and remind myself:  Carrie, wait and see.  Don't spend energy anticipating- just commit to the experience.

Carrie's New Event Anticipation Motto: "Cowards die many times before their deaths.  The valiant never taste of death but once".     Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sober Day #80 - What if?

Hitting this landmark number is amazing to me.  Finding that calm and no-drama are very satisfying is amazing.  Finding that a great night's sleep and waking up energized beats the pseudo-relaxation of evening alcohol is amazing.  Finding that non-drinking isn't the hell-hole I imagined it to be is amazing.

And so my thoughts turn to:  "Really, Carrie, this is something you should have done ages ago.  Why didn't you stop drinking excessively 10 years ago?  Or at least 5 years ago?  Or, come on, at the very least you could have done this 2 years ago".

And this is Wolfie in a crafty disguise.  Trying to turn the good (sobriety) into something bad and anxiety-producing (What if-ing about timing).  The little sneak!

Once I caught on to his little scheme, I talked myself around it.

Yo, Carrie, good job!!  It took waiting until you were strong enough to quit drinking, but now you ARE strong enough.  And the support from your family is incredible!  And the online sober blogging-community?  How nourishing it is to see that you are not the only one struggling, that you weren't chosen out of all humanity to be the worst of the very very bad.  And how valuable their encouragement is!  Yup, you've learned a whole lot, and this was just the right time for you to take this giant step forward.

So There, you little creep!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sober days #78 & #79- The Pressing Need to Travel!

It is soooooo much easier to do no-wine at home.  But this is probably because I have now laid down a lot of reinforcement for the neural pathways of coming home after work and doing something- anything- reading, cleaning, making stuff- and NOT going to the fridge to pour a glass of wine.

I contrast this with how hard it was while in South Beach.  But then I count.  3 nights in South Beach out of 79 now without wine.  and a week in New Orleans.  so about 10 days of this nearly 80 having no-wine in a place other than home, vs. about 70 days at home doing no-wine.

As I see it, that means I need another 70 days of travel/vacation tout de suite in order to lay down the appropriate no-wine-on-vacation neural pathways.  This makes sense, doesn't it?

Buenos Aires?  Kyoto?  Mumbai?  Copenhagen? Auckland? The Canary Islands? All on my travel bucket list-  what a great fantasy!  Especially on a cold winter day!

However, back to seriousness-  this definitely demonstrates to me what many have told me but I wasn't sure I believed:  It does get easier to resist wine the more often I have done it.  That is encouraging!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sober Day #77- "Bill W is my Homeboy"??

Today is a calm Tuesday back at work, back in the gloomy much colder weather.  But in this environment, I've settled into no-wine habits.  I've had very few thoughts about alcohol today, which is much easier than the in-your-face-ness of alcohol in South Beach.

One day there, when I was feeling quite grumpy about all these people drinking alcohol and me telling myself I would not-  I took a back street back to the hotel because I was tired of all the sidewalk cafes on the main street.  I was distracting myself by watching cats and kids and bumper stickers.  I saw one that said "Bill W. is my homeboy".  I think this refers to AA- or, if not, I persuaded myself that it did- and it made me feel less alone in my steadfastness to not drinking!

Seventy-Seven is a biiiig number- I feel both proud and humbled to have made it this far!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sober Day #76 - Why We Drink?

Here's what I found in my email this morning;

When we run from our feelings, they follow us. Everywhere.

It's from Martha Beck, in a daily email inspiration thing I signed up for.  (um, for which I signed up?  or Up for which I signed?  nevermind!)

This quote is from a piece she wrote about Learn to Avoid Avoidance.  And that is definitely what I and so many of us are working on.  I feared that I was unable to deal with my feelings, that they were too strong, that they would overwhelm me...  so I ran straight to my anesthesia of choice, wine.

Unfortunately, the wine-escape didn't destroy, soften or process these feelings-  it just masked them for a while-  but they were right back again the next day, worse than ever.   Running from my feelings like this didn't provide any permanent solution, it just delayed my coping and made things worse (think of un-felt emotions as being like compound interest, growing heavier and more insistent day-by-unfelt-day!)

In South Beach, I think my driver for thinking about alcohol was more habit:  If I am in a beautiful tropical spot and having fun, it should also involve alcohol for maximum fun.

So  here is why I drank excessively:  Fear,  Avoidance, Fear, Habit, Fear.  These are not really very good reasons, are they?

No more running from emotions.  Turn and face those little fuckers, this is my new motto!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sober Day #75- Pushing Back against Habit

Yesterday I realized how embedded drinking is in my Meeting/Vacation mode.  I thought more about wine yesterday than I have in the last couple of weeks all put together.  Everyplace my glance landed, people were drinking alcohol.  By the pool, on the beach, at all the sidewalk cafes, at a raucous gay bar spilling out onto the street- Yow!

But the architecture:  Look at this neighboring Art Deco hotel.

Don't you just love the font of the sign?  And the secondary pattern the shadow of the railing makes on the stairs?  (And no, the photo may be tipsy, but I was not!)

But will all that temptation, I did not drink.  Why not? I asked myself this morning.  Where did I find the strength to push back against habit and environment and desire?

And my answer came down to:  I won't be ruled by any person or thing.  I will NOT dive into alcohol again as a compulsion, or as an escape, or as a need.  I am a very stubborn determined person, and I am now choosing not to give away my personal power to a substance.  

How did I come to be so dependent on alcohol in the past?  I can't explain this, except as formerly not knowing I could sit with negative emotions, and they too would pass.  BUT, I can make different choices for the future.  

And that is what I am doing, each time that thought crosses my mind:  Wouldn't a nice cold glass of wine taste/feel really good right now?  And I answer myself:  Remember, sweetie, we are not having wine today.  Oh, yeah, that's right, the other part replies.  

This is very hard, right now, and requires huge expenditures of energy-  but I am trusting it will become quieter and easier.

Home to the cold and the snow today :(

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sober Days #72, #73 and #74. Feeding the Soul instead of Quieting it with Alcohol

I am at a business meeting in South Beach (Miami).  This is another place awash in alcohol.  And I've been OK.

Walking down Ocean Drive last night was entertaining.  There are a zillion restaurants and bars- all well inhabited with exuberant crowds.  Lots of alcohol was flowing.  Mr. and a friend and I ate at one of the quieter places, a seafood restaurant.  Mister had his two glasses of red wine, and friend and I sipped club sodas with lime. (Friend is having a mostly non-drinking 2014 for ideological reasons, not "no off switch" problems like I have, but it was still companionable not to be the only person at our small table not-drinking).

When I first started this 100 day challenge, I asked Mister not to drink when we were in restaurants together, and he was kind enough to agree.  A few weeks ago I told him I didn't need that support any more- and I don't.

Despite all the alcohol flowing here, there are two things (besides getting to spend some awesome down-time with Mister) that feed that always-hungry part of my soul- that I used to quiet with alcohol.  

#1= Women in my field are a minority of practitioners.  There are many I have known for 20+ years as well as some younger ones I've gotten to know more recently.  I realize they are a kind of 'family' for me, although we are geographically far-flung around the US.  I have decided to be more active in maintaining my contacts with them rather than just meeting up randomly at conferences.  They are delightful, inspiring and living-life-fully people whom I really enjoy!

#2 = South Beach is a hotbed of Art Deco architecture- so much so that the variant here actually has its own name, Tropical Deco.    And Art Deco is my Very Favorite style.  This afternoon after meetings Mister and I plan a long long walk around the Art Deco neighborhoods, a Deco-Photo-Safari!  Besides making glass beads, one of my other artistic outlets is making wonderful modern quilts-  sort of a hybrid between what Grandma used to make and abstract modernism.  I have always meant to try working in a series of quilts- so now I am going to do it.  I will pick out half a dozen or so of my very favorite buildings, and design building-inspired quilts incorporating colors, motifs, etc, from each building in its corresponding quilt. And another hearty form of Soul Food for me.

This morning I am feeling "Who needs alcohol anyway?"-ish.  It was harder last night when the host or hostess of each restaurant was accosting us with "Half Price Drinks!"  "It's Happy Hour all night here!", and I was hungry.  But I did it without alcohol, had a good time, and had an awesome night's sleep (which would not have happened after drinking alcohol).

Each night without alcohol makes me a little stronger at Saying No for the next.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sober Day #71- Scared of Sobriety

Today I am feeling 'off'.  Not bad, just not-myself (um, whoever that is, lol!)

I'm feeling partway between who I was when I drank wine every evening, and who I am becoming in what I project to be a mostly alcohol-free life.

I feel unfamiliar to myself, sort of psychically naked and not knowing where to find 'clothes'.

When I drill down on this feeling, I find fear.  Two months sober seems about the right amount of time for it to sink in.  What started out as an almost whimsical commitment to the 100-day challenge has become so much more than that.  Maybe akin to the time in a diet when you realize you can't ever go back to your old junk food and carbs diet and maintain your weight loss.  Only this is deeper, psyche-shaking.

So sobriety is more serious, has way more implications than I realized two months ago.  It means taking total responsibility for myself- no more victim, no more 'poor me, this is too hard, let's have a glass of wine', no more 'well, I'd had a few glasses of wine, so no wonder...'

I am scared.  (Where's my wine??!)  But no, I won't.  I will feel my feelings, and observe myself, and tell myself this is a doorway to a different place that will not feel so scary on the other side.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sober Day #70- Those Negative Emotions again.

Seventy seems like a huge number- I feel surprised to find myself here, seventy days since a glass of wine.  It's been much easier than I expected, except when it isn't (y'all likely know what I mean).  Thankfully, the 'isn't's are less intense and less frequent, but I am still uncomfortable with negative emotions.

I am realizing now that negative emotions and events are just part of life.  As the first Noble Truth of Buddhism says, Suffering (dukkah) occurs.  It isn't punishment for something you've done wrong or failed to do, it isn't karma doubling back to slap you in the face, it is just an inevitable part of human existence.

So all normal human life includes negative thoughts, emotions and occurrences.  Once I accept this, it is no longer compelling to need to escape from these via alcohol.  But those old neural connections run deep, and can kick in when I least expect it.

The bonus of accepting and feeling the negative emotions is that when I am not busy blocking thinking about scary things, not busy avoiding them with alcohol, the other things in my environment, including positive events and emotions, become brighter and more intense.  This is one of the major benefits, for me, of backing away from alcohol!!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sober Day #69- A Bit Difficult

Yesterday was tough for me- which took me totally by surprise.  Perhaps it is the letdown of the holidays being over?  Or the gloomy low-sunshine weather?

Anyway, everything felt flat and boring yesterday.  As least half a dozen times I caught the thought- Why don't I go get a nice bottle of wine for the evening?  As though that would relieve the boredom, add some excitement and meaning to my existence.   But Wolfie did not get the better of me!

I gritted my teeth, drank some diet ginger ale, ate a bit, read another magazine, played candy crush, more ginger ale- and went to bed early.  Today seems better.

These Sneak Attacks are hard, and take a ton of energy to power through!  But I keep comforting myself with imagined pictures of those new non-drinking neural pathways being laid down, making the next time easier, and the one after that, easier still!  I hope! :)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sober Day #68: Stress and Thinking just wrote a great post on how to get started with sobriety.  In it she mentions a Time mag cover story in 2007 on How We Get Addicted.  I read this with great interest!

From this story:

"Another fundamental target for addiction treatments is the stress network...stress can increase the desire for drugs."

"The part of the prefrontal cortex that is involved in  deliberate cognition is shut down by stress. " (Carrie says:  this is part of the fight or flight response).  "It's supposed to be, but it's even more so in substance abusers."

"A less responsive frontal cortex sets up addicts to be more impulsive as well".  (Carrie says:  impulsivity includes accepting and consuming alcohol or drugs without fully considering the consequences).

And another piece of my personal puzzle fell into place.

I remembered reading past stories about how success can set people up for failure.  What these studies showed was how stress can set one up for failure to apply logical thinking to situations.

Here's how it works.  Give a big group of students all the same test.  Regardless of performance, tell half that they did really well, but not outstanding.  Tell the other half that they did OK, but might do better another time.  (Remember there was no real difference in performance between the groups; the students were just told that there were).

Then offer both groups a chance to take a similar test, and to use the second score instead of the first. Many more in the 'OK' group chose to take the second test than did those in the 'Really Well' group.  It could be, of course, that the 'Really Well' group decided they were content with a 'good' score, and didn't need to stretch for 'fabulous'.  But in many, it was a fear that they would not do as well on the second exam.  Succeeding the first time made them afraid to tackle the task again.

How does this relate to the Time magazine piece?  Any test is, for most people, a stress.  And in this situation, the prefrontal cortex (Carrie:  this bit is all my connections and conclusions, not part of either article), the deliberate cognition part, begins to respond to stress by shutting down.  This shutting down keeps the 'really well' students from logically concluding that by taking the test once, they are now familiar with the test type and general content, and are likely to do better on a second test.

There are many parallel challenging or stress-inducing situations in each of our lives daily:  the store is out of the one ingredient we need for our special recipe, the washing machine breaks down, one of our kids is behaving badly, etc.   What if we retreat from dealing with these situations logically because stress has shut down our logical thinking? As the Time article says "(The shutdown of prefrontal cognition by stress) is supposed to be, but it's even more so in substance abusers."-  which would make those of us who turn/turned to alcohol for stress relief even more prone to this impulsivity and avoidance of rational considerations.

Here's a very crisp situation where I encountered this in my life.  I've mentioned before the website Lumosity, with brain-training-type games which give short time limits to complete.  On each visit, it sums up your performance with respect to you age peer group.  On my first few visits I did very well, with nice ego-stroking scores.  Then over the next weeks, I kept finding more reasons not to visit.

I finally realized I had some underlying fear of not doing as well on future games as I already had, and seeing my score sink.  "Really, Carrie!", I said to myself.  "A silly computer game is not so stressful that you have to avoid it for fear of your performance!".

After contemplation, I decided that Lumosity was an ideal training ground for me, a limited-risk stress-desensitization opportunity.  An so I have been doing it daily, whether I felt like it or not.  Yes, there is a general upward trend to my scores- but that isn't the point.

The point is:  Lumosity is a situation where I am able to feel stress and practice not shutting down, not shifting my prefrontal lobe into a Fight or Flight response.   And what I can handle here will slowly but surely be translating into my daily life, when a car unexpectedly cuts in front of me, or when the house is on fire, or when someone offers me a lovely glass of wine.  By exercising my ability to keep rational thinking (cognition) present in the face of stress, I am increasing my chances of long-term successful sobriety.

I love it when I find these connections and Aha! moments!!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sober Day #67- No Drama

Overuse of Alcohol is always accompanied by Drama.  (I think this is true- although 'always statements always make me nervous, lol).  For many the drama is overt, out in the open- noisy fights, door-slamming disagreements, drunk driving, etc.  For me, however- and many others, I am finding out- the drama was always covert, quiet, secret.  And I think it is harder to see the damage from this type of drama, harder perhaps to admit there is a problem with alcohol.

I liked drinking at home, by myself.  An old favorite book or some new magazines was great-  and I would quietly sip glass after glass of wine until I fell asleep.

So where's the drama in this scenario?  Inside!

It was the daily focus on:  What wine is in the house?  Do I need to buy more?  If so, where and when?  The avoidance of other evening activities that might cut into this drinking time.  The dropping out, bit by bit, of other enjoyable activities that didn't involve wine.  The morning fogginess, the butt-dragging approach to each new day.  It became a tunnel-vision version of wine, wine, wine- with everything else, everyone else being only of peripheral interest.  And althoughthis happened while I was continuing to function well professionally, working out and remaining fit, keeping the house functioning well-

There was always this internal drama, this continuing back-chatter of avoidance, alcohol-focus, recrimination, shame:  almost like living a second hidden life along with my outer functional one.  This was a huge energy-suck, and having no energy left for creativity and non-alcohol fun compounded the dominant role of alcohol in my life.

At just over 2 months sober, this is incredibly different now.  I awaken thinking of what awesome things I can tackle this day- rather than how little I can do and still function well.  I bounce out of bed- almost literally- rather than slowly dragging my feet to the floor.  I have energy and enthusiasm - not all the time, but the majority of the time.  My mind runs in fruitful circles around itself, devising new things to try and finding fun and satisfaction in things I'm already doing- even as simple as seeing a cardinal on a snowy tree out my kitchen window while washing dishes.

I have to admit that, to my surprise, this ability to spend time here and now, without all energy being sucked up by internal alcohol-related drama, is amazingly satisfying and nourishing.

So I have a new guideline for myself:  If something feels dramatic, compelling in a soap-opera sort of way, or becomes  an energy-suck type of focus?  It's time for me to examine it very closely, and see what lies I may be telling myself about this event/situation/thoughts.

Since a lot of early sobriety involves dealing with pains and dysfunctions that we drank to escape, there is a lot of sitting-through-pain and dealing with distasteful reality and non-productive adaptations we've developed over time.  Finding clues like:  Examine the Dramas-  seems to help me dig out those dark roots and mal-adaptive behaviours that I have probably been feeling/using since childhood.

I find I very much like these no-drama moments, and they reinforce my decision never to be a daily drinker, and over-user of alcohol again!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sober Day #66- the Burden of Shame

So many new to or considering sobriety talk about shame:  the shame of misusing alcohol, the shame of relationship or job problems caused by over-use of alcohol, the shame of alcohol-fueled obnoxious or illegal behaviour.

And shame feels so bad, so soul-destroying, that we will do almost anything to avoid it.  For most of us, the easiest most familiar escape is the anesthesia of alcohol.  Bottoms up! Pour another glass!

This becomes a very vicious self-replicating circle.  Feel shame, feel bad, escape with alcohol, feel more shame about drinking, more alcohol to escape....  

Shame is a powerful negative, unwarranted and useless emotion.  Useless? you say??.   Unwarranted?  Yes.  Shame involves feeling defective, feeling powerless, feeling as though one doesn't deserve happiness, doesn't deserve sobriety, doesn't even deserve a life.  Shame is poisonous and destructive.  Shame serves no useful purpose, and is a huge de-motivator for sobriety.  (Randles, Tracy 2013- see full reference below)

Guilt can be useful- it may feel bad, but it can also motivate appropriate reparation.  Embarrassment also feels bad, but can motivate avoidance of repeating the situations causing the embarrassment.  But shame?  It just cuts you off at the knees.  It makes you feel useless, defective, unworthy.  And none of us should feel shamed.

It is part of our birthright as human beings that we are inherently worthy people.  We have made mistakes and bad choices, have done things we are sorry about-  but we are still worthy people:  People who deserve to escape the trap of alcohol, people who deserve friends and support, people who deserve to pursue sobriety and happiness.

Let go of shame.  I deserve better, and so do you!

Randles D, Tracy JL.  Nonverbal Displays of Shame Predict Relapse and Declining Health in Recovering Alcoholics.  Clinical Psychological Science, April 2013; vol. 1, 2: pp. 149-155., epub February 4, 2013 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sober Day #65- Emotions and Fear

Alcohol numbs us- to our surroundings, our emotions, our fears.  Most of us who turn to alcohol as a solution feel inadequate in some way, unequal to the challenges of our lives, afraid we can't 'handle' the emotions we'd feel if not numbed. And with sobriety, we can be flooded with the very emotions we have been trying to avoid.  How to deal with this?

I'm discovering it's much simpler than it initially seems.  You just sit still and allow yourself to feel.  You notice how you are feeling.  It's kind of like letting your tongue feel a sore tooth, at first.  It feels strange, unaccustomed and possible dangerous.  Keep feeling.  Don't shut it off.  Just sit with it.  And after a bit, you find yourself thinking:  well, this isn't that hard after all.

Even the really tricky emotions- jealousy, fear, hatred- they all dissipate over time.  Especially when you keep reminding yourself, these are emotions occurring in my mind, they have no concrete reality of their own.  Therefore, if I don't like them, I do have the power to change them.

One of this big benefits of this, besides lessening the pull of anesthetic alcohol, is that it also frees you to feel the positive emotions.  (anesthesia lessens or shuts off all emotions, good and bad, happy and sad- it doesn't work selectively!).  And those pleasant, joyful emotions-they also feed one's soul and lessen the attractiveness of alcohol as a solution.

Examples:  Last night I sat on the sofa in my bedroom, reading before bed.  One dog was curled up next to me, one was curled up at my feet, and the third was doing adorable calithenics on the bed.  I took a moment to really enjoy the scene:  Warm and cozy, soft and comfortable, great canine friends- and a good book.  Contentment.

This morning, I opened the garage door to head off to work-  and found snow.  An inch or more.  Sigh, another force trying to make me late for work.  But then as I drove, I switched my focus.  It was still dark.  As I drove, the snowflakes caught in my headlights, and appeared to be coming toward me (like that old windows star screensaver).  It was absolutely lovely:  Enchantment.

Making that conscious shift to being truly present for the moment, noticing what is happening around me, finding the good, the amusing, the beautiful-  these feelings feed that fearful place in my soul, and help bolster my resistance to that siren call of Wolfie, the King of Alcohol.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sober Day #64: Conversation

Me (to Mister):  I was remembering years ago when I had surgery, and was in the hospital for 5 or 6 days afterward.  I felt vaguely nauseated the whole time-  from the pain medicine, I think.  Specifically, I was remembering that woozy, spinning-head, not-quite-there feeling from the pain medicine.

Mister:  So, what about it?

Me:  I had this brief love-hate relationship with the pain medicine then- I loved it because it took away that searing acute pain, but I dreaded each dose because it made me feel like not-myself.

Mister:  Oh?

Me:  So, looking at it from the vantage point of 60+ days without alcohol, I see a resemblance between the Pain-Medicine-Not-Me feeling and how I feel after drinking alcohol.  I wonder why I never noticed that before?

Mister:  What do you mean?

Me:  Drinking alcohol is that same sort of feeling:  Each glass put me further and further from being my real self, and more and more into that dizzying, not-quite-real, separated feeling.

Mister:  Really?

Me:  Yeah.  And I really don't like that feeling.  I wonder why I never noticed that before about alcohol?

Mister:  Because you were in pain, and alcohol brought you pain relief.

Me: Oh.  Yeah.