Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sober Day #120- Boredom and Abstinence

For the past week or so, I've been feeling just a wee bit bored.  Bored with the effort of abstinence, bored with life in general.

Perhaps it is the gloomy winter weather, the lack of sun, the seemingly-perpetual cold?  But I think I also hear the voice of Wolfie:

(soft whisper) "Now you've proven you can do it!  Nearly 4 months without alcohol.  But that means you have control, you don't have to keep doing this-  go on, grab a bottle and settle down to an evening of real relaxation."

(more insistent) "You know what?  This is getting really old.  At first, it was a fab accomplishment, each day seemed like a new discovery- but can you say booooooring?"

(louder still)  "This isn't going to work forever, you know.  Go ahead and have a glass of wine when your friends are.  That glass of club soda with lime looks so stupid."

And yet:  I have made a commitment to myself for 2014 to be without alcohol.  And I am physically feeling awesome.  In a few weeks, I will be traveling to New Orleans again, and then on to a meeting in Las Vegas- there will be more sunshine there.

I think that voice above is not a true voice, not a helpful voice.  I went to bed quite early last night to shut it up.  Perhaps I need a new pair of shoes today.  I've been craving a pair of navy blue patent leather pointy-toed flats.  A web search for the perfect pair would be a nice project/reward for later today.

I might have to go to bed really early again tonight.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sober Day #116: Willpower and alcohol

Just do it?

Easy for Nike to say!  Whoops, no, that's about exercise.  Just say no?  Oh, that was Nancy Reagan.  Just set down the bottle, stupid!  Oh, if only it were that easy!!

Those of us who've had problems with excess alcohol consumption know there is a constant inner battle between:  Today I won't have any wine, and:  OMG, I can't live through the rest of this day without wine.

Here's a simplistic example:  Suppose you love chocolate chip cookies, and there is a platter of delectable ones sitting next to you.

Scenario A:
      Situation:  You put no mental restraints on your eating patterns.
      Result:  You eat or don't eat a cookie, and there is no mental stress attached with either.

Scenario B:
      Situation:  You have told yourself No Sweets Today.  But they look so good.  You eat two.
      Result:   Immediate gratification, but after about 5 minutes, you start beating up on yourself for not keeping your agreement.  This may or may not lead to eating the rest of the platter.

Situation C:
      Situation:  You have told yourself No Sweets Today.  You sit there trying to ignore the call of the cookies.  After about 30 minutes, you can't stand the temptation any more, so you (a) put them down the garbage disposal (b) give them to the neighborhood children, or other.
     Result:  You've exercised a lot of will-power and you've won!  You feel tired but triumphant.

Here's the really crazy part!  Suppose you then serve people from each group a large bowl of their favorite flavor of ice cream.  Studies show that after an exercise like this, people from Group C usually eat far more of the ice cream than Groups A or B.

WhaaaaT?  Aren't these the people who just showed how well they could use their willpower in the Cookie part of the exercise?  How could this happen?

It turns out that Willpower is in finite supply in most of us.  You can't just endlessly count on using willpower to change a deeply in-grained habit.  The habit will win a significant amount of the time.  That's why we need a whole deep bag of strategies for helping us change our alcohol consumption.

(now we are veering into my personal opinion, rather that scientific studies).  I think that is what's so brilliant about Belle's idea of frequent small and large rewards.  In my experience, a pleasant reward sort of resets my willpower supply.  For example, suppose I've had a stressful day at work.  I arrive home, and regret that I've decided not to indulge in my old habit of a large glass of crisp white wine.  I know I've decided not to drink today, and I resist the urge-  but I feel a bit cheated, put-upon.

Then, however, I remember my rewards system, and have a large piece of my favorite chocolate cake, or indulge in alone-time in a luxurious bubble bath.  Suddenly, I feel taken-care-of, reset, ready to tackle the rest of the evening without that pouty/resentful feeling/look on my face.

If you dropped by my house, say, an hour later, with a bottle of my favorite wine to share-  by then, I'd be ready and able to say:  No, thanks, not today.  Would you like to try some of the fabulous iced tea I just made?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sober Day #111- Changes on my Radar Screen

I'm finding that with longer sobriety (I'm working on month #4 now) my personal radar screen is changing.  There are multiple things about my home, avocations and work that simply did not register when I was drinking.  My MO then was do whatever is needed to 'keep the ship afloat'- ie, satisfactorily complete the tasks absolutely required for keeping an even keel to my life, and ignore everything else.

WRT the house, this was probably compounded by having a live-in Nanny/Housekeeper until just 2 years ago.  When she was ready to retire, we decided that with our youngest being 13, we were ready to go solo.  This remained more of a 'holding things together' approach, though, rather than anything deliberate or proactive.  Crises were taken care of as they arose.

Over the past few months, I've begun realizing that there may actually be another way of doing things.  For example- over the weekend, two of the smoke detectors were doing their very annoying shrill beeping to let me know they needed new batteries.  Frustrated, I looked for batteries or another way to make them shut up.  Then the thought struck- Wait, these were new when the house was built, almost 15 years ago.  I know technology has improved!  Sure enough, Amazon had dual-type smoke detectors capable of raising a warning about both a fast flash fire and a slow smoldering fire.  I walked through the house counting smoke detectors and ordered a dozen of those suckers.  And I will have a handyman install them when they arrive.

Fist pump into the air, I am proactively improving our home safety!

And last night, I was cooking.  I was annoyed that my favorite knife was so dull, and unhappy at the way the electric knife sharpener I'd purchased was performing.  How frustrating!  Then, wait a minute, there are people who sharpen knives for a living.  I had a little discovery quest with Mr. Google, and found a business quite nearby.  This morning after working out, I took them my knives and scissors.  Now not only do I have 6 very sharp knives- they also sharpened my fabric shears, AND honed the blade so that the broken off tip (Son trying to use it as a screwdriver) no longer shows.  Wow!!

Another fist pump!  I love chopping vegetables, etc, when I have a very sharp knife.  This will really help with my Back-to-Eating-Low-Carb project.

I'm considering putting together a household calendar, with such things as: twice yearly take knives to be sharpened, get gutters cleaned, etc., etc.

While drinking wine most evenings, these are problems/tasks that never even appeared on my radar screen. I suppose you could say, see, sobriety is just giving you more To-Do jobs.  But that is not how it feels.  It feels as though I am getting out ahead, planning my life, investing a little time now to save major time or problems later-  and I am very satisfied!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sober Day #108- Unexpected help

A few days ago I was sitting around home feeling a bit out of sorts.  It was about 5 PM, the time in the past that would have meant wine, and I think I was longing for that a bit.  I wasn't grumpy, nor depressed, just feeling sort of disconnected from everything, and really, wondering why I was bothering with this whole sobriety stuff.

I noticed a tune in the background.  15-year-old daughter keeps her radio on constantly in her room, and I have by now learned to pretty much relegate it background noise and ignore it.  But this one caught my attention.  I realized it was Carry On, my theme for abstinence.  And so I shall.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sober Day #106: Dreaming of Wine.

More drinking dreams!

Night before last: I was touring a city-  possibly Paris, or Luxembourg-walking around by myself, thoroughly enjoying my explorations.  I was carrying a small glass- shot glass size- of Grand Marnier (which IS my favorite liqueur) and it was very important to keep stopping places to have it refilled.  In this dream, I had no awareness of participating in the Challenge, and no guilty or shameful feelings about drinking, I was just enjoying it.  Although actually, now that I consider it again, perhaps there was a little sort-of-gleeful feeling about semi-sneaking around with this alcohol, knowing that I was outside the norms of behaviour, a little feeling of defiance or rebellion.

Last night: I was aware of this challenge and just where I am in real life.  I had 'accidentally' drunk two glasses of wine.  I was at that stage of "Oh, screw, I'll just drink until I fall asleep, that sounds so delicious".  And yet, I was pausing there, actually weighing the pros and cons of continuing to drink.  I think I was leaning toward not drinking more.  And I was also very aware that whatever I decided, I was going to lie to myself and everyone else about having 'slipped'.

When I awoke, I'm not sure which bothered me more, having consumed wine while intending not to, or intending to lie about having consumed wine.

So my subconscious appears quite interested in discussing drinking/not drinking with me. And probably has some pointers/meanings for me- if I were clever enough to decipher them.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sober Day #103- Settling In

Today I am settling in for the journey to 180 days and beyond.  This is no longer a temporary experiment.  I do intend to sample wine again, in the undetermined future-  but, as you know, when I considered if this was the right time, and tried hard to listen to my most authentic voice, the answer was a pretty certain:  No, not now.

Now even my subconscious is chiming in.  I had a dream where Mister and I were out for breakfast, and each had white wine that came in a little airplane-sized bottle.  (And he almost NEVER drinks white wine- pretty much a red only sorta guy).  And wine with breakfast?  Maybe once or twice in my entire life!  I finished mine and was eyeing his.  We were then back at home, and I felt back in the grip of that Gotta-Have-MORE-Right-Now feeling.  I was frantically searching around the house for any forgotten wine.  I knew we were expecting friends in a little bit, and was trying to figure how I could obtain more wine before they arrived.  It was that really intense, driven, nonsensical but compelling feeling of Needing More Wine-    Even in the dream I was aware of being just past 100 days with no alcohol-  but far from feeling ashamed of drinking when I planned not to, I just felt cunning, devious.  How was I going to successfully get MORE???  And how was I going to hide this drinking from anyone else who might care.

Waking up from that dream was quite a relief.  I'd forgotten how intense that Want More Now feeling could be.  On waking, I felt a little bit of resentment that my current decision means I couldn't go do just that, the mindless escape from anything real.  But even more overwhelming was my relief and gratitude that my being is really NOT tuned into that channel anymore.  And I appreciate that dream for reminding me just how bad it was.

For that dream to come from my subconscious, I know the roots of my bad habit of drinking run very deep.  And they will be there for quite a while yet.  They (AKA Wolfie) will be trying to send up a little green shoot here, a tender little morsel there.  And until this is gone, roots and all, I won't be trying alcohol again.  Perhaps that means never ever, perhaps not.  But the occurance of this dream confirms my decision to make 2014 alcohol-free for me.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Really Feeling it.

I read recently an explanation of why we (humans) seem so much more impacted by negative events than positive ones.  Thinking of the primitive human:  Failure to be alert to the sabertooth tiger stalking you?  This can kill you.  Noticing the beautiful sunrise? Appreciating a complement from your hunting partner?  These feel nice, but confer no survival impact.  So apparently humans are by now hard-wired to pay much more attention to the negative/dangerous things.

Fast forward.

No sabertooth tigers in my neighborhood.  Yet still, if neighbor A has failed to say hello when passing me on the street, followed by effusive greetings from neighbors B and C and D?    I find myself fretting about A, while barely remembering the others.  The survival advantage in this setting is much less clear, to say the least.

Working from that train of thought, I've decided it makes sense for me to purposefully target good stuff in my life with extra attention.  Some people keep Gratitude Journals, which is one way of approaching this.  And I considered it.  But for me, saying thank you has a component of "I'm glad you gave me something I really don't deserve".  Which probably reflects my warped reality rather than making any real sense-  but nevertheless, the idea of a gratitude journal wasn't working for me.

What I really wanted was to notice the delightful things that happen in my day, from one of my dogs thumping his tail against the floor when he sees me coming to opening a medical journal to see one of my articles in print, to...(fill in your delights here).

Then it struck me:  I will pay attention to what delights me each day.  A Delight List.  So here goes with yesterday's delight.  Yesterday, Day #100, was certainly a momentous day for me.  Yet I started, in my mind, to downplay its significance.  And caught myself:  Whoa, Carrie:  Pause and Enjoy!

I stopped on the way home from work and bought a small fancy cake to celebrate, which daughter and I enjoyed.  And I found this, on arriving home (From Mister, who works in a city about 5 hours away)

I'd already purchased some irises for myself-  they were my Grandmother Olive's favorite flower!  And Mister sent the beautiful multi-colored roses!  You can't really tell in this photo, but the red glass vase is shaped like a large heart.

This all makes my heart sing, and I am delighting in it!

And here's why this is important in a Sober Blog:  The more delight I have, the less I can even hear wine talking to me, and Wolfie's call becomes fainter and fainter!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Day #100: Celebrating! and Digging In!

Wow!  I truly did not think this was something I could accomplish.  I am amazed and grateful and very very happy.  Wow!

As I settle into finishing this year without alcohol, there are a number of things I want to tackle/change.  Some I knew for a while were problems, and other have become clearer as I see my life without the foggy lens of alcohol.

The biggest thing now is to continue disrupting that cycle of feel bad, feel bad about feeling bad, drink for relief.  This 100 days has interrupted the knee-jerk response of feel bad, suck down some wine.  But I am now ready to dig deeper, to examine how I create bad feelings in my life, and tackle changing these.

One of my 'favorite' mechanisms is to procrastinate- with any sort of task- feel bad about the task not being done, spend time worrying about it not being done-  and spend more time on this cycle of counter-productive feeling than it actually would have taken to complete the task.  It almost made me laugh when I figured out how pervasive this cycle is in my life-  It is EVERYWHERE.  And something so deeply ingrained is going be be a challenge to really change.  But changing the behaviours that led me to feel the need to drink- this seems very important to me!

Yesterday, I set my phone for 25 minutes, and tackled my kitchen messiness.  It took me an additional 10 minutes after this to finish it up to Really Tidy.  But it looked so nice!  And coming down this morning- to a tidy kitchen inviting me to have breakfast and pack a lunch for work today?  It felt so calming and supportive.

And that is a beginning.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sober Day #99!!- No Longer Scary!

I was really scared, I think, of having the 'freedom' to drink again after reaching 100 days.  Which means that alcohol still carries too much of an emotional attachment for me to consider trialing drinking again now.  I feel such relief at having made the decision to make 2014 an alcohol-free year for me.  By then, my new no-alcohol neuronal pathways should be firmly established, and I can think then about what I want to do for the following year.  I'm not yet convinced I need to be a Never-Ever person- but I may be.

I have become aware of how many things I procrastinate on-  put off, it seems, mostly in order to have something to feel bad about.  And feeling bad creates stress, and stress creates the desire for relief, which by habit and inclination involves copious amounts of wine...I am embarking on a major reform program, seeking out these ways and times, and working on replacing them with more productive approaches.

One of today's tasks:  My Kitchen.

I realized as I headed up to bed last night that the kitchen was a mess, yet again (it is amazing how much chaos one almost-16-year-old-girl can create)- and started to descend into the 'man, I feel so bad about this, it is such a burden'- before I caught myself.

Carrie, I said, look, really look, at the kitchen.  It isn't all that bad.  There are dishes to put in the dishwasher, counters to clear, a tablecloth to change.  But you are talking to yourself as though there is a whole day or two of work to make it tidy.  I bet you (I said to myself) that in 25 minutes or less you can pretty much make this a model kitchen.  NO feeling-bad required.

I think I put things off because they seem so immense-  that I have let the tasks grow in my imagination until they become mountains of effort.  Allowing me to put them off, and feel bad about putting them off, yada, yada...

So this afternoon, in a few minutes, I am trying something different.  A la Belle's organizing course, I will set my phone for 25 minutes, and work on the kitchen until the timer goes off.  How much do you think I can get done?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sober Day #98- Serendipity

Or, in my new counting scheme, this is 3 months in, starting month #4.

Some of the biggest things in my life have happened by sort of backing into them, without them being part of a Grand Plan.  Medical school was like that- I applied sort of as a lark, intending to work for a PhD in Genetics, and have a research career. When I was accepted to medical school, I thought, I might as well try it!  And here I am, several decades into a fascinating profession!

Getting married (after my freshman year in college, at age 19!) happened when we sort of decided that it might be easier than just living together, and that one rent was cheaper than two rents.  And now, um, forty-something years later- it's still a go!

And so it was with Belle's 100 day challenge.  I was feeling discouraged, ashamed and frustrated.  Once I had the brilliant thought of looking to see if there were any websites about stopping alcohol, hers was one of the first I found.  And I was just feeling down enough that grasping at the 'straw' of 100 days seemed somehow reasonable.    And here I am, 3 months sober, with the firm intention of completing another 11 months without alcohol before again thinking about whether or not to drink at all.

My point?  Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans (Often attributed to John Lennon, but probably originating about 2 decade before he used the phrase).  Sometimes your feet take you in a direction that your conscious mind knows nothing about! (But your subconscious may well be planning for you!).

So here's a toast (seltzer water with lime!) to serendipity and coincidence and all those other seemingly-random things that happen to us.  They are often worth a second or third look!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sober Day #97: Abundance

Yup.  My theme for the rest of this year is Abundance.  Abundance in all but alcohol and carbohydrates.  2014:  The Year of Abundance.

That means developing a whole network for myself of supports and celebrations of being sober.  It means dipping my toes into all sorts of experiences I would formerly have avoided because they were unfamiliar (outside comfort zone), cut into drinking time, or both.  It means learning to be genuine, authentic in my pleasures, rather than relying on the pseudo-pleasure of an alcoholic release from reality.

You've seen that funny tag-line:  Reality is Over-rated?  My Tag-line for 2014 is 'Reality is a Hoot!'

I feel almost giddy about my decision for an alcohol-free 2014.  Which tells me this is definitely the right decision for me.  Not the Easy Decision, nor the one I expected.  Not the Obvious or Socially-adept decision.  Just Right.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sober Day #96. Decided.

So I have now made my decision:  2014 will be an alcohol-free year for me.  But what a tussle it has been arriving at this.

Here are the things that tipped the scale toward continued abstinence for now:

(1)  Listening to the experience of those who have had problems with moderation after abstinence.  Which would be, as far as I can tell, everyone.

(2)  Mrs. D, helping me see that I was confusing the two decisions:  Whether to drink now, and what to use as sustainable rewards rather than food.

(3)  A short kindle book called Between Drinks, as well as the many others I have read.

(4) Belle's counsel, about if it's working now, why take chances.

(5)  My therapist's comment about the 3-6 month time period being the most dangerous for relapse when changing any sort of ingrained habit

(6) A long involved dream last night, which boiled down to a several-stage international flight gone awry, with all sorts of bizarre happenings, ending up where I'd started, feeling very annoyed about the whole thing.  I decided the flight corresponded to trialing alcohol now, and that the ending would be wishing I hadn't.

(7) Lastly, my personal feeling of bouyancy, once I made this decision.  I know it is right for me now.

My next task now?  Coming up with an awesome panel of rewards and incentive to support and celebrate this decision.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sober Day #95: Thinking!

I am thinking hard about what I want to do next.

I am very grateful for information about others' experiences.

Me:  What would I want from alcohol that I don't have now without it?

The other me:  Well, a little more fun with awesome mental vacations to anticipate.  But it is true that alcohol fucks with your sleep, and keeps you from having your full energy to tackle the next day.

Me:  So why would I want the extra expense and calories?

Other me:  Um- body weight?  You've gained about 7 pounds since starting the 100 days, and I know how much that bothers you.  With more alcohol again, it would be easier to eat less, and not have those Carb-rich treats that your body doesn't handle well.

Me:  So, if I continued with no alcohol, and stopped having food treats-  where would I find that short-term daily respite?

Other me:  What about your weekly massage?

Me:  I already do that anyway, to keep me in good shape for my weight-lifting, so although it is a treat, it is one I am already used to, so there is no mood boost there?

Other me:  What about other treats?

Me:  One of the joys and problems of being relatively affluent is that when I really really want something, I usually just buy it.

Other me:  Yeah, I can see how taking away things you currently do for yourself in order to call them treats really doesn't work.

Me:  Days on end without alcohol or carb treats sounds pretty bleak.

Other me:  Well, so did days on end without alcohol when you first started this.

Me;  True.  Are you suggesting I should/could just suck up the misery of no alcohol and low carb and wait to get used to it.

Other me:  I guess I was, but that doesn't really sound very attractive/do-able, does it?

Me;  No.

Other me:  Let's talk some more later.  I understand that fitness is a huge big deal for you.  Perhaps striving to be the best you possibly can in this area, by continuing with no alcohol AND going back to your usual low carb eating could somehow work.  I know it would make you feel good- it's just an issue of how to reward yourself, and keep yourself from feeling so deprived that you say Fuck It, and go out to buy a box of wine and a whole coconut cake.

Me:  Yeah.  OK.  I'll be pondering this.