Saying goodbye to wine and the weight of addiction.

Last Saturday at a party I saw many people I hadn’t seen since I stopped my daily wine habit earlier this year. Some people said straight out: “Man, you’ve lost weight!” or “Isn’t your husband feeding you anymore?” or “Wow, you look great!” (my personal fave, cutting to the chase). Others just kind of looked me up and down, clearly noticing the change. I was never really that overweight, but for sure I was borderline; what they saw then but is gone now is mostly the bloated, puffed-out face and figure of a highly-functioning alcoholic which I dragged around for years.

When I drank I was in denial about many things, but one that continues to surprise me is how I could block out just how many calories and sugar are in an average bottle of wine. Add savory, salty, cheesy snacks ON TOP OF DINNER AND ALL THAT WINE on any given night, so yes of course it’s no wonder I looked like the Michelin Man.

While I am more than happy to be rid of the accompanying physical bloat of alcohol addiction, the release of the weight of anxiety means more to me than any compliment I may receive on my appearance. Because I have quit drinking I am better able to handle conflict, awkward situations, and challenges. The daily intake of alcohol made my situation much worse – not better.

My Wine Witch is sad tonight, and I couldn’t be happier.

Today, instead of fighting my usual wine craving while driving home from work, I was preoccupied with some ideas I have about writing and working on my illustrations. This is new. I am still stunned that this happened; the first day in four months while driving home from work that I did not have to excruciatingly self-talk my way through a wine craving.

The happiness I feel now during what is pretty much an uneventful day is strange. Most things in my world remain unchanged. I still have the same job, my bills haven’t disappeared, I still struggle with producing creative work consistently, and we still have the same president (that I still can’t believe ever got to the White House). Yes, the month of June is helping with the lush green leaves and clear cobalt skies, mild temperatures, and my daughter back from her first year at college. The reasons to feel good are many, but none of these things would be as great if I was still checking out every night with my bottle of wine.

I “celebrated” by sitting down for longer than usual at the dinner table, sipping my sparkling water, my daughter leading the conversation. I wasn’t uptight about the messy house (dorm room stuff currently takes over the living room), the weeds in my garden, or the unfinished draft of the proposal I owe my boss tomorrow morning.

The normal rhythms and routines of life used to drive me to drink, goaded on by the ever-present Wine Witch twisting my thinking: you have me, you needn’t face those things. Now that alcohol is out of my system, I move through the day evenly with less anxiety. I am more patient with myself and others. Most of all, I now see the time that I used to drink as time that can be used for so many other, better, meaningful things.

I don’t expect tomorrow to be the same, but I am grateful for the hope today gives me.

Opening the roadblocks of perfectionism.

While half-lit most days I brought on impossible expectations of myself and others. The hours spent drinking involved lots of dreamy moments waiting for things to materialize, or circumstances to turn in my favor. With a clearer mind now I see that my fabrication of such high standards was not only ironic, as I was in no state to appreciate them, but also futile. My impatience for perfection closed the door to learning new things and accepting the “flaws” that make us human.

For the past several years I’ve been working on humorous thematic illustrations with a view towards creating a stationery line. Somehow I was able to produce work here and there on weekends, before wine o’clock hit everyday at 5 p.m. Others would tell me that I have business potential, there is a market, I should create more, etc. Deep into my wine haze I would skim the internet and gaze at the work of other illustrators and artists, and decide that I am neither up to the task nor am I very good at what I’m trying to do. My drawings were never good enough and the What am I thinking? self-talk quashed any progress. Along with the idea that I wasn’t up to snuff, I piled on excuses as to why I never had the time to think through this idea and produce the work necessary to make it real: My 9-5 ball and chain, motherhood, and all the time-sucking chores of being a responsible homeowner.

In sobriety my perspective on this self-inflicted “problem” has shifted. The roadblocks of perfectionism and squeezed time are opening slowly, and I can only hope to chip away at their permanent removal. So far, during the four months without my alcohol-addled brain driving the bus, I have worked on illustrations that, frankly, suck. Imperfect doesn’t describe them. In the bin they go! The difference is that now – instead of throwing in the towel and blaming a multitude of factors outside of myself – I see these situations as learning moments. What could I have done differently? I try to figure that out and start again, often producing something decent as a result. Also, since I no longer take up three to four hours each day drinking, there is my “extra” time to draw and work out ideas. I had this time all along, but misused it by letting addiction win.

Time to plant my own flowers.

When I drank it was easy to blame my depression and inertia on other people and my limiting beliefs. Instead of looking inward for a way out, I stopped at the barriers I unwittingly constructed myself. Art was a bust because of my dad’s unwillingness to put me through art school. My writing would never be as good as the literary stars on my map. And why would anyone try to sing and play guitar when there’s Joni Mitchell?

These self-defeating patterns of thought ruled my days all throughout my addiction. Even after just four months of clarity, with my brain slowly coming back to life, I see how this kind of thinking held me back from being myself.

In the book, The 30-Day Sobriety Solution, the chapter on how limiting beliefs can make you stuck resonated with me. A light went off.

Your beliefs determine your decisions and your behavior, which in turn, create your future. A belief can be so powerful that if you are exposed to information that contradicts that belief, your brain will actually filter it out.

The 30-Day Sobriety Solution

For years my limiting beliefs surrounded me, holding me in, bolstered by drink. Instead of painting, because I thought I could never be any good at it, I drank. Why finish that short story when no one will read it? Open a bottle instead. Guitar lessons cost money (but never mind the amount of cash I threw away on wine). These beliefs became so ingrained that any time I mustered up the courage to create something, it wasn’t long before gave up. I did keep trying, however, and I have the scraps and remnants of unfinished ideas everywhere.

It’s time to pick them up, dust them off, discard what doesn’t work, keep the rest, and start new things. I am done waiting for some kind of miracle to land. The change has to come from within, and the first step is to get rid of the weeds (my limiting beliefs) and plant my own damn flowers.

The official end of boozy summers.

The beautiful summer weather is here, along with cracking thunderstorms, bugs, and way, way too many opportunities to find some event outside where drink is involved. In the upper Midwest when it finally gets warm people tend to go a little nuts as we learn that the sun still exists and it has not forsaken us. Between street festivals, outdoor concerts, craft markets, sports events, food trucks, restaurant patios, open brewery halls and ubiquitous home barbecues, the presence of alcohol IS EVERYWHERE.

Nearly four months sober I tread lightly in this world of warm weather celebration, where it’s assumed that everyone wants a drink to accompany whatever cool thing they are doing. Why yes, I would like a nice frosty IPA while I move from venue to venue at the art fair. A cool, crisp glass of white wine is the perfect thing to sip on the Italian restaurant patio (while waiting for the 1300 calorie pasta dish). And let’s face it, what good is a lazy swing on backyard hammock without a gin and tonic in hand?

Unless I want to white-knuckle through while everyone else drinks, where does this leave me? Sitting at home watching Netflix, or, at last I can dive into that collection of Chekhov stories, while the warm sunlight dances over the boozy crowds?

To walk among the drinkers and not drink is one of the hardest things about sobriety.

Essential Quit Lit Books by Women

Staying steady and sober would be impossible for me unless I had books like the ones below to get me through each day. While I can relate to some of these stories better than others, the underlying message is the same throughout. Recovery is not easy, it takes time, and it takes work. Eventually, you get your life back.

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

Unwasted by Sacha Z. Scoblic

The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson

From wine-drinking cynic to tea-obsessed optimist in three short months.

When I drank I used throw out sarcastic, cynical quips into the conversation whenever I could. My idea of humor was always on the dark side, not just a little dark, but often downright off the wall. To begin to understand where this comes from entails looking at the people I’ve hung out with and the places I’ve been. My family, too, have a big influence still – for the most part my siblings have negativity and cynicism in SPADES. When I drank the worst aspects of these influences came out. The saddest thing is that I thought I was being funny. Not so much.

I know a woman, “Joanie” who is fits the Pollyanna profile to a ‘T’. Even in the face of adversity, she responds with a cheerleader’s exuberance. Just lost your entire novel because your computer crashed? “Just start over!” Your kid just broke his leg skiing? “It will heal!” Your SO just got laid off? “There are plenty of other jobs out there!” Etc. etc. When I drank I had a hard time accepting that people like her could exude such positiveness in the face of life’s suckiest moments. I would wince, look on incredulously, and then likely throw in some sort of negative comment.

When I drank every day I tried to deny that I wanted to be happy like Joanie. In fact, I thought it was way cooler to be circumspect, questioning, skeptical, or cynical – in other words, miserable.

I will never pretend that things are great when they’re not, but now that I no longer block out my natural inclination for real happiness with drink, my days are better. My outlook is sunnier. Now, instead of opening a bottle of wine every night after work to try to erase the day, I make myself a pot of Japanese green tea and read something positive and inspirational. My early evening cravings diminish, along with my negativity.

Now that I am sober I understand that this is Joanie’s MO, her way of getting by, getting through life. The giant smiley-face sticker on the back of her Jeep tells people who she is, and how she wants you to be too.

The discomforts and rewards of staying sober.

I did it. I lasted the long weekend without letting drink interfere with my sobriety goals. And, I socialized. I went to a baseball game and a barbecue. I walked through the neighborhood filled with the sounds of little kids playing, adults laughing (and drinking), and teenagers driving fast with music blaring from their car windows (don’t tell me they were sober).

Was it hard to not drink my usual glass of crisp white wine so I could feel a part of all the other people celebrating the start of summer? Did I find myself looking longingly at my friend’s glass as she took sip after sip of her drink? Did the smell of the spilled beer on the patio make me think of days past when my summers were spent at kegs and outdoor festivals? Yes, yes, and yes. Did I miss being hungover and unproductive this morning as I watched the neighborhood slowly come to life, sat and wrote, sketched out a story idea, and threw in a load of laundry? No, no, and no.

The discomfort of being sober while everyone around me is drinking cannot be ignored. I walked through it by accepting the feeling. Yes, it was hard. I wanted to drink along with everyone else. What guided me through the cravings were these incentives:

  • Sleeping continuously through the night, waking refreshed
  • Getting up and feeling ready for the day, which now seems filled with possibility…there are not enough hours to do what I want to accomplish!
  • Having more honest conversations with people – at home, at work, socially
  • Anxiety, restlessness, and depression are not gone entirely, but they are mere shadows compared to when I drank every day
  • Slimmer figure, better skin, clearer eyes, more energy!
  • Improved endurance, whether mentally (writing, painting) or physically (at the gym, house chores)

Keeping these incentives top of mind is one critical component of my sobriety toolkit. What are your incentives to stay away from drink when the discomfort and cravings kick in?

Getting through the holidays sober.

Tonight I am meeting up with my usual group of friends for a backyard barbeque. The host has a cooler the size of a bathtub in which he fills to the brim a variety of beers and wine. Everyone who goes to these gatherings drinks, a lot. I used to be one of them.

Now I have to figure out how to get through the night without drinking. I will drink spring water and try my best to talk along with the rest of them, hearing the same old stories, jokes, and laughter about things that are only mildly funny. Since I decided to stop drinking, this is my first time “out” with everyone. To be able to get through the night without anyone pointing out the fact that I am not drinking is impossible. I want to have my mind made up as to how I will answer, but I really don’t know what to say. The stigma of sobriety still hangs heavy over me. Unlike some bloggers who wear it loud and proud, I am still dipping my toe in regarding how to deal with being sober in these drink-laden social events.

I realize that I can’t control how other people think or feel and I need to be true to myself and my sobriety goals. Most of all, I realize too that what other people think about usually rarely has anything to do with me. I will get there, and I am trying. It would be more self-defeating of me to simply avoid the situation altogether, which would be easy to do. But they are my friends, and I can’t simply cut them out of my life because they drink and I do not. I can control how often I see them, maybe, and try to build new relationships with other people who are sober. It’s a long road, and I’m only on the first stretch.

How do you manage your social life now that you are sober?

What mornings are like now that I am not drinking.

Much to my surprise, people, I am a MORNING PERSON. Now that I sleep better all the way through the night, I wake up feeling great. You know those drug commercials where they show the actor smiling, leaping out of bed after a night where said effects of the drug clearly worked? The dramatic sweep of the fresh sheets, usually some sort of cute puppy bouncing around, and the incredibly bright, sunny rays glowing all around? That’s not me exactly, but close. When I compare to how I used to lay there and dread the day before me after a night of restless, stiff, headachy “sleep,” now I wake up with a clear head, muscles that want to move, and I am eager to get going on my day.

I am still going to the same job for which I am overqualified and don’t love, but my attitude has changed towards it, and I deal with the ups and downs in a different way. When I chose this job I was still governed by the negative effects and underlying causes of my addiction. Too lazy and foggy to do the work to find a better match, and lacking in the confidence to seek out a more challenging role.

The good thing is while the work itself requires minimal brain power, I can use what’s left over to work on recovery. This means writing in the mornings very early before anyone else (including the cats) are up, and also during lunchtime, as my employer provides plenty of private spaces for employees, and I can do this without interruption. I am grateful for the physical and mental space to start writing again.

Early mornings also mean eating better, wearing clothes that actually look somewhat thought-out, and avoiding the worst of rush hour. Some days I even find a decent podcast or audiobook to play for inspiration or laughs, while I drink my coffee and get in the mindset for a busy day.

This is a huge contrast to when I would drag myself out the door in a bad mood, often emotional and always anxious, working through a hangover. One of the strongest incentives to stay away from my old routine of nightly drinking is to visualize me getting up fresh-faced and ready for the day, vs. the sad, bloated, and irritable person I once was. Not going back there.

What’s your favorite part of the day now that you are sober?