Say “Yes” to Sobriety and Watch the New You Emerge

Ah, the Greeks knew it all, didn’t they? This concept is an ancient idea, but why is it only now when I am sober that it comes to me like a brand new idea? Without health, is it possible to

  • Make the connection between mind, body, and spirit while draining a bottle of crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc every night, cruising through inane and embarrassing posts on my Facebook feed?
  • Listen to what my body is telling me while my subconscious brain swims in a fog controlled by the defeating patterns of addiction?
  • Look squarely in the mirror each morning after drinking and see the reflection for what it is, instead of fooling myself that “I don’t really look like that?”
  • Go to the gym and walk on a treadmill at a steady pace three times a week, make a stop to the liquor store immediately afterwards, and call that a workout regimen?

The answer to all of these, of course, is one big emphatic no.

For years my modus operandi centered on my ability to drink wine every day. After work, chores, my daughter’s activities, obligatory family events, or anything where alcohol was not present, my number one priority was to get back to it as fast as I could. I had a mental image of what wine was at home. Maybe a bit left in the bottle from the night before, already cold and waiting (rare). Maybe most of a bottle cold and waiting, the second one I opened from the night before (common). A warm one still in the wine rack? No problem. There was a special place carved out in the freezer just for such emergencies. I had a favorite (large) wine glass. I even knew if it was in the dishwasher, or in the cupboard ready to pulled and used for that first, lovely crisp swig.

Between doing obligatory things and drinking, I avoided mirrors and eye contact, I scoffed at slim joggers and yoga mat-carrying thirtysomethings, and often ate huge bowls of macaroni and cheese or plates of Pizza Rolls at 11:30 p.m., somehow with the idea that it all seemed perfectly reasonable to have a second dinner before crashing.

Denying my drinking problem and ignoring my health went on for years. Years. When I look back now I realize it could have been much worse, but everyone’s experience is relevant and real, no matter how you define “rock bottom.”

I am guilty of having had confirmation bias. I don’t drink as much as so and so… to At least I’m not homeless. Little insidious mantras that upheld the force of my own version of addiction.

I am still very new at sobriety. I have started to work with a personal trainer and I don’t eat mac and cheese or other bad food only eaten when drunk. I have lost ten pounds. I am learning to meditate. I cannot get my hands on enough “Quit Lit” and Peanut M&Ms. Green tea is my new drink of choice. I have eye contact with people at work. I am writing more, painting more, and often seeing trees and the grass as though for the first time.

Tomorrow, however, could look very different. Every day I wake up sober with clear eyes and a fresh mind, I am learning to respect both the strength and fragility of this new way of being.

Rolling With the Waves is the Only Way to Face Sobriety

Up until very recently over the past two decades my constant nightly companion came in the shape of a green bottle holding some form of crisp, dry white wine. After I cleared the bare minimal obligations from my day, I took the bottle from the fridge, grabbed my favorite large glass, and poured myself the first of many glasses which usually led to the entire bottle, sometimes more. Over the years my consumption stayed the same, and I rarely switched to red wine or any other kind of drink.

Wine had become the most important part of my existence. Day in and day out, the elephant in the room, the cause of so much underlying anxiety and stress, and stops and starts in my life. The cause of indecision and bad decisions. Achingly low self-esteem. Impatience, intolerance, cynicism, even mild misanthropy. To feel positive about anything seemed false. I trudged through the days. The only time I stopped completely was when I was pregnant. Thankfully, even though I was still in denial at that point, my addiction could be tamed when I was with child. But within months after giving birth and when breastfeeding ceased, my habit returned.

Nearly twenty years later, I am finally facing up to my addiction. I am trying to get at the why. Every day is a struggle, but among the low points there are many signs that my brain and body are recovering, and along with finding a sober community online, I am finding hope. Writing helps to uncover the causes of addiction, and why it’s taken me this long to own up to it. Not just in a journal for my own eyes, but here, where I hope to share with others who can relate to this experience. 

My new level of certainty is understanding that change is inevitable in all things. I am taking this principle and applying it to the way I approach recovery. It’s up to me to roll with the waves, to decide how to navigate through them. I own this.

I strongly believe that no one navigation style fits all; for example, AA may be the only way for many people in recovery, but I have decided that other approaches may suit me better. So far, I have worked through my own plan which is based on a mix of common sense, scientific research, and learning from others in recovery through books, blogs, and podcasts. While this topic will come up occasionally, I am not here to dispute recovery methods nor judge those who have found AA or anything else that I may not agree with or adhere to, but may work perfectly well for them.

Additionally, I do not want to get into the all or nothing debate. I have witnessed people who have successfully overcome their excessive alcohol consumption, say, by a 90% reduction, and their lives have turned around. The effort to change and the support required to do so—whether you need to quit altogether or step back and drastically moderate—are similar.

I see addiction as a spectrum. One size does not fit all. The main thing is that we support and applaud each other, no matter what flavor or style or method of recovery you stand behind. Our goal is the same: To move on from the past, be the best we can be, and live in the light. 

(This is a revised post from April 2019).

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 Could Not 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.

How Opening the Roadblocks of Perfectionism Helps my Sobriety

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 nine-to-five 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.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs is a Key Step in Sobriety

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 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

Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

How I Went 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 Rewards and Discomforts 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?

How I Get Through Breezy Summer Nights without Booze

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?