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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.