I Finished a Book

I promise you, I’m not going to write an entire post about how I finished a book. And I promise you that I do finish books. It’s just a bit of a rare occasion since I became a mom. I also have an attention span problem with books. As of this moment, I’m at least 1/3 of the way through 5 books. So, it’s a big deal that I finished one. Yes, it’s only 200 pages, and yes it’s a collection of essays, and yes it took me about 2 months, but I did it. I finished it.

The book is Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter. And it was amazing. It is a collection of essays about Kristi’s journey in recovery. It is beautiful, honest, sharp, funny and heartbreaking, and it spoke to me. I recommend it to anyone in recovery.

The moment I finally realized I could get better was when I realized how very much alike each and every alcoholic was that I met. How much they were like me. Of course we were all different ages, from different places, our journeys began under many different circumstances. But the habit itself, the alcoholism, was extremely similar down to the most minute details. When I found that kinship, when I no longer felt alone and hopeless and messy and unforgivable, that’s when I knew I could do this.

I sat in an AA meeting while I was at rehab and listened to a woman in her 90s tell the story of how she always bought a loaf of bread with her bottle of vodka, so the cashier wouldn’t think she was just there for the vodka. And she just ended up with a drinking problem, and a freezer full of bread, and a very confused husband. I laughed through tears at her story, remembering how I would throw something else on the conveyor belt with my wine. I did that too. I was more like these people than unlike them and that gave me a very warm feeling.

Kristi’s book is no different than those stories I would hear in AA that struck me. Sometimes the stories were so similar, it’s as if my voice was coming out of someone else’s mouth. And it’s the same with these essays. It felt like she somehow got a hold of my journal and told my story for me. There was one passage in particular that hit me hard. I cried. Not out of sadness, but of that emotional freedom that you feel when someone finally sees you. Really sees you. Knows your struggle in a way that neither of you can express. It’s from the essay entitled The Barn.

“I love the taste of wine, but I hate wine tasting. For one thing, even though I’m a diligent spitter-not-swallower, it still gets me a little buzzed, and I have no interest in being anything other than a lot buzzed. But I also don’t want to be like those tasters who spill out of limos, all red-faced and loud and looking like the kinds of people who use “hot tub” as a verb. So, I’m stuck being me–someone who pretends to like sipping tiny amounts of wine, when really she wants to hunker down, alone, with a bottle.” 

I mean, this. This was my struggle. In my 20s we went wine tasting a lot. And I had these exact thoughts. These. Exact. Thoughts. And to a normie, I’m sure this all seems very absurd and self-indulgent and reeks of excuses. But to an addict, this is life. This is the struggle. You read this and you get it. You know it. You lived it.

And I have been wondering lately about the real root cause of addiction. The opioid epidemic being what it is. And I’ve also been musing on the way society deems one addiction shameful and disgusting while other addictions fly under the radar. They’re even considered cute and adorable. For instance, how is it that “Wine Thirty” is a thing among parents now. They all post their drink on Instagram at 5:00 as if this is just what’s done (and I used to think that was true). I have lamented a lot about the ugly affair that parenting and alcohol are having in our society, so I won’t bore you with more of that now.

It occurred to me as I spoke with my psychiatrist a few months back, it’s not really the substance we are addicted to. But rather it is the dopamine blast that we have found that our particular addiction gives us. When you find something that gives you that feeling, it’s hard to give it up. Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, food, not eating, self-harm, gambling, shopping, exercising, sex, all of it. You are just addicted to the dopamine. And if you think about it in that manner, and look at it from a clinical, medical point of view, it’s much easier to have compassion instead of disdain for an addict.

The lucky among us will find their dopamine blasts in gardening, art, cleaning, running marathons, volunteering, things that are good for them. Things that benefit not only themselves but others too. And the truly fortunate just have more dopamine than the rest of us. They are optimists. They are happy, fun and bubbly with nothing helping them along. It confounds me.

The unlucky among us find that half a bottle of wine will numb us enough to take the barrage of painful emotions that come to us each evening. And that at a party, getting that first drink in you will help ease your social anxiety and awkward introversion. That “social lubricant” that they talk about in AA. And since you’ve found something that works, you stick with it. The trouble is, over time, you will need more and more to achieve the same effect, until you’re waist deep in alcohol and it’s rising and you’re not sure what to do or how to get out.

So, I finished a book. And I felt heard and seen by a woman I have never and likely will never meet. We connected even though she doesn’t even know I’ve read her book. This is what carries me through my sobriety: knowing that I’m not alone. Of course, your battle is yours alone to fight. But when you see the army of people around fighting their own battle too, you are emboldened. You can do it too.

Two Years. And a week.

I’m a little late with this post. Honestly, I’ve just been so tired and busy and sick and busy and tired and hungry and tired to find time to sit in front of the keyboard. When mama suffers, the blog suffers. Many apologies.

Anyhow, as most regular readers know, April 22, 2015 is my sober date. So, I just earned my two-year chip. And I’m very grateful and happy, but cautious (as usual).

I remember when I earned one year sober, how excited I was. It felt like graduation day. Like a real accomplishment. And then a few weeks later I thought, now what? The idea that I had to do that, over and over again, every year, for the rest of my life, was a bit daunting. And then I went on to have one of the most challenging years on record. It was no 2013, but it came close.

It was touch-and-go when we first moved to Tucson. I was determined to make a fresh start, and leave all that AA stuff behind in San Francisco. But, I got very depressed about the move and started having thoughts. Those thoughts. So, I bounced here and there around Tucson, trying to find a good meeting, and luckily I did. Those people saved me. I needed them, and as any AA will tell you, they needed me too.

I wanted to give a gift to everyone at that meeting. For all the support they offered up, without me even having to ask. From the moment I walked in, I felt welcomed and wanted, in the way only AA can make an addict feel. And I owed so much of my second year to them, and their help.

And on the evening of my 2nd sober birthday, I was confronted with visions of my former self. Very up close and personal. It was like a message from my higher power (which hasn’t taken a real form in my mind yet, but I have ideas). “This is what it was like for others to watch you. Never forget that.” Lately I had been harboring resentment (a big AA no-no) toward people in my life who seemed, to me, to ignore the emotional pain I was in back then, and chose instead to focus on the alcohol problem. How could they not see? How could they not care? But, I suddenly realized that evening that they just didn’t know what else to do. It was the most obvious and fixable of my many issues, and a good place to start. I see that now.

The next year of my life will be full of challenges, as every year is. But, this year I will have an infant. My third child. That alone is going to toss up challenge after challenge. I just have to remember all the things I’ve survived, and remember that this will be joyful. Stressful, but joyfully stressful.

Thanks for your support, everyone. Onward and upward!

2years

So, today is a big day for me.

Today is huge for me. But in order for you to understand why it’s such an important day, I have to let you in on a little secret.

Today I have been sober for one year.

I’ve kept it from you guys for some reason, but the truth is, I’m a recovering alcoholic.

I don’t know why I’ve kept so mum about it on here. I guess I was feeling ashamed? Even though I’ve spent the better part of the last year learning how not to be ashamed of it.

It has been a long, hard road, but I’m so much happier today than I was a year ago. Alcoholism is a scary thing. Always feeling alone, lost, ashamed. Wondering why you can’t just stop. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how. It took rehab and a lot of support from my family to figure it out. To figure me out again.

Some of you may judge me, I get that. It’s hard to understand addiction if you haven’t been there. It’s hard to know why someone becomes addicted, it’s hard to know how out of control they felt.

Things all started to go downhill for me 5 years ago when I had my miscarriage. When I had the miscarriage, it was like somebody turned out the lights. I didn’t know what was happening, and I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other. Instead of reaching out and finding help to get the lights turned back on as it were, I decided I could fumble around in the dark on my own and figure it out. Throughout the recovery process, I have learned about myself that I often don’t ask for help when I need it. And this was no different.

And I managed for a while. But then stuff started piling up on me. A cancer diagnosis, my 20 year old cat dying, having a blog post go viral (which essentially is a good thing, but still very stress-inducing) my mom and stepdad getting divorced, being forced to move out of our house, it was just a long, terrible couple of years. And I was still trying to do it in the emotional blackness I had been wandering around in. I was already a very anxious person, but all of this took my anxiety to new, unbearable heights.

At first I just drank in the evenings. Just to give my mind a little rest. Then the day drinking crept in. At first, one day a week, I’d start at noon. Then a couple days a week. It didn’t help that they serve wine at the museum and zoo and there was wine at playgroup, and pretty much everywhere. This is California, after all. Eventually it felt like I couldn’t go an afternoon without it. At at the very end, it felt like I couldn’t bear any moment of my life without it. I was trying to drink away all the feelings of sadness, loss, frustration, fear and anxiety. And it worked, for like five minutes. But those five minutes were all I needed to think that alcohol really was the answer to all of my problems.

It was a couple of years ago ago that my husband asked me to cut back. And then eventually asked me to quit completely. And I had some minor success. But I always kept falling back into my old habits. It was about a year and a half after those first conversations we had that I finally made the choice to be sober. I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t know how bad it really was. Only an outside observer can see an alcoholic’s problems for what they really are. I thought I was fine. I thought I had it under control. But I really didn’t.

In January 2015, I checked into an in-patient rehab home. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. To admit that my problem was so bad that I needed their help to get better. And to spend 30 days away from my husband, my children and my home. I kept a calendar in my journal at rehab, and it was the most satisfying feeling to put a big X over each day in the evening. Another day gone, another day closer to being back home.

When I got back home, things were really awkward. I had to learn how to fit back in to my own family’s dynamic. They had gone on living their days while I was gone, and learned how to do it without me as a part of it. Now we all had to learn how to be together again. And the people who knew where I had been those 30 days didn’t know how to act around me. I had the big scarlet A for Alcoholic on me.

Shortly after my return home, my husband was in a serious surfing accident, and had to have his nose reconstructed. It was one of the scariest days of my life. And my alcoholic brain tricked me into thinking that because I had been to rehab, I was all fixed, and I could have some wine to take the edge off, and it would be no big deal. Which kick-started another awful month of drinking.

I went back to the rehab house for 10 days, and basically said, throw everything you’ve got at me. I need to make this work. That was April 22, 2015.

The past year of my life has been the most difficult on record. I’m finally in a place where not drinking is not such a big deal. Most days, I don’t think about it at all. I can’t even believe who I was a year ago, I’ve made such a change. I couldn’t have done it without my rehab counselors and psychiatrist, and the support of my family. Asking for help is so hard for me for some reason, but I’m so glad I finally did.

Only one thing still scares me: the future. There’s so much unknown in the future, so much we don’t know is coming. And I hear so many stories from people at my AA meetings about having years and years of sobriety under their belt, only to relapse and have to start all over again. My addiction is something I have to keep in the forefront of my mind every day. Every morning when I wake up, I have to remember that I’ve made the choice not to drink ever again, and if I’m not careful, alcohol can creep back in and take hold again. I don’t ever want to go back to that place, but I have to stay on my toes.

I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere that alcoholism is a disease. Which is supposed to make you feel better about needing treatment and help. You wouldn’t deny yourself treatment for diabetes or cancer, they’d tell me in rehab. So of course you get treatment for alcoholism. But, it’s a disease with no cure. You can only keep treating it and live with it day in and day out for the rest of your life. So, if you know a recovering addict, have compassion for them and their fight. And let them know once in a while how proud you are of them, because this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and it’s nice when people acknowledge that.

So there you go, Internet. My big secret, out in the open. Thanks for listening, and I hope I didn’t scare you off. I found this great article on Babble that explains how to deal with some of the awkwardness when an alcoholic comes out to you. It’s a great read.

one yar