just a regular grownup

I’ve been invited to return as a guest on The Bubble Hour this evening, so I think I owe my little blog an update. The twins are napping and I’ve just made myself a cup of tea. In doing so, I remembered that at the tail end of my drinking, my oldest daughter was starting to become interested in my perpetual glass of wine. She wanted to know what it was, what it tasted like. I love the fact that now, whenever she wants to taste something I’m drinking, I can happily share it with her.

Returning to work has been quite an adjustment, but we are really lucky to live near family and have so far avoided daycare. My oldest daughter has started preschool, and so far it’s actually a little fun to open her backpack at the end of the day to check for updates and notices, and pack in whatever she needs for the next day. I was always responsible, drinking or not, so I would have gotten it done either way. I would have just been joylessly going through the motions.

My work has become a primary raison d’être. Work before was always a drag, the thing I slogged through in order to go home and start drinking, or consciously refrain from drinking, depending on what day of the week it was. I am present at work. In probably my proudest professional moment, I have already been promoted and am now the school’s new special education teacher. These students are in need of love, patience, understanding…everything. Many of them have experienced unthinkable trauma in their short lives. They are at risk for everything that destroys lives: drugs, prison, gang membership, violence, you name it. For one of my students, my classroom is the last stop, his final chance before all his public school options have been exhausted. If he does not show any growth, he will end up in a residential facility. I have always wanted to do something important, and I have finally found it. I am raising a family and I am working for a school that is doing something new, something important, and something good.

My marriage is a mess. On a day-to-day basis, things are ok. But then every once in awhile, it goes haywire. My husband is not the near-daily drinker that I was. He’s pretty good about drinking only on the weekends, and usually fairly moderately. However, every few weeks or so he drinks more than moderately and he becomes impossible to deal with. He gets explosively angry with me over unpredictable things, and gets really verbally abusive. We have discussed counseling, and in his humble, hungover moments he has agreed, but then when I try to follow up later, the response is lukewarm to downright hostile. I don’t know what the solution is, but at this exact moment, I’m ok with that.

I am sad that my marriage is not what I wish it was. I am lonely. I long for companionship, trust, and open-minded communication. But I am in a stratospherically different place than I was nine months ago. I am so much more self-assured, so much more confident. I can tell people no. I can tell my mother-in-law to mind her own business and not spend much time worrying what she thinks about me. I know that I will find the companionship and love I seek, whether it’s through repairing my broken relationship with my husband, or through moving on and living independently for awhile. I know that when I need to make something happen, I will. Even though my life is nonstop busy and far from perfect, I’m in the most serene, confident mental place of my life. I like it here.

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what ain’t broke

I’m taking the last two classes I need to qualify for a special education endorsement. While I am procrastinating the heck out of my final project, and am more than a little resentful that it is still hanging over my head, the classes themselves have been real eye openers. There seems to be a new paradigm shift in the way kids with special needs are viewed – not as people who need fixing, but as people who are simply wired differently. This is especially true with things like ADHD, where there seems to be a bit of a step back from the idea that drugs will “fix” them.

And like the kids whose innate wiring does not jibe with the public school experience, I am beginning to view myself as simply being wired differently. Not broken, not in need of fixing, just different. They call it neurodiversity. Kids who develop autism or ADHD have the genetic prerequisites, and then the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) set of environmental triggers occur and there you go. So in terms of alcoholism, I think I was prewired to be sensitive and internalizing, and then life experiences and choices led all the right switches for addiction to turn on in my brain. I feel odd, though, in class. I really like the professor, but I get this feeling that he can see right through me. He has even shared that he struggles with anxiety and has self medicated, and despite that I still couldn’t stop squirming during the lecture that covered anxiety, substance abuse and all the other typical internalizing emotional disorders. I felt transparent, like everybody knew I was Exhibit A. He gave us a clinical adult ADHD screener to try on ourselves if we wanted. I scored pretty high. It’s weird – I have always been able to concentrate deeply, inextricably, if I am interested in something. I can get lost in my mind for hours. But if I’m not interested, or if I don’t know how to organize the task in my mind, forget it. I will procrastinate and fidget and totally disengage. I told my mom about how I have several markers for ADHD and she said, “I remember not understanding why you could NEVER sit still. You fidgeted all the time.” Her comment brought back memories of adults constantly telling me to sit still. In church. At the dinner table. At school. I remember thinking it was perfectly reasonable to be bored and restless in those settings. Then back in my class last week, I looked around. I suddenly became conscious that I was doing my usual thing of swinging my leg furiously under the table. I looked at the doodles all over my notebook. I realized I had shifted position probably 25 times in the hour or so class had been in session. And in looking around, I realized that there was one other person casually moving her foot around in a circular motion. Only one other person doing anything remotely fidgety. And here’s something huge: people with ADHD are at much greater risk for alcohol and tobacco addictions than the general population. At this point I don’t really care about an official diagnosis, but just synthesizing this information has been relevatory for me.

I didn’t get the job I interviewed for. I got something better. They hired me as an “upper elementary associate teacher,” which means I don’t have to do the training yet, so I won’t have to give up my summer, but I still will be earning a full teacher’s salary. As they open up more grades at the school, I will have opportunities to take the training, or possibly to put my special education credentials to use. Based on some feedback from them, and the fact that they had me sit and talk with the special education case manager, I know they are particularly interested in my special ed background. Lord knows the students at this school will need all the help they can get. This will be the first grown up job that I have interviewed for, accepted, and began working, without drinking during any part of it. There is a clarity here, a continual affirmation in my mind, that this is because I quit drinking. This is because I finally stopped hoping and wishing and rationalizing and bargaining and just jumped. It has been the best decision of my life.

when you’re making other plans

I’d like to say I’m getting better at life post alcohol. Maybe I am? I really, really enjoy being able to make plans a bit into the future and not have to worry about being hungover. If it weren’t for hangovers, I don’t think I’d ever quit drinking, or at least I would not have yet. My brother-in-law is an alcoholic and he says he’s really not ever hung over. He seems honest enough about it – maybe his perception of what it’s like to be hungover is a bit off since he probably never feels good in the first place. He also drinks throughout the day, so maybe he’s just always a drink or two ahead of it. All I know is that not being hungover is a major continuing motivator for me. For me, there is nothing worse than waking up to a day that is already ruined.

I’m still trying to be more disciplined. My ideal vision of my day is to wake up before the kids, do some yoga, and enjoy a cup of coffee while the sun rises. I set my alarm, stay up too late on the iPad, then shut off the alarm before I fall asleep, with the goal of trying again tomorrow. I need to stop that, but I’m trying not to pressure myself too much. Any day without a hangover is a day to be thankful for. Everything else is gravy.

Last month I found out that my tutoring job will not be continued next school year. The way it happened was a little suspicious and involved the usual school politics, but I’m okay with it. I didn’t make enough money anyway, and wasn’t planning on returning. Right now I am in that squishy place between a first and second interview, for a job that I am terrified to take, but will have no idea what to do next if I don’t get. It is at a charter school in one of the worst neighborhoods in the nation, and would mean six weeks of intensive training this summer at a location that would make my life temporarily insane. I’ve wanted to get the training for a long, long time, but couldn’t justify the cost without a job offer in hand. If I’m hired, my training would be paid for, and would stay with me for life. In many ways, this job would be an absolute dream come true. It would be a chance to do something good, for a population that is in desperate need. It would put our family in a comfortable place financially. It would also mean that I would be a working mom of three really young kids, with all the time constraints and craziness that entails. The consolation prize would be an assistant position at the same school, which would mean half the salary but less than half the stress and no summer training. Or I could be passed over altogether.

The funny thing is that this situation is eerily parallel to one many years ago, with some of the same people. About seven years ago I interviewed for a similar position at another school. The first interview went great. It was one of those intimidating panel interviews, but I showed up feeling fresh and not too nervous, and left feeling confident that I made a good impression. I was called for a second interview and thought for sure I would be hired. Unfortunately, the night before the second interview, I drank. (I had a tendency to drink the night before important events for which I MUST NOT, MUST NOT be hungover.) I showed up feeling anxious, headachy and mentally unsteady. I remember stumbling over some responses, losing my focus and feeling more nervous as the interview wore on. I did not get the job.

I cannot say for certain that alcohol had anything to do with me not being hired. I was able to move on, other opportunities arrived, and I now live too far from the school to make it a reasonable commute. But every once in awhile I think about it. What if I didn’t drink that night? Would my current situation be different? Even though I have no idea whether or not I will get this job, I am at peace with it either way. I will be certain that alcohol had nothing to do with it – it will just boil down to whether or not the administration felt I was a good fit. I am sure their ideal candidate is someone who represents the ethnic background of the school population, which I do not, so I feel like I am second pickings right out of the chute. That is all ok.

Last night I had a drinking dream, one of several lately. Yesterday I went grocery shopping at the home of the (in)famous Two Buck Chuck. One of the employees recognized me and said, “Too bad! You just missed a tasting!” Then he went on to describe the wine, some cross between a Shiraz and Riesling, or something like that. Funny thing is, I always passed on the wine tastings. Maybe I didn’t want to seem too eager to drink? Or that little Communion-sized cup would never do anything for me, so why bother? I don’t know. But then last night I dreamed I caved to peer pressure and tasted the wine. Then, of course, I continued to drink. I knew that I was going to wake up with a hangover, and I felt guilty and ashamed. I woke up relieved and grateful.

So right now I’m in limbo. A new job or not. A crazy busy summer or not. A more secure financial future or not. More time spent job hunting and interviewing or not. Lots of time gardening and hanging out with my girls or not. But there is a solid foundation beneath the crumbling old house of uncertainty. A foundation that is based on trusting myself, and not having to worry about ruining my day before it even starts. Sobriety is a good thing. Really, really good.

letting go, digging in

My days are full. Up to my eyeballs, sun-up to late at night, busy. I am taking a class and have to spend at least one weekend day at the library, since at home I would never be able to get any studying done. It is going to be an intense next few months while I continue being mom, take three classes back-to-back, and finish up the school year.

“Let it Go” is the current theme song in our house, as my four year old belts it out and the twins try to follow along. I’m trying to learn to let go. To let go of the disappointment that I can’t ever drink normally, to let go of the judgment of my feelings, to let go of my almost constant sense that things should be some other way than how they are.

I listened to most of the latest Bubble Hour podcast and, inexplicably, I suddenly felt heavy and sad with the absolute realization that I suffer from some kind of mental illness. My anxiety attacks, social fears, self-medication with alcohol…they are all part of one central problem, which I suppose every post so far has in some way addressed. Recently I rediscovered the concept of “The Highly Sensitive Person” and, if it is an accurate description of a personality type, I fit it to a T. I am overwhelmed by loud noises, seek quiet and solitude, can strongly sense how other people are feeling, do not perform well under scrutiny, am made extremely upset by violence and conflict…the list goes on. Those inborn characteristics, combined with social issues as a kid and a difficult relationship with my mother, seem to have been the perfect recipe for self medicating behaviors. Alcohol was not the cause of my deeper problems, it was a symptom. I am debating about what to do next. See a doctor? Request medication? These things are waaaay outside of my comfort zone. I have always been drawn to yoga and the general ideas around Buddhism, and to the belief (or at least wish) that I am capable of healing myself. I need to carve out some time and energy to put some self care practices in place, that much is clear.

One thing I have realized recently is that shopping, especially online shopping, gives me a little rush that is eerily similar to the anticipation of the first drink. Not that I go crazy or anything – I don’t ever buy things I don’t have the money for – but I’ve recognized it as another way my addictive personality surfaces. That tingly sensation as I load up a bunch of things (all practical, really – books, things for the kids, kitchen gadgets) into my virtual shopping cart is something I’m not sure how I feel about. I’m not a hoarder, but I do find comfort in material goods. My tastes are simple, I usually am drawn to quality over quantity, and my purchases usually reflect a desire to have well-made things that will last a long time. My biggest resentment in terms of spending money is having to buy something twice because the first one broke. I value thrift and economy, though, and wish I was better at saving money. I had no idea I was going to write about this. I guess I’m just evaluating myself a lot lately, noticing the connections between seemingly disparate aspects of my personality.

The teachers and professors have gotten deep into my psyche; I feel like I need to insert a smart, thoughtful conclusion to summarize my thoughts here. So, if anything, it’s this: I am settling into sobriety. I still have occasional twinges, I still have moments when I’m really resentful that I have this thing that makes me different from normal people. But I am doing it. I’m sometimes sad and angry about it, but I’m working on myself. I’m working on the things I always knew I had to work on, just this one last bottle, and then I’ll face it all.  Well, here I am, facing it. I am just dying to hear the first spring peepers down by the pond.

A Little Sunshine

Well, first of all, I have to say I was really surprised (and a little confused…I’m new to this blogging thing) to discover that Jean from Unpickled nominated me for something called a “Sunshine Award.” Hers was the first blog that popped up when, desperate to find others like me, I started searching for sobriety blogs. Although I am not super active when it comes to commenting and otherwise making my presence known (I have three children under four), I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful people who put themselves out there and remind me daily that I am not alone. I owe my continued sobriety to you. Thank you.

So (I’m going to paraphrase Jean here, since she said it so well), the purpose of the Sunshine Award is to recognize and thank bloggers we appreciate, to introduce bloggers to one another, and to share some trivia about ourselves.

Here are the guidelines for accepting the award:

  • Display the award on your blog.
  • Announce your win with a post and thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • List 10 interesting things about yourself.
  • Present 10 deserving bloggers “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.”
  • Link to the awardees and let them know of the nomination.

I’m at that fun point where I have to think of and share 10 interesting things about myself. So here goes:

  1. I am not squeamish at all. I will pick up frogs, worms, snakes, watch open heart surgery…doesn’t matter, it won’t gross me out.
  2. I am ridiculously flexible. You know the yoga pose where you sit with the soles of your feet touching and your legs form a diamond shape? I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with this, as their knees wind up stuck by their ears. Mine lay flat on the floor effortlessly. Other than for yoga, this is an absolutely useless talent.
  3. I have a couple of relatives who are really into genealogy. Apparently I am related to James Monroe, the Wallaces (FREEDOM!!!) and Pocahontas. I have the “credentials” to join DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) but I’m not really into that sort of thing. I’m also 1/8th Jewish on my mother’s side. The extent of my cultural exposure is knowing how to make Matzo ball soup.
  4. I have seven backyard chickens, a garden and big dreams of becoming a hobby farmer on some land in the country. My grandparents on both sides grew up on farms, which I frequented as a child, so it isn’t that much of a stretch.
  5. I am very interested in issues of sustainability, education, nutrition, and how we organize our lives politically.
  6. I am undefeated in Scrabble. My good friend can probably beat me, but we haven’t yet tested that theory.
  7. I delivered all three of my children naturally, without the use of drugs. The experienced nurse who was present when I delivered my twins thanked me for letting her witness the natural birth of twins for the first time in her career. I totally understand why a woman would opt for pain relief, or c-section in the event of complications, but for me it was extraordinarily empowering to deliver naturally. If I didn’t know someone who nearly died from an unexpected hemorrhage, I would have delivered them at home.
  8. I am pretty handy around the house. I can paint, install faucets and garbage disposals (not fun) and can kind of, sort of, build stuff. I built my dining room table. I call the style “primitive farmhouse” by way of apology. I’ll make a better one next time. I am going to build a small house someday (not all by myself, but I’ll do most of the planning and interior finishing). It will go on my yet-to-be-obtained land (see #4).
  9. I own too many books, but I can never seem to get rid of any. What if civilization collapses? What will I do then? They are in a million places all over the house but I can find each and every one.
  10. I do not like rules. I never have. So this post is not going to follow them. The biggest thing keeping me from pressing “publish” has been the fact that the sober blogging world is still rather small; everyone that I would like to nominate has already been nominated by someone else. So I just sat there and started feeling anxious about the whole thing. That’s not the intention of the award, so I’m compromising. I’m not displaying the award (since I’m not following the rules), and am hereby simply extending a huge thank you to everyone on my blog roll, and everyone else out there who has begun this crazy, courageous, difficult and wonderful journey. Without you I would not be here. I will add to the blogs I follow as I discover them, and hope that my small handful of readers does the same. Again, thank you!

Doing the Hard Things

I sometimes have some version of a dream that goes something like this: two dangerous and scary animals, sort of lion-ish, sort of wolf-ish, are lurking under my bed. When I look under there and discover them, they begin talking to me. They are the voice inside my head that tells me I can’t. They half purr, half growl at me, and telepathically poke at all my insecurities and fears: you are a coward, you can’t do it, you will fail. We will always be here, lurking under your bed, waiting for your weakest moment. 

The first time I had the dream I had recently quit smoking, one of many attempts, and it seems to hover around me when I am making changes in my life, or when I’m having some sort of internal struggle. I haven’t had the dream recently, but for some reason it came to mind. 

Beginning over a week ago I’d found myself thinking about drinking again, and already making rules. Finish Belle’s 100 day challenge (I’m on Day 70). Then only on weekends. Only socially. Not wine. Only good beer. Guinness sounds good. I mean, I only really had a wine problem (says the voice in my head). After some angst, I had an enlightened moment: there was nothing wrong with having these thoughts. As long as I didn’t act on them, they were just thoughts, like thinking about a tropical vacation: nice to imagine, but with none of the sunburn. The fantasy is not the reality. Looking at it now, after a few days of calm and a return to happy sobriety, I feel like I’ve worked through something, rather than going around it. 

My twin two-year-olds have been waking up multiple times throughout the night, after being mostly reliable sleepers. It has been exhausting. One night recently I got no sleep at all. I am pretty patient with my girls, but at two in the morning I find it incredibly difficult to keep my cool. I am working on visualizing myself staying calm and actually being effective at soothing my girls. I’m sure I’m handling it a lot better than I would be if I were still drinking. 

I have been thinking a lot about work. How we need it in order to be healthy and happy. Work on ourselves, and also just plain work. I have been doing more of both lately. I have been doing the little clean-up jobs and organizing tasks that only take ten minutes but make a huge visual impact. I have been making somewhat organized mental plans for the things I want to accomplish over the summer. And, finally, I have come up with a plan for my career, one that is practical, cost effective, and is in an in-demand area of teaching. It was something that was staring me in the face all this time, but I just didn’t see it. The coursework will be done by the end of the summer, and while not a guarantee of a good job, it will put me in an exponentially better place. 

Last Saturday I went to my town’s recreation center to watch my nephew’s basketball game. Not something I would have done on a typical hungover/already drinking Saturday afternoon. I’ve enlisted my dad to help me teach my oldest daughter to ice skate. He taught me to skate practically before I could walk. I haven’t skated since I was a kid, but it’s something I’d like to relearn, and something I want my girls to learn. Making weekend commitments is huge for me. 

All these stresses – wakeful toddlers, an old, incontinent dog and father-in-law, marital uncertainty – all of it would be here whether I drink or not. But I’m also finding solutions to nagging issues and problems, tackling projects, thinking through things and going forward in a way that feels right. I’m thinking about the future and how my active involvement with my children will help shape who they grow up to be. None of this would be happening if I was still neck deep in wine. Right now, in this moment, I am truly grateful for the gift of sobriety. 

My post title was inspired by this: http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=2466

two months

I didn’t mean to go so long without posting. There just hasn’t been much to say about being sober. I take care of my girls, I go to work, I come home, fix dinner, and get everyone to bed. It’s better to do all those things sober, better to wake up in the morning without a hangover. 

But, honestly, I am struggling. Not really with the temptation to drink, but with life in general, I guess. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. I am almost always optimistic about the future, but sometimes I think that isn’t necessarily the healthiest thing. I often don’t enjoy the moment, or the situation I’m in, so I start daydreaming about how some future point in time will be better than it is now. I know I need to start learning how to appreciate the moment and accept things as they are, because now is all there is. I’m just not sure how to do that. 

As I said in a previous post, I don’t want to divorce my husband, but I have to be prepared for the possibility. I am only half of the relationship, and not everything is in my control. Some days are good and I feel hopeful, and other days are really bad. There have been enough bad days lately that I know I need to make a Plan B. 

My teaching credentials are pretty generic, and make it very difficult to stand out from the crowd in an over saturated market. I need to go back to work full time, but definitely still want a teacher’s schedule so I can spend summers with my girls. My plan is to go back to school in a high demand teaching field, so that I can be reasonably certain I will be able to find and keep a job. It should take about two years, and in the meantime I’ll try to find something as an assistant in the field I’m studying. It means more short term financial risk, less time with my girls, and more work heaped on my already hectic schedule, but I think it will pay off in the end, both personally and professionally. 

I guess, in terms of being sober, as the days and weeks separate me from the hangovers, the relentless feelings of guilt, helplessness and shame, it is easy to start forgetting. Did I really have a problem that I couldn’t control? Or did I just overindulge too often because it was fun? I remember being pregnant and feeling frustrated by the amount my husband still drank. After being sober for so many months, I just didn’t understand why he would have beer after beer on the weekends. I knew I drank too much before I became pregnant, but somehow I figured that pregnancy had cured me, and that I would magically be able to drink moderately after the baby was born. 

Even though I haven’t been truly tempted to drink, I think I need to make more of a conscious effort to remind myself that I always was a problem drinker. If I could have moderated, I would have, right? I need to remind myself of how desire for another drink would totally dominate my mind once I started drinking. I need to remember how often I put my girls to bed with a glass of wine on their bedside table. I need to remember how, before I had kids, I sometimes needed to close one eye so as to see one road while driving. I need to remember a relationship I had that I would not have had if I didn’t drink, and how I regret the relationship now. I need to remember how I sprained my ankle on the night before my wedding, because I had had a few beers so I could fall asleep, and then decided to take a big load of trash down the dark back stairs and tripped because I was buzzed. I need to remember how, the very first time I got roaring drunk I wound up in the back seat of a car, driven by someone I didn’t know, who said to his buddy in the passenger seat, “Hey, we should get a hotel room.” Nothing happened – I was with two friends and made such a fuss about getting out of the car that I think the boys, whoever they were, decided we were more trouble than we were worth. That, and the fact that I started puking. 

I need to remember that, no matter how much I may be struggling with the stress of daily life and an uncertain future, drinking will absolutely not make it better. Today I’ve had about a gallon of La Croix and am about to drown my sorrows in a bowl of ice cream. Today I am sober, and tomorrow will be 60 days. I am going to wake up without a hangover, fix my girls a big breakfast, visit an old friend in her new home, and, hopefully, spend a few minutes reflecting on how much I’ve got to be grateful for. 

 

The A Word

No, not that one. The other one. 

Anxiety. 

I am stunned by the number of people in recovery who mention that they also struggle with anxiety. In fact, I think the two issues are inextricably entwined. 

I started having anxiety attacks toward the end of high school. They happened when I had to do presentations, when I was squirming in my seat before the presentation, when I was in a class with a cute guy who *gulp* also took an interest in me – basically any time I was the focus of attention. I’d blush right down to my toes, break out in a sweat, shake like a leaf and my brain would go completely wonky. It took a terrible toll on my sense of self. I couldn’t trust my body; I felt like it was constantly betraying me. I started having anxiety about having anxiety. 

When I was younger I was often singled out in school. I was tall and lanky and a late bloomer. Girls were relentlessly mean to me. There were a couple in particular, in seventh grade, who screamed insults at me every time I passed them in the hallway. I remember wondering what the heck caused me to be the subject of their attacks, especially since one of them had previously been a friend. In sixth grade the entire grade put on a musical show for our parents. I remember rehearsing, decorating the set pieces, and coming up with a costume. I loved every minute of it. My dad videotaped it and I watched it for the first time as a young adult ten or so years ago. I remember thinking, ahhhhh, so THAT’S why the girls made fun of me. I had a sense of self that they lacked. My head was held high, I was clearly having a blast singing and dancing (at one point obliviously spinning in the opposite direction as everyone else), and was just so vibrantly ALIVE. I could see, watching the video, how the girls might have thought I was conceited or stuck-up, or possibly an affront to their own insecurities. So what did the mean girls do? They took me down. 

I went from an introverted but not shy, unselfconscious and confident girl to a young woman who was riddled with anxiety and terrified of being judged, noticed, singled-out, criticized or otherwise made to stand out from the crowd. I was lucky enough to have an equally quirky best friend, and together in high school we assimilated into the misfit, weirdo crowd. If there were a video of me at that time, it would have shown a girl with slightly hunched shoulders, a pained expression and clearly embarrassed to live in her body. But then, during the summer before my junior year in high school, I finally regained a little footing. One of my friends was sort of a chameleon, hanging out with his jock brother’s cool crowd, and also with the dweebs and weirdos. And then he wanted to be more than friends. I had my first beer with him. I went to my first party where all the cool kids were. I was suddenly thrust into the world of house parties, older kids with their own apartments, underage drinking in the forest preserves and in the rural areas beyond the suburb where I lived. It was a heady time. It was then that I discovered that alcohol did something magical to me. It wasn’t so much that it gave me tons of confidence; it simply leveled the playing field for me a bit. I could actually talk to people without feeling flushed and clammy. I could crack jokes, laugh, not be so timid. People started saying things to me like, “Hey, you’re actually really cool!” I entered high school a dweeb and exited it a halfway cool chick. I never felt like I truly fit in anywhere, but that was ok. At least I was accepted. 

But then once I started college and left that old boyfriend and high school life behind, I was still haunted by the feeling of being judged constantly. I was still a bit socially awkward, still felt like I was missing some essential ingredient that everybody else seemed to have. I felt way more comfortable around people outside my peer group: returning students, professors – older people. I loved the intellectual stimulation and challenges, but on a daily basis I struggled with anxiety. I turned down dates, didn’t raise my hand, nearly died every time we had to introduce ourselves at the beginning of a new class. 

When I finally became a teacher after realizing that a BA in History wasn’t going to get me very far, I thought I had found the perfect profession. I loved kids, loved the idea of making a positive difference in somebody’s life. But I struggled. The curriculum didn’t make sense. Everything revolved around high-stakes testing, not the needs of the individual students in my care. Then there were the evaluations. Every new teacher needs to be formally evaluated several times a year, and each time I was a nervous wreck. Even my students noticed, which made it worse. The constant stress and anxiety led to powerful cravings for alcohol, and drink I did. An old professor often mentioned how common it is for stressed out teachers to drink at night, and I followed that stereotype to a T. 

I was very aware that I often drank to medicate my anxiety. In fact, I think that was a big mental hurdle that kept me from quitting for a long time. How would I deal with the anxiety? 

Well, I’m dealing with it. I’m finding that I have been experiencing a lot less anxiety since I’ve quit drinking. I have realized that alcohol didn’t actually fix anything, and in many ways made my anxiety worse. Since I know I can’t drink, I have to go through it rather than around it. I have to practice breathing. A Yoga breathing exercise seems to really help (when I remember to do it): slowly in through the nose, out through the mouth, directed downward toward my lap. Taking a moment to just sit and be. Cuddling with my girls. Giving myself little pep talks. I am working on accepting anxiety as something I have to work with instead of fight against. 

 

 

The post I wanted to write…

…was about how much better my husband and I have been getting along since I quit drinking. And it’s true; for the first few weeks I was astounded by how calm things were between us. I started thinking, is that it? Has it been me and my drinking all along?

But things are more complicated than that, even if my drinking was a factor. My husband drinks too. In fact, he has had two DUIs. Due to each one occurring in a different state, and some kind of communication failure between the two jurisdictions, he managed, extraordinarily luckily, to avoid conviction in our home state and has a clean driving record. Since his job requires him to have a valid license (he travels a lot and has a company car), he no longer drinks and drives, and has not for over five years. He drinks a lot less than he used to, and can and does drink moderately at social events and at home. He drinks only on weekends, vacations or other days when he doesn’t work. He drinks light beer with a low alcohol content, and usually sticks to a 6-pack. But he also goes through phases and periods where he’ll drink a lot more than that on the weekends, and has called in sick on more than one Monday morning. Sometimes I think he has a problem, and then other times I think he’s a pretty typical beer-drinkin’ guy. Out with his friends he is a happy drunk – talkative, funny, outgoing. At home with me, he is often mean when he drinks. He is sometimes mean even when he’s completely sober. Not physically violent, but manipulative and verbally abusive.

My husband is really angry with me, and I honestly am not quite sure why. I think he projects a lot of his stress and worries onto me. We live with his 92-year-old father, who is not, and has never been, a very nice man. My husband cares for him willingly – it is something he always intended to do, and since he was an older father, something he knew would be inevitable. He loves his dad, but I can see how his dad has manipulated him, and it makes me sad to see how grouchy and ungrateful my father-in-law is, how unpleasant he is to the people who care for him. But I can also see how father and son are alike, how my husband inherited his father’s lack of trust for others, his stinginess with money, his difficulty relating to others on a human level.

My husband is angry that I am not contributing more financially, even though we have three small children who are not yet in school. My entire salary as a teacher would be eaten up by child care. He is angry because I am what he considers a “control freak.” He is angry because he is nearly 40 years old and has not achieved the level of financial security that he hoped he would have by now. He is angry because I have what he calls “double standards” where, according to him, I can do whatever I want, but he can’t do anything.

Here’s an example of how that goes. Last week I mentioned that I’d like to take our oldest daughter, who will be four this week, to see her first movie. I thought it would be a nice mother-daughter thing to do over the weekend. My husband mentioned that he’d like to go too, which would require getting a babysitter for the twins. That was fine with me, so I suggested he call his mom, as she lives close by. He let several days go by, and when I mentioned it again, he suggested that he take our daughter to the movies instead, while I stay home with the twins. When I said, well, this was my idea, and I’d really like to take her, he accused me of preventing him from spending time with our daughter. I said no such thing was the case – he was welcome to come. But instead of arranging babysitting in order to do so, he decided to blame me, and said angrily that next weekend he’ll take her somewhere, even though he’s sure I’ll be mad about it and try to prevent him. And the sad thing is that I often encourage him to take her with when he’s running errands, just for that reason – so he can spend some time with her. But he always says he’s in a hurry, it’ll be quicker without dragging her along, etc. Moral of the story: I have double standards, tried and convicted in the court of my husband’s mind.

These are the kinds of conflicts I get sucked into all the time. If I suggest we do something, I’m being controlling. If I ask him to clean up his mess, I’m bitching at him. Somehow he manages to twist really good intentioned things into something negative and ugly, and not at all what I meant. He sometimes even totally disassociates from me by referring to me in the third person. As in, “So now she says this! That’s not what she said before!” It’s really bizarre.

For a long time I’ve thought that one of us has to be crazy, and in weaker moments I figured it must be me. But I know I’m not crazy. In fact, I think I have a pretty good grasp of reality and am a fairly even tempered person, drinking or not. But not drinking has given me a lot of clarity.

The thing is, I love my husband. He is not a monster. He is a decent human being who is deeply flawed. His childhood was, in some ways, a story of typical immigrant family life. But in other ways, it was deeply dysfunctional. The police were called to his house more than once growing up. There were moms who didn’t want their kids playing at his house. Being sober has really opened my eyes to the stress he is under, and how a lot of that stress is self-inflicted. How he is blaming me for things I cannot possibly be responsible for, and directing a lot of his pent-up anger at me.

Right now I’m incredibly sad and disappointed (but not surprised, I guess) that the honeymoon period of me quitting drinking, in terms of my marriage, is over. It’s old news by now, yet another thing to take for granted along with a hot meal, a clean house and cared-for children. But, I was hit with a really heavy, sad thought today: I cannot change the way he feels about me. Believe me, I have tried. Just as I am powerless over alcohol, I am powerless over my husband’s perception of me. I don’t know what the future holds for us. I need to work on getting a full time job in the fall, so that I don’t remain in the trap of staying because I can’t afford to leave. I do not want my girls to have to go through their parents’ divorce, and am willing to work on our marriage, but I am only half of the equation. I am often more lonely in this relationship than I would be alone, and that is something I don’t think I can endure for many more years. Not drinking doesn’t fix any of this; in fact, it has awakened me to some uncomfortable truths. But it is in truth that I wish to live my life.

a small, big thing

I’m finding that some things that were so baffling to me while I was drinking are suddenly becoming so clear and obvious now. I’ve known for a long time that I have a problem with alcohol, and so have done casual research on recovery here and there over the years. The very first step in AA is admitting that one is powerless over alcohol. I never understood this before. I somehow still believed that alcoholism, while arguably a disease, also had to do with lack of willpower and moral weakness. My bottom was not a particular event; it was the slow, miserable realization that my drinking routine was being played out almost as if I was watching from the sidelines. Oh look, it’s Friday, she’s going to stop and buy that bottle of wine she’s been thinking about all day. Now it’s Saturday. On Saturdays she’s hungover and miserable. But pretty soon she’s going to start drinking again to kill the hangover. Yep, there she goes. Even fights with my husband seemed to take on an almost scripted predictability. Once I took that first drink, everything just fell into its dysfunctional place. Despite all that, I still felt that I was making choices, that even though my life felt out of control, if I could just perform some magical alchemy and exert some as yet undiscovered willpower, I could learn the secret to moderate drinking. Clearly that didn’t turn out to be the case.

One minor disappointment since quitting drinking has been my failure to lose any weight. I was sort of hoping the last 15 pounds of baby weight would just magically melt away (but I figured that was wishful thinking). So since the weight isn’t going to lose itself, and also because I know exercise is an all around good thing, I decided to buy a cheap, manual treadmill so that I can get started right away, while it is still too cold to do much outside (gym memberships are not my thing, at least not right now, with little kids and limited disposable income). My work has a neat incentive program, where we can earn extra cash by logging steps and making healthy lifestyle choices. The website suggests 7,000 steps per day, and so, to aim high, my personal goal is between 8,000 and 10,000. So far I have hit my goal each day.

It was on the treadmill, while listening to a Bubble Hour podcast, that the confluence of a body in motion, a conversation I could relate to, and a mind unfettered by alcohol, jolted me into a sudden understanding of powerlessness as applied to addiction. I can only control whether or not I take that first drink. Very, very rarely, when left to my own devices, can I control how much I continue to drink after that. I was not the type who would drink until I passed out, drink everything I could get my hands on, or go to great and dangerous lengths to get more. I did have an absolute upper limit that hovered somewhere in the neighborhood of two bottles of wine. But if I had two bottles of wine in the house, and it was the weekend, I would drink all of the first, and almost certainly at least part of the second. No matter how much I bargained with myself beforehand, once I took the first sip, the story was written, the script followed.

Before we had kids my husband and I lived in our condo in the city. It is one of those old Chicago buildings with rear wooden stairways leading down to the alley. As you are coming down the stairs, you can see directly into the units below. I remember taking the trash down one summer evening and noticed my neighbor had a bottle of wine on her counter. A few days later, the bottle was still there, corked, half-full. A few days later, there it was, still half full. Who does that, I thought to myself at the time. Who leaves a half-drunk bottle of wine right there on the kitchen counter for days and days and doesn’t drink it? No such thing has ever, could ever, will ever exist in my life. It’s not a lack of willpower; it is powerlessness over alcohol. I get it now.

My girls are sick with yet another cold I have brought home from my work at a school. I have spent the evening making tea, warming up soup, fetching blankets and cuddling and soothing. It sounds monstrous, but when actively drinking, I have felt slightly resentful when my kids got sick. It was an extra drain on reserves I didn’t have. It put a crimp in my normal routine, which usually involved drinking or recovering from drinking. Despite having the same cold myself, I have the energy I need to be there for them, to care for them unselfishly, to genuinely feel empathy for their stuffed noses and scratchy throats.

I am powerless over alcohol. I feel like another layer has peeled away, and a new way of understanding has been revealed.