Posted in self-care, sobriety, social anxiety

Two Social Weekends Over!

Good morning, everyone! It’s 8am and hubby has left to go fishing. I am sitting in my happy place with a lap full of dog and one of my favorite views. The minute we stepped in the cabin yesterday, I could feel all of the icky, stressful week just melt off of me. This is totally my sanctuary.

The last two weekends, we had visitors. The first weekend was Jan and Bob (who I wrote about last time) and then the next weekend were two important friends of my husband (who I had never met).

I went back and forth about how I felt about having visitors at the cabin. This cabin is half paid for with the money I use to spend on wine & vodka. This cabin represents so much about my sobriety and my new focus on self care. Did I really want to share it with family that stresses me out or with strangers? And what about alcohol? This cabin has never had a drop of alcohol in it (at least since we bought it). Its never had a hangover in it. Would someone drinking in my sober sanctuary ruin it? Some friends counseled me to forbid alcohol in the cabin, but then I’d have to tell them about my reasons for not drinking – and tbh, that is not something I share with just anyone. Some friends said we should just skip the cabin, and I considered that too, but even though Jan and Bob drive me insane…I also really wanted them to see the cabin. For some reason, I am forever trying to show them I turned out an ok adult.

So anyways, we did the cabin thing with both sets of visitors. With Bob and Jan, it was really tight quarters. They brought SO MUCH STUFF to a 700 square foot cabin! That’s totally “them”…go visit people and be as inconsiderate as possible. They didn’t drink at all the entire weekend, though. It was a surprise to me because literally every photo they post is a photo of alcohol. Alcohol is heavily intertwined in their reality. I don’t know if they just don’t enjoy drinking around non-drinkers or if they are trying to be respectful. They just know we don’t drink, not my situation. Honestly, most people think we don’t drink because hubby can’t drink on his medication. And while that’s true that he can’t – the reality is…I don’t drink because me and alcohol have had a 20 year abusive relationship, and hubby doesn’t drink because he is supporting me. The weekend with Bob and Jan was tough. I was pretty tired and was happy to reenergize after they left.

The next weekend with hubby’s friends – let’s call them Mike and Wendy – was AMAZING. I thought it would be difficult. I was going to be alone with Wendy the entire day while hubby and Mike went fishing. I imagined my social anxiety running the entire day. I thought of every single way I could fuck up the day. I imagined saying all the wrong things – or even worse – sitting around in that horribly uncomfortable silence that always leads me to bring up the strangest topics out of desperation. “Isnt it weird how socks have such an annoying hem right on the toe”? Seriously – 42 years and I haven’t come up with a list of NORMAL topics for this situation yet?!

All that worry and stress and yet the day was perfect! Me and Wendy went to the spa, then shopped, and then talked for hours. And we talked about politics, race, immigration – any “off topic” topic for talking to strangers…we talked about it! It felt so good to have a conversation with someone I was aligned with. That’s rare where I live. But get this…Wendy brought wine to the cabin! Fucking wine! Ugh! But honestly, it was fine. Since I told her I didnt drink, she just put it away until dinner time. At dinner, her and her hubby killed the bottle pretty fast. I could see her eyes glaze over just halfway into her first glass. I saw the fast drinking and the heavy pour…and I wondered if she doesn’t have even more in common with me…but who knows.

It’s funny how different the two weekends were. I had family with me one weekend – and I was stressed, tired, and felt tortured. Then I had perfect strangers with me another weekend and had the best time. We didn’t feel crowded in the small cabin and it just felt relaxing and good. That’s the thing about social anxiety – you prepare for all the potential terrors, but rarely do they come true. I almost always come out feeling completely different than I go into it. I wish I could get my logical self to explain that to my irrational self!

Happy Fall! It is really beautiful today, and I have two dreaded social weekends over and behind me!

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Forgiveness

Forgiveness is such a tricky thing. I’ve written a little about my upbringing – I was born to a 14 year old mom and 21 year old dad. My dad struggled with alcohol (among many other things), and my mom was a teenage runaway. I was raised by my very old grandma for most of my childhood – and the occasional relative whenever she was sick, and I couldn’t stay with her. Me and Grandma…we were poor, we were different, but we did the best we could. My dad was in my life off and on, and I never met my mom.  Thanks to my dad, I was exposed to so many ridiculous things as a child.  I frequently sat in the passenger seat of the car as my dad drank beer and filled the passenger floor with beer cans. I watched my dad pass out from being drunk.  I endured sexual abuse as a kid.  I was brought to bars and strip clubs – in fact, I had a stripper try to take me away from my dad once because she felt he was being such a bad father!  I was around my step mother having an affair, and I had to see my dad in the hospital …almost dead… because my step-mom’s boyfriend shot him. All of that shit…all of it…I understand for what it is and have made peace with. But there’s this whole other area in my life that I just can’t seem to get over. It comes and goes, it always hurts, and I really don’t know why.

When I was 13, I moved in with extended family – let’s call them Bob and Jan and their son Jimmy. Bob and Jan took me in when I needed it so badly.  They got me out of my dad’s house and into a good neighborhood, good school, and a somewhat “normal” life. I owe what my life has become to Bob and Jan. But the thing is –  even though it was a better environment – that time in my life is still a giant source of pain for me.  All my life, I never felt like any place was my home. I was always sleeping on a couch, sharing a bed, staying in a guest room, or moving somewhere new. Bob and Jan’s place was no different. I was living in a guest room, and I was a source of resentment for Jan and her son Jimmy. Jan was always angry with me and constantly told me how selfish I was. Now don’t get me wrong – I WAS selfish -I was a teenage girl. They are always selfish.  I was also a kid who grew up neglected and abused and always had to take care of myself.  The only thing I knew was self.  Jan argued with me, argued with Bob about me, and took Jimmy’s side in everything.  I never felt like I had the right to speak up or stand my ground – it wasn’t MY home…it wasn’t MY family. I’m sure Jan expected me to understand how much more of a burden I caused by them taking me in, but how can any teenager understand that? I’m sure she expected me to just happily accept my upgraded life and keep to myself. But I was a teenager…a traumatized teenager. She tried to force me to face issues before I was ready, she was angry that I wouldn’t, and she wanted me to just get over myself. She was never abusive, but she wasn’t loving. She never showed she cared, even though I’m sure she did in her own way. She always seemed in a competition with me – a competition I didn’t know how to play and didn’t want to be in. Back then, all I wanted was to be loved unconditionally… and all she could offer was conditional love. All I wanted was to belong, to have a home, and to be a part of the family… and all she could offer was a guest spot.

Fast forward 20 years – Bob and Jan adore me and speak proudly of me. They refer to me as their daughter. They visit me and my husband, and we have a good time together. Me and Jan have meaningful conversations and have a lot in common. From the outside, we seem like we have worked through a few difficult years. And the thing is – up until last year – I thought we had gotten past it all (mostly). Then last year, I decided to quit drinking and EVERYTHING changed.  I mean everything.  Things that had nothing to do with drinking changed.  For some reason, all of my relationships were back up for review.  For some reason, everything I thought I knew …was wrong, different, or changing – including me and Jan. Without wine, suddenly, I hated Jan. When I thought of Jan, I just thought “how could you treat a broken child like that”? It’s like I am hurt all over again. Even though I never really drank to avoid things – daily drinking does that, doesn’t it?  I basically spent my 20s-40s in a perpetual cycle of work hard all day long, then drink wine all evening long.  When did I ever have time to actually address my feelings about anything?  I guess I didn’t.  I guess that’s why it’s still raw and painful and shitty.  But how do you deal with all the past stuff? Stuff from 20 years ago?  I don’t feel like she owes me anything. I don’t even feel it’s necessary to discuss the past with her.  It’s something inside of me that needs to be resolved and nothing she can do or say will do that.  I just don’t know how to process old feelings…how to let go…how to forgive.  Maybe it’s just a time thing?  What do you guys think?

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1 year alcohol-free

Sitting here this morning incredibly grateful. I am at the cabin we were able to buy because I no longer spend money on wine and vodka… the cabin that I have NEVER had a hangover in…the cabin that I have never had a drunken rage-filled argument in…the cabin that I wake up in feeling rested and happy and remember everything from the night before. This cabin is peaceful, beautiful, surrounded by nature and all the details I use to miss out on in life. This cabin represents everything about my new life. It’s my new happy place, and I couldn’t have it if I were still drinking.

I celebrated a year of alcohol-free living on September 19th. Hubby made me pancakes and had roses sent to me! I went to a SMART meeting and got to see some great new sober friends, and then we wrapped up the celebration by going to a Maroon 5 concert.

I look back over the year and am amazed. How did I get here? At first by accident, then with a “what the hell, let’s see how it goes”, and then eventually with a firm commitment to a changed life. I got here because I didn’t drink…even when I wanted to. Sometimes that was easy, and sometimes that was hard as hell. I didn’t drink because I threw the book at it over and over and over again.  I did the lessons, I repeated the mantras, I cried, I sighed, I yelled, I posted, I learned when I needed to, and I just held on when I couldn’t possibly learn anything more. Sometimes I didn’t believe it was possible, and I had to borrow you guys’ strength instead. Thank you for always being there and always offering your support. I am forever grateful.

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I did not drink…but I thought about it

In 11 days, I will be 1 year alcohol-free. I have done a ton of work – regularly blog about being alcohol free, attend a weekly SMART meeting, stay active on several sobriety Facebook groups. I rarely think about alcohol and usually anticipate potential triggers and pre-plan my ass off.

So – I have my shit together, right? I’m stable, right? I have nothing to worry about, right?

Last night, me and hubby checked into the cutest boutique hotel. We walked into this gorgeous suite, and were greeted with two bottles of red. I did not drink, but I thought about it.

Later, we walked down to this gorgeous restaurant with romantic live music playing. We sat at the over-sized table and looked through a delicious farm-to-table menu… covered with fancy drinks that we use to drink at places like this. I did not drink, but I thought about it.

We then booked a spa appointment and were told that they would be happy to welcome us with champagne. I didn’t take them up on that offer, but I thought about it.

While sitting through our delicious dinner, I heard wine glass after wine glass being poured and clinked with cheers. For a moment, I entertained this idea “I could drink tomorrow while hubby goes fishing. He would never know. I could just do it this once”. I sat with that thought for a minute. Normally I’d talk to hubby about it, but the tables were so huge that I felt like I’d be yelling across the room – so instead, I sat with it on my own. I then took a big deep breath and told myself what I’ve said to so many others in this situation… “Think it all the way through. How will you feel when you waste your weekend getaway drunk? How will you feel going for a massage dehydrated and hungover? How will you feel when hubby gets back from fishing and you’re clearly drunk? How will HE feel? Do you want this to be the weekend you drank 11 days before your 1-year celebration”?

Today, hubby left at 5 am to go fishing. I woke up happy and refreshed – because I wasn’t hungover. I had room service delivered – with pineapple juice and sparkling water instead of mimosas. Then I went to the spa where I was welcomed with delicious green tea instead of champagne.

Yesterday, I thought about drinking 4 different times. Today, I can’t even imagine any other way to be other than alcohol-free.

I’m sharing this for a few reasons…1) no matter how long it’s been or how much work you’ve done – don’t underestimate the power of memories and associations 2) that stuff passes just like everything else does 3) we have been taught great tools to get through this stuff – remember to use them 4) I am so grateful to have taken this journey and to have met all of the supportive, wonderful people (like you guys) through this process!

Today I am sober. Today is good. Alcohol can go fuck itself!

 

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Missing the point…

This last month has been an odd month.  I’d say it’s been the most anxiety I’ve had in over a year.  I’ve been really busy at work – dealing with argumentative clients.  I’ve been having a really hard time sleeping.  Now, I’m also considering a job change.  I don’t know if these are related to the anxiety or not. I don’t think it actually matters. What’s important is that I figure out the right way to handle it.

Many of us spend a lot of time trying to avoid unpleasant things. It’s natural to not want to feel crappy, but I’m learning it’s actually important to learn how to deal with unpleasant things effectively.  Distracting ourselves, putting things off, running away, numbing ourselves from things… none of that solves the issue at hand.  Things like boredom, loneliness, stress – these are all things we are meant to sometimes experience.  It’s funny how I use to expect everything to feel good all the time and how little tolerance I still have for anything else.

Today, I am tired.  I am tired of politics, controversy, and people finding something wrong with everything. I thought I had a meaningful conversation with someone that had a different opinion than I had. I thought it was a discussion about topics and nothing about each other. I thought it was a discussion that gave new perspective to each of us. I left thinking it was a good conversation.  Then later, I overhear that person talking about the conversation to someone else.  Their opinion of what happened was so different from how I thought the conversation occurred.  I feel like I will never actually know how anyone really feels about anything…like somehow, I speak a different language than the people I’m talking to.

Two people watch someone draw a circle on a piece of paper.  One person walks away talking about the piece of paper.  The other person walks away talking about the pen.  Both people missed the fucking circle all together. What’s the point?

This is the stuff I now think about instead of wine and vodka.  At least I’m thinking, I guess!

 

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Relapse Prevention

I’ve been attending SMART meetings recently and have been reading through their workbook. I find SMART to be a great addition to my sobriety toolbox.  It’s aligned with the sobriety school that I attended and really builds on what I’ve already worked through.  I’m grateful to have found it.

I’m coming up on 11 months alcohol-free.  Alcohol isn’t really on my mind much.  I don’t have to use my tools as much as I use to, and I don’t generally have to worry about sobriety.  I’ve figured out how to replace my old thoughts and activities with new healthy thoughts and activities.  I’m living a new life now, but just because I don’t have to worry often, doesn’t mean I should stop planning.

As the SMART workbook says, “The best way to handle a relapse is to prevent it”!  I really liked the section in the workbook that addressed relapse prevention.  This is exactly what I was looking for at this stage!  Here are the main areas they say to always keep an eye out and prepare for:

Complacency – Beware of thinking “I’ve regained control and might be capable of moderation”.  I’ve had experience in the past with this, and it’s exactly where I tripped up before. My reality – and what I remind myself of when this comes up – I’ve tried the moderation thing.  The thing is – if I could moderate, moderation wouldn’t even be something I’d need to think about doing.  Moderation is a myth.  Either you don’t need to do it, or you wish you could do it.  There’s really no in between.

Association – Even though I’ve worked through a lot of “firsts” and changed a lot of associations that I’ve had with alcohol, there are still some that come up when I’m not expecting it. For example, the other day we were out eating sushi, and I saw a bottle of Sopporo.  For a split second, I thought “Oh wait – why haven’t I ordered Sopporo? I always have Sopporo here”!  Then immediately, I caught it! Without even realizing it, I was already responding to myself “Because I don’t drink anymore, and it wouldn’t be good anyways.  It wouldn’t be just one, and it wouldn’t do anything to improve this experience”.  Luckily, thanks mostly to the book This Naked Mind,  I’ve practiced recognizing this type of thinking and my rational thinking now automatically jumps into place.

Boredom – This is one I am still perfecting.  I didn’t realize how much of my time use to be filled with thinking about drinking and drinking.  And honestly, if I was bored and had no idea what to do… I just made some fancy drink and let the day proceed as a drinking day.  Now, if I am bored and have no idea what to do – I have to actually THINK…TRY…GET OFF MY ASS.  This is something I don’t have a lot of practice doing. I also don’t have a lot of patience – so trying to come up with ideas when I haven’t practiced it much – well, I grow tired of it quickly.  My inner two year old comes out BIG TIME.  “Why do I have to come up with something.  Can’t something just happen already”?  That’s not how the world works, missy!  Be responsible for yourself! Figure your shit out!  So, I need to make a list of “shit to do when I can’t think of shit to do”.  Then it won’t be so hard and frustrating when it comes up.

Emotions – This is another one that I’m still working on.  The thing is, drinkers don’t have a lot of practice in this area.  A lot of us used drinking to help us cope with emotions.  Excited and ready to celebrate? Pop some bubbly!  Exhausted from dealing with work divas all day?  Pour a glass of wine!  Bored out of your mind and don’t want to think?  Have a couple beers!  See what I mean?  Rather than dealing with and going through emotions we didn’t really care for… we just muted them with alcohol.  Early on, I figured out how to have happy moments without hooch.  Those moments are actually SO MUCH better without it, and that’s because it feels GOOD when you’re present and happy!  But… wait, you want me to also be present and feel the shitty ones too? WHAT?!  Yeah, that’s right… the shitty feelings ARE part of the human experience too.  And sure, we can try to distract ourselves, numb ourselves, push those things off for a while – but ya know what? They don’t go away until we face them!  So – while I am not enjoying stress, anger, boredom, frustration… I AM learning to appreciate them. I AM starting to see the value of those emotions. I am also realizing – they don’t last forever!  And honestly, I am starting to appreciate that I have the ability to have them.

Fantasy – We tend to glorify the “good times” and forget the bad parts.  While I don’t believe dwelling on the bad parts is what keeps me sober, I do believe remembering the reality of the situation does.  When I catch myself thinking back to “that cold mug of beer”… or “how great wine on the patio was”… I now think through the entire event.  I question myself. I make myself see the true reality of how I have a bunch of associations to alcohol that are lies – those associations don’t tell the full truth.  They might as well be ads for a big-promising-but-actually-crappy product that you’re like “this is nothing like they said it would be” after you get it!

Frustration – This goes back to that thing I discussed before – we tend to want what we want when we want it… and how we want it.  Part of being sober is recognizing that life isn’t always the way we want it. I am slowly learning acceptance and patience.  Things you watch parents teach their two year old – “no, you have to wait your turn” …. “no, you can’t play with that, it’s not yours” … “we can’t do anything about the fact that it’s raining”… that’s the stuff that I’m having to teach myself now, and it’s important to be patient with myself and remember drinking doesn’t make that stuff any better.

Opportunity  – This one was an interesting one I hadn’t considered until I read it in the workbook.  A triggering event can literally be a situation where you could drink, and no one would ever know.  So, maybe you’re on a work trip – you could drink and get away with it.  Or maybe you’re home alone and there’s a bottle of liquor in the house – you could drink, and no one would even know.  Because I don’t really think about drinking much at this stage, I hadn’t really considered this as a potential situation I’d face.  BUT – I also know perfect storms happen.  So, I think it’s important to plan for situations like this.  Going on a work trip?  You have no plan to drink, but what if the trip is total shit AND your presentation went bad AND you’re bored with nothing to do in the evenings AND your sitting at the hotel bar eating dinner?  It’s pretty damn possible that those circumstances could cause a trigger.  I think the best way to be successful through that is to prepare and have a plan for what I’d do in that situation OR how to prevent it from happening all together!

So, there’s my take on SMART’s relapse prevention tips.  Do any of you have other tips or advice? Have any of you gotten to the “I rarely think of alcohol” and then faced any of the above?  What did you do?

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Everything Isn’t Always Perfect…and That’s OK!

When I was drinking, I led two separate lives. There was the life that everyone on the outside saw, and then there was the life that I actually lived on the inside. This is also how I view my life with an anxiety disorder. Everyone on the outside thinks I’m put together, but on the inside it takes a lot of medication, CBT, and other internal work to not lock the doors and never leave the house. I think this is also how many people feel with other mental illnesses.

I was not what society tends to think of when they think of “an alcoholic”. That’s because society has a completely inaccurate view of what that means. Unless you have struggled with alcohol or know someone who has – all you have to go by is advertisements, TV, and movies. We all think people with alcohol struggles are homeless …or cant keep jobs …or are the falling down drunk at the bar …or some other example of what is really the absolute end-game of addiction. There are SO many stages long before that happens. Unfortunately, because we don’t know that – a lot of troubled drinkers can continue their unhealthy relationships with alcohol for a lot longer because they have those examples to lean on. “I cant be an alcoholic, I work. I cant be an alcoholic, I’m responsible”.  The whole world believes we should be able to “drink responsibly” and magically consume an addictive substance using just “self control”. Meanwhile, alcohol makes you feel better (at first) when life is a little shitty – so why wouldn’t you use it to help get by? Then you play “Russian roulette” with the addiction-odds for the rest of your drinking career.

There are SO many people who struggle with substance use…so many people with anxiety disorders, depression, and other illnesses. Suicide rates, bullying, and mass shootings are climbing. These are all signs of people struggling to get by and not having the proper coping mechanisms. We don’t know how to recognize problems. We don’t know how to cope with them. We don’t know what to do once we realize we have them. So often, we see everyone else’s perfect lives and compare our reality to their carefully molded and Facebook-edited lives. We think we are broken because we don’t see anyone else broken. We think we are broken because no one else admits they struggle too. We think we are hopeless because we don’t know how to escape our issues, and no one else seems to have them.

We need to talk about our lives. We need to admit the good and the bad. We need to learn about the things our friends, family, and community are facing. It will never change if we keep hiding our problems. It will never change if we pretend nothing is wrong.