Staying Sober When Bad Things Happen

May! Wow, finally. And, spring. Well, maybe not. I think we skipped a season and went straight to summer. After what felt like the longest winter ever, we got some 80+ degree days this week and I have to say I don’t really mind sweating. But, what I kinda, sorta mind is feeling like I’ve lost the past four months.

Does anyone remember the start of his year? I do. Fondly. On January 3rd, I sent out a newsletter that started like this:

I set an intention to be even more present for myself

and others in recovery than I have ever been.

Reading that sentence feels like a dagger through my heart. You see, just 11 days after I wrote it, something bad happened. At the time, it didn’t seem like any kind of huge deal. But, in the days and weeks ahead, everything snowballed.

So, after starting off 2018 feeling inspired and strong and empowered to uplevel my voice and my role in the recovery space, I seemingly fell off the grid. The express train to Hell pulled into the station; apparently I had a ticket for an extended journey. I shared a few vague Instagram posts here and there about going through a tough time and it not being my story to tell, but that’s all.

Things have leveled out now and I am trying to get back. But, it’s like trying to push through a dam.

A week ago, I set aside a day to start writing again. I had compiled so many thoughts and ideas and felt a solid blog post brewing. I wrote and wrote and wrote and revised and got up and walked away and came back and revised and cried and took a nap and re-read … and nothing. The piece was awful. I have never struggled with writing before. Ever. And, the experience really caused me to question whether or not I had any business attempting a return to blogging. No matter how I massaged the words, they carried zero impact.

The block, I think, is because I so desperately desire to share every detail of what shifted my presence away from this space. I am struggling because I don’t know how to be anything but transparent and honest in my storytelling. And, while I am not doing anything wrong, omitting details feels icky.

So, here’s the bottom line, because people have come right out and asked and I don’t want there to be any doubt. No. I did not relapse. I am 1,185 days sober and working my recovery more and more every day, despite receiving countless invitations over the last few months to step back out onto the dance floor to waltz with my old partner in crime!

Drinking has been on my mind. A lot. This thinking about drinking has been pretty annoying actually, an almost constant thing — from dreams of drunkenness to heated conversations between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, my head stuck in the middle just throbbing from all their bickering.

While my heart and soul remain committed to my sobriety and my continued recovery, my brain can sometimes get sidetracked. Lately, the unwavering strength of this muscle memory even after not having a single sip of alcohol in more than three years has been impressive. It’s palpable. How that first sip from a wine glass or a beer bottle immediately smoothed the jagged edges of a stressful day. How subsequent sips seeped into my limbs and erased tension and worry. How multiple glasses and bottles marinated the various hunks of different emotions, covering up their true flavors and making them tolerable.

Isn’t it maddening how during a time of crisis, when we’re more prone to feeling weak and inadequate and incapable and uneducated and unsure and alone and beaten down and tired and all the things that make us want to hide under the covers, it’s so easy to become nostalgic for what we thought alcohol gave us than it is to remember everything it stole from us? Despite all the work I have done in recovery, I can still allow myself to long for the good old days and get sucked into the romanticism of drinking, forgetting what it was like the morning after. Until I shove myself back into the darkness and I see. The guilt. The shame. The realization that no matter how much medication I poured down my throat and how forever-drowned I thought my problems and feelings were they always survived, returning stronger than they were the night before as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got? Hit me again?” Insanity.

And, yet, despite taking this mental journey into the past, sometimes the present appears so difficult and so the-opposite-of-any-level-of-good that escaping for just a little while seems totally worth it. And, the internal debate rages on.

We give ourselves permission to do things we shouldn’t all the time. I instantly crumbled and began over caffeinating and over sugaring again. But there was no way I was letting alcohol in.

The events of 2018 thus far have presented me with the biggest challenges I have ever faced in motherhood to date. My heart broke several times and in dozens of places all at once, and I have now had conversations and fears and doubts and experiences I never imagined would be my reality. I hope one day the person who owns this story will understand the value of sharing it, or allowing me to share it, but we’re not there right now. And that’s alright.

While being vague is not my style, when it comes down to it, how I was feeling and what I did to maintain my sobriety matter far more than the actual series of events that made me want to drink. We all have crises in our lives. Mine was gigantic, to me. It might be small potatoes to someone else.

Despite doubling down on all my recovery tools and finding ways to be patient and gentle with myself (except for the caffeine and sugar indulgences which have caused a 15 pound weight gain that’s making me miserable) as well as pulling back from blogging, and withdrawing my participation in recovery social media circles in order to be fully present where I was most needed, I fantasized about returning to drinking in moderation. I can’t even believe I just wrote that. I feel like an idiot. It is the most ridiculous statement right now. However, in the throes of a major life crisis, it didn’t seem that absurd. Thank goodness for recovery. And hindsight.

What I have learned in recovery is just how disordered my drinking was. And, when my brain decides to wonder whether recovery has bestowed upon me the skills needed to handle just one drink (or maybe two), I have to pinch myself hard. I know that having to expend any level of energy whatsoever around moderation means I have no business drinking. If I had to dedicate time to creating rules about drinking and making sure I followed them and beating myself up for breaking them and then setting rules by which I could theoretically more easily abide next time, then I should not be drinking. At all.

Looking back on my drinking, I can clearly see a dramatic evolution of the rules I put around my alcohol consumption. Everything from not drinking during the week and bingeing on the weekend to not drinking during the week and selecting just two new bottles of wine to share with my husband (knowing he would have just one glass and stop) on the weekend to drinking just a glass or two on weeknights to drinking just one bottle on weeknights to making sure I didn’t start drinking until after a certain hour in the afternoon to letting my kids miss the bus in the morning so I had a reason to leave the house and could stop at the liquor store immediately after dropping them at school to purchasing only a six pack of beer and two bottles of wine every day to allowing myself a second trip to the liquor store if I waited a certain amount of time after drinking the six pack … and on and on.

When we attempt to moderate our consumption of something to which we are addicted, we become masters at justifying our behavior … because, if we are following the rules, then we clearly do not have a problem. Right? If we set goals and achieve them (even after a few minor adjustments), we’re successful. Right?

Having abandoned all that rule making and breaking nonsense, I have been gifted the most beautiful pair of backward looking eyes. They’re what allow me to sit here today and know my life is better without alcohol, even during the times when I wonder if I could go back to drinking, if I could have just one, or maybe two.

Before I got sober the first time in May 2014, I was completely caught up in the moderation game, the game of setting rules and breaking them and setting easier to follow rules and breaking them and setting yet even easier to follow rules … until the rules allowed me to live as a high functioning alcoholic. Until I could no longer keep up with the game I was playing. I could no longer expect people to believe my lies. I could no longer try to be this person who, despite physical appearances to the contrary, looked perfect on the outside but was really an absolute disaster. I could no longer ___________________. I just couldn’t. Any longer.

Yet, even when I admitted things were a mess and I sought help, I never imagined I would stop drinking forever. I just thought I needed to learn to drink better, to find the right set of rules to manage my consumption. I believed something magic existed for me, like a special diet plan that promised extreme weight loss … and quickly. I maintained (hung onto for dear life!) the notion there would always be a place for alcohol in my life. So, after almost seven months of sobriety and a fair amount of recovery (though I didn’t realize at the time that’s what it was), on December 24, 2014, I made a conscious decision to have just one drink.

And, thus began my new attempt at moderation. It worked fairly well for a few weeks and it was empowering — I remember the feeling so well. But, moderation turned right back into the pattern of drinking that had led me floundering into sobriety almost a year earlier. What I didn’t understand at the time is moderation isn’t something someone who does not have a drinking problem needs to practice. Moderation occurs naturally in normal drinkers. By definition, moderation is avoiding extremes of behavior, observing reasonable limits. If moderating alcohol consumption is a challenge, it’s time to remove alcohol from the equation. And, not add it back in. Ever.

So, that’s what I did 1,185 days ago. Thankfully, hindsight is absolutely 20/20 and I can absolutely count on it in times of trouble. It is my wisdom when I think I have none. And, the gift I receive every day is the ability to remember moderation was not and never will be an option for me. I had to play the game and lose — over and over and over again — before I learned how to win. Before realizing there was no place for alcohol in my life, I had to flirt with moderation for the better part of 20 years. That’s such a long time. Every day I mourn the years I wasted trying to become a normal drinker. Yet, there are still times I crave the ability to numb out. It blows my mind that I would even consider it. I hope one day the thought won’t dare enter my mind.


Originally published at Quit Wining.