Next time I’ll be more specific.

I’m going to make Cortez wear a helmet, naturally.

For me, one of the challenges of early sobriety was finding other things that I enjoy doing besides getting black-out drunk.  When you take booze out of the equation, you suddenly find yourself with a LOT of time on your hands – at least I did. Now, there were a bunch of activities and/or hobbies I enjoyed WHILE drinking that didn’t really go together well.  Like reading. I cannot tell you how many times I have read the first paragraph of The Girl on the Train. Every single time I would pass out or immediately forget what I had read, and then would attempt to re-read it, yet again. I don’t think she ever got ON the damn train in the scope of my “reading”.* Now,  I also enjoy knitting, as I’ve mentioned before, but often drinking + knitting = my throwing a tangled skein of yard across the living room in drunken frustration and blaming it on Law and Order SVU and not the liter of vodka that preceded my attempt at being crafty in the first place.

Now, my husband enjoys his sports ball, of course, and he’s an avid reader himself. We both enjoy hiking but rarely find ourselves with the time or energy to hit the trails on the weekends these days, if the weather even cooperates.  We were a boozy couple so that factored in to a lot of our free time activities, before. A few weeks ago, while we were making dinner, I got a wee bit dramatic and  started complaining about the lack of time we spend together. I had become frightened that besides happy hour, maybe we didn’t have much in common after all. Of course this is grand hyperbole on my part, but it is what it is. We drunks like to obsess and spin and repeat things in our heads and make them even more miserable and apocalyptic, if at all possible. I could envision us as an elderly couple at our breakfast table years from now, silently digesting our morning meal with literally nothing left to say to each other. The prospect terrified me.

He listened to my concerns, and immediately reassured me that I’ll outlive him by decades anyway, so really, I shouldn’t fret. While that made me feel a little better, I still felt uncertain. Fast forward to my fiftieth birthday, last week. We were getting ready to go to dinner and my husband brought out some gorgeous flowers and a card. As I opened my card, I could tell he was visibly nervous. Now, let me interject here that my sweet husband swept me away last weekend for a getaway in the mountains that included a hot tub in our room and a Yacht Rock cover band so I had already HAD a wonderful birthday, for sure. I glanced up at him and smiled. I was 100% sure that envelope held another ridiculous surprise, I mean, come on, it IS my 50th birthday.

Well, I was correct. It was indeed a surprise, and indeed it was ridiculous.

What that envelope contained was thus: a sweet card and heartfelt written note from my husband that put a lump in my throat as I read it, a 3-hour cooking class featuring tamales, and (separately) a course in CURLING.  YES, CURLING.  You know, that sport happening RIGHT NOW in the Olympics that no one knows anything about?  That shuffleboard-on-ice shit?

Yes, that shuffleboard on ice shit. Now, these are for us as a couple, not just myself alone, so that makes it even more outlandish. My husband often refers to himself as The Great Indoorsman and you could say his athletic days are mostly behind him. I enjoy recreation but we are typically NOT that couple.  You know that couple. The couple that strolls around your neighborhood holding hands? Not us. That couple that jogs together in matching North Face jackets and heads for a kale smoothie after?  NOT US. The neighbors that get drunk and blast Neil Diamond while shooting off a BB gun in the back yard in their pajamas? THIS IS US.

When the shock and confusion of it all faded away, I saw my presents for what they were; the gifts of a sweet husband only wanting to make his wife happy. A husband who is trying to listen and do the next right thing. A man that is willing to risk looking like a circus bear on ice, just for me.  I also see that they are somewhat self-serving, I mean, the man LOVES his tamales.

I know nothing about Curling. Well, not yet anyway. So stay tuned and give me a few weeks and I promise to report back, hopefully with pictures. Probably from the local emergency room. What I do know is that I have a guy at home that is trying. And so am I.  And that, my friends, is totally worth sobering up for.

 

*When I finally did complete reading The Girl on the Train post sobriety, I found it amusing and somewhat ironic that the Girl, herself, was an alcoholic. Figures.

Christmas Spirits

So last night I went to a Christmas party hosted for and by my knitting friends and the lovely store where we gather. Yes, that’s right, I’m a knitter, and lately, I’ve even learned to crochet, so one could argue that I’m a hooker now as well. The party was delightful and it was so nice to celebrate the season with so many folks that have meant so much to me over the last few years. There was quite a spectrum of women represented (we do have dude knitters, they just weren’t at the party) and I’m often humbled that I’m even included in their company. Professors, stay-at-home-moms, retirees, working gals, world travelers, and more. Every single woman there was an ass-kicking superstar and I’m so lucky to be under their sturdy and strong wings. We often liken the shop to Truvy’s Beauty parlor in Steel Magnolias as it’s where we all gather and celebrate, commiserate, support each other, and occasionally we DO, in fact, knit.

Most of the gals in this menagerie know my story. Well, the cliff notes anyway. I assume they’re learning a bit more if they’re reading this little blog. NOT UNLIKE MY MOTHER.  Anyway, I had a choice (well, did I?) when the shit hit the fan in 2015 to be honest about my addiction and consequent situation, or to lie like I’ve been doing (mostly unsuccessfully) for the last 30 or so years. I don’t know if I chose honesty or if it chose me but the fact of the matter is that the truth was just easier.  Remember Viola Davis in that gut-wrenching scene in The Help where she confronts the ruthless Miss Hilly and says “All you do is scare people and lie to get what you want. Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly?  Ain’t you tired?!?”  Yes.  Yes I was.

So, with that, I’m extremely fortunate. My friends and even most acquaintances know that I am an alcoholic in recovery. And per my nature, they all know they can laugh with me at my challenges as well as celebrate my victories, and that, my friends, is priceless. They know they can ask questions, as well. I’m “out” of the closet liquor cabinet, one could say. However, I totally understand that many folks aren’t and that the holidays can often be filled with anxiety ridden events revolving around alcohol. I know a lot of people that struggle with alcohol also struggle with turning down a drink at a party, especially those new to recovery. “What will everyone THINK?” And that’s a fair assumption because really, when we were drinking we definitely didn’t turn down a drink and who in their right mind would?!?  Well, don’t get your tinsel in a tangle, there’s good news. I’ve not been out of the cabinet long but one thing I learned quickly is this; no one else cares. That’s right, I said it. NO ONE CARES IF YOU DRINK OR NOT.

Now, this does not include active alcoholics because they just may give you some flack because your ability to say no may turn their high-powered accusatory finger back on themselves.  I hear time and time again where people are flummoxed on what to say when offered a drink. I was no different. Last year at this time I went through a ridiculous week of sleepless nights leading up to my work Christmas party where only a few folks knew my truth and the rest did not, and they were a heavy drinking lot. What will I do if someone sends me a shot? What will I do if the president of the company wants to toast with me? WHAT DO I SAY?!? And guess what you guys? The president himself sat at my table and when the waitress came by for our drink order I ordered a soft drink and. . . nothing happened. Well, something happened. The gal brought me a diet coke and we commenced eating our holiday dinner. TA-freaking-DA.

Now I realize it can be nerve wracking to some and it goes against the social grain to turn down booze at a party but more and more I realize that it is not about ME at ANY gathering. Everyone else is so consumed with themselves that they are really not focusing on what you have or don’t have in your hand to drink. This was foreign to me of coursebecause as someone recently said, alcoholics are egomaniacs with an insecurity complex. Another friend of mine in recovery laments, “I know I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.” 

Well, that goes for most people, I’d say. We’re all just doing the best we can every day and social anxiety and awkward holiday parties are just part of the package this time of the year. Try saying “no thanks”, it’s simple and it works wonders. You can always say you’re driving and most normal people will respect that. In my case I could never say I was the designated driver BECAUSE I NEVER, EVER WAS. I’ve told a stranger that I’ve retired from drinking, when asked if I’d tried a certain sangria.  That worked and even got a chuckle.

I was at a party a few weeks ago where a lady asked me who I was and what I did. It was at the end of the evening and you know how sometimes inappropriate things just fly right out of your mouth? No? WELL BELIEVE ME, THEY DO. I casually replied with “Me? I’m an unemployed alcoholic.”

She retorted, “Oh no! You’re unemployed? I just recently got a new job myself.” I shit you not.

Like Nancy Reagan said, just say no. Well, maybe say “no, thank you”, I mean, unless you’re dealing with a pill-popping heroin pusher after school and then you can probably lose the Miss Manners etiquette and run like hell.

And no matter what you celebrate, to all, a good night.

In the beginning

Actual journal entry – 1989

During this process I’ve rediscovered some journals that I’ve kept over the years. It’s been cringe-inducing to read the rants and musings of my 20-something self, but also insightful and at times, hysterical. I hope to use some of these ancient missives in this blog and this was one of the first entries I stumbled upon. It stuns and saddens me that I knew 28 years ago that my drinking wasn’t normal.

I’ve left the spelling and syntax untouched as I feel transparency is tantamount to honesty. 

04/10/89

Days as cold, grey and cloudy as my mind. The cool morning air and stacks of smoke billowing from the dirty inner city, as I find my way home. The cafeteria is a blurred, scattered conversation that I’m not part of. These people have had showers, and more than likely, sleep.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to keep fucking up your life than to deal with the hassle of keeping it straight. Sometimes in the afternoons you find it’s difficult to remember who you saw or spoke to that morning, or in fact, exactly what you did. After all, you know better than to attempt to remember last night. You always feel more alive at nite, anyway. It’s dark and smoky and there’s something cold and alcoholic in your hand and you know that you can pretend all that you want tonite, and then pretend you didn’t tomorrow.

The nites in between are the best. The slow nights with the regulars are cool, but almost everyone feels they should be somewhere else. It’s a shared feeling, and we drink to it. There are nites when you can’t breathe and everyone is there, and you couldn’t care less. The nites in between are the unexpected ones, the ones that keep you going back. All the “right” people show up, the nite is young and the drinks flow almost freely. You feel that life is fair and good and lucky to be a part of it – and you feel like you fit, if only for a little while.

Then there are the days sometimes you find you can’t stand, and it’s 6:30pm. You laugh, and order another round. You toast to irresponsibility, watch the sun set through dirty windows, feel the lights as they flicker on, and wonder where tonite is headed, and you.

Every now and then you’re alone. Not often, but sometimes 15 minutes to 3 hours can catch you and you look around and inside. You see bills unpaid, and no $ to pay them with, if you’d even thought about it. Six classes missed and it’s only Wednesday. Unreturned phone calls, and a stack of laundry piled up the the closet shelf. So what do you do? It’s Wednesday $ night, and you grab something off of the top of the laundry heap, hope it doesn’t smell too bad, and run to Gus’s* to bounce a check and start the ball rolling.

Again.

 

* Gus’s was a joint on the strip in my college town that would cash checks for students. You know, back in the day when there weren’t atm cards and the like OMG I SURVIVED THE DARK AGES YOU GUYS.

Who are you?

One of the laments I hear amongst the newly sober is that they are concerned about losing part of their “identity” by becoming a  non-drinker. Drinking is just part of who they are, they say. Oh, I get it, I do.

If you’d have asked me a few years ago to sum myself up in a few sentences I’m quite sure “lover of all things martini” may have come up in the second sentence. When drinking has been part of your life as long as it has mine, well then. . . it IS part of your identity, sure.  It’s partly the truth and it’s partly your reputation but don’t discount the huge role it plays in your interactions with others. I was the life of the party, until I became the laugh of the party. . . and not in a good way.

It was definitely a big part of me though, and my persona. That wild gal, that bawdy uproarious chick that appeared to be so self confident, she and I were one for many years and it was terrifying to think of life beyond my liquid courage. Booze cured any social anxiety that I had. I was less nervous and awkward and more at ease. I could mix and mingle with the best of them and even though I’ve never been a shy person, I’ve been made to feel inadequate and been less than comfortable in many social situations. Booze took care of all of that, thank ya very much. Instant comedian, just add vodka!

Who would I be without it? Dull, for sure I thought. An exposed fraud perhaps? A sniveling and trembling graceless idiot? Yes, definitely. I will never be the same, I fearfully speculated.

Taking away the element of alcohol was a crippling thought. It was my defense, my armor. . . my SHIELD. The thought of going “dry” into just about any adult social situation (and some with children, let’s be honest) was enough to throw me into hyperventilation. Until I just did it.

That’s right. I just had to do it. And you know what? It was something I discovered at one such gathering that helped me to see things differently. My husband was speaking to a mutual friend of ours at a dinner party and I walked through the room at just the right moment and overheard him talking about me with his usual candor.

“Yes, she’s doing great and you know what? She’s funnier than ever. She is! In fact, I’d say she’s even more hilarious because she’s just so sharp now.  Man, I swear, she doesn’t miss a beat. Her wit and observations are even more astute, if you can imagine that.”

And just like everything else in my life, I saw myself a bit clearer than before.* Booze hadn’t made me smarter or funnier, or exceptional in any way. I realized then that by getting sober I had in fact unknowingly become a better version of myself. No, I certainly wasn’t the same gal anymore, and I’m truly thankful for that.

I’m certain not everyone likes this gal, but I sure do. And so do the people that matter most to me and of course, in the end, they’re all that matter.

 

*Let me be clear,  I’m no Gilda Radner or anything, it’s just occasionally he thinks I’m amusing and I sleep with him so he mostly has to say nice things.

Well, the cat is out of the Crown Royal bag now.

Admitting you’re an alcoholic to yourself is never fun, but it’s super unfunny when you have to tell someone outside of your inner circle. It’s even more awkward when it’s just discovered organically.

Last summer I was a temp and had just gotten hired full time at a new job and naturally I was thrilled as it had been a long haul in between jobs because of my black shiny swollen liver trying to shoot out of my ass  illness.

I go to various support meetings and one of them is an LGBT meeting that I adore. When I asked if it was okay if I attended such meetings, being straight and all, I was delighted when they replied that as long as I had the desire to stop drinking I was welcome there and homosexuality was totally optional.  Suh-weet.

So in the spirit of such things, the annual Gay Pride festival rolled around and I volunteered to work in a recovery booth for said support group. As I was sitting there taking in all the sights and sweating like a virgin at a prison rodeo, I noticed what would be my NEW boss walking towards me, holding hands with another woman. It IS gay pride, after all. I thought nothing of it.

I sprang from behind the collapsable table and jumped in front of them.

Me: “Hey guys! How’s it going?!”

My New Boss: *stammering* “Ummm…great! You?

I proceed to make cheesy small talk with her and her friend and tried to appear confident and capable of doing a fine job in my new role at her company. Finally, she got up the nerve to ask me THE QUESTION.

MNB:  *glancing around at the festivities surrounding us*  “I thought you had a husband? And kids?!?”.

Me:  “Yeah, I do! I’m married and I have two stepdaughters”.  I couldn’t figure out why in the world she was asking me about my family. Seriously, you guys…I’m that stupid.

And then, like a 2 x 4 to the skull, it finally hit me. OMG.

Me: *laughing and not quite thinking things through* “OH! I’m not gay, I’m an alcoholic“! I proceeded to point to the recovery booth I had previously been manning.

*crickets*

Now here one could say EVERYTHING was out of the closet and figuratively on the table. I did NOT mean to “out” myself to my new employer, certainly…it just happened. It flew out of my mouth like sometimes often things do.

To her credit she never mentioned our accidental rendezvous the following Monday and never told any of our coworkers to my knowledge. Over time as we worked together and learned more about each other we had some awesome private jokes and winks here and there and only once she mentioned that Saturday morning.  We laughed about the awkwardness of that day and she offered, “I guess we both felt we had something to hide”.

I didn’t agree and told her so.  I told her you couldn’t compare being gay to being an alcoholic. Being gay is part of who you are and she shouldn’t ever be ashamed, in my opinion. Now I look back on that exchange and I feel somewhat differently. She had felt shame for being gay. She had hidden it at times in her life. She also knew that it’s part of who she is, like her DNA or fingerprints.

Just like my alcoholism. It’s part of me, but not all of me. And that will never change, like my DNA or fingerprints. And if I’m being totally honest, my unbridled love of the show “Hoarders”.

Um, I’m not really sure what’s happening here but if memory serves Ben was attempting to dress a pumpkin up to look like me.  He and I adored Halloween and would celebrate all month long.  I imagine his conundrum here was how he was going to carve it’s mouth into a sneer and have a lit Marlboro light dangle out of it.

Peanut or plain?

I bought a new purse today at lunch.  Just a basic hippie-boho-looking-faux-leather-every day bag.

Salesgirl:  I unpacked these purses yesterday, they are so cool.

Me:  I love it!  I especially like this little semi-hidden pocket.  I can smuggle in contraband!

Salesgirl:  Contraband?

Me:  Yeah,  you know…like little bottles of booze and some weed or something.  Maybe a crack rock or two?!

Salesgirl:  *visibly concerned*  Or like maybe candy at the movie theatre?!?

Me:  YES OF COURSE THAT IS TOTALLY WHAT I MEANT TO SAY,  M&M’s AND SHIT.  (suddenly I’m shouting)

Salesgirl:  This is awkward.

Me:  YES IT IS.  (still shouting)