Archive | August, 2013

The problem with achievement

30 Aug

7:18 pm

I know I should (want to) be posting more often, but with titles like “Sigh” (yes, there’s a draft post in my list titled “Sigh”) I haven’t been able to hit send on any of my drafts, as it were.

Lately, I have to admit, I’m starting to feel like the only one who’s not really having fun at the (sober) party. I’ve also been thinking about drinking again. You know, when I get to 180 days. I’m not jones’ing for a drink, but I can’t help but wonder, Would I feel more like myself again if I inserted that habit back into my life? Would it help to orient me? More importantly, could it help boost my motivation back to some level of normalcy?

I don’t want to say that life sucks right now. For the most part, all is well, and I’m glad for all the things that I get to have by being sober: a clear head, no hangovers, never doing or saying anything destructive. OK, I got it. Good. Thank you.

What isn’t good is my lingering lack of…oomph. I just don’t feel excited about anything. Not the way I used to. The fire feels out, and I don’t know how to re-light it!

It’s hard to explain. It’s not that I don’t have work or hobbies, it’s just that I don’t really *feel* like doing any of them. The way I used to. I don’t feel any sense of achievement after doing almost everything, honestly. Yeah, yeah, it’s done. Can I go back to staring out at the water now? Maybe I don’t have the “huge” sense of accomplishment I once had because I was always hung over, and doing anything with a hangover seems like a Herculean feat. Back then, brushing my teeth felt like I climbed a mountain. And, getting through my work day? Well, I might as well have flown (with my own wings) to the moon. Now, everything I used to do just makes me feel sort of impatient and empty–is this it?

I realize that I used drinking to fill the void of not knowing how to spend my free time. I became reliant on using it when I’d feel that pull I just mentioned, feeling burnt out and “been there-done that.” However, as I was thinking about what to write for today’s post (which included a lot of procrastinating), I realized something: my addiction goes beyond the using of wine. My “core” addiction centers around not knowing how to spend my my time, period, without having something to achieve or accomplish. Which stems from an addiction to achievement.

Whenever I think and believe I haven’t accomplished much, I feel depressed. I feel sad. I feel frustrated. And, I want to drink. Wanted. Want. I want to make those feelings go away, to escape from those thoughts. I can’t just “be.” I need–and that’s the key word–to always be doing something “exciting” or “new.” I need–key word–to always be having something, or acquiring something, and in this scenario, that something is experience. I am, in essence, addicted to getting new things–knowledge, experiences, and maybe sometimes even things, but I’m much less addicted to consuming things as I am experiences. So, I drink to both ease the pain of not getting what I want, what I have come to need; and I drink to get an artificial version of that high.

This is both enlightening and saddening. While it’s good to know that wine is not the be-all, end-all of my addiction, it’s not so good to know that now, I honestly don’t know what’s healthy and what’s not. How much do I don’t do? If I was living my “old” life right now, I’d still be at work. I’d be just as unhappy there, “doing shit,” as I am now, “not doing shit.” And there, my friends, is the essence of the conundrum: there is no solution, at least no fast one, to this so-called problem. I know plenty of people who simply solve this and other existential conundrums with a drink–give it a rest, they’d say. Don’t think too hard on it. Others work harder, have more kids, get involved in others’ lives–you know, live life. My stumbling block is that these thoughts are in my head 98 percent of the time instead of the what I maybe erroneously believe is the “normal” 2 percent.

On that note, I’m not drowning and I still have (a little) hope that I’ll start to feel more excited about doing shit soon. I have found that just continuing to set daily goals and complete them helps. Ignoring the bad thoughts and feelings helps. Going for walks, doing yoga, and running or swimming helps. I have to smirk, in an ironic, God damn it, sort of way, when I think about drinking again. Even if I DID start drinking again, I know that it would not at all help me solve this problem. Other things might, like taking a trip, getting a different job, or moving (at least temporarily). But not drinking. I know too much now. DAMN IT.

Two more weeks until my 6-month mark. Woot woot. (insert sarcastic-wink emoticon here)

It takes all kinds, even drunk people

26 Aug

7:31 pm

I went to a day-long “party” yesterday–started with a late lunch and ended with a dip in the hot tub, a home-cooked pasta dinner, a night swim in the pool, and watching the MTV music awards. All kinds of people were there: normal drinkers, non-drinkers, and drunks (at least for the night). And, after all this time, I’m starting to both know and respect my limits–and surprisingly enough, others’!

It was so ordinary for me to not drink that I didn’t feel any of the usual weirdness. I wasn’t drinking–normal. I wasn’t engaging in loud chitchat–these people have never seen me do that. I wasn’t stumbling around, being overly emotional or obtuse or offensive–not even in the realm of possibility when I’m my sober (contained) self. I also wasn’t thinking, Oh, I wonder if everyone thinks I’m as lame as I feel?…because I wasn’t feeling lame. I was feeling calm, proud, self-possessed. I was feeling perfectly fine being sober, as if, being sober was just one of the infinite variations on being. Being sober simply doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t separate me from others. It doesn’t distinguish me as something else. You’re drinking, I’m not. Carry on.

Am I glad I wasn’t babbling on and embarrassing myself through an acidic, blurry haze? YES. Am I glad I was able to get up at 11:30 and say, Welp, it’s time for me to go, I’ve got ‘Breaking Bad’ to watch at midnight? Fuck yeah. Am I glad to not be hung over? Uh, that NEVER gets old!

What’s different, I guess, is that I really wasn’t paying all that much attention to what and how much everyone else was drinking. Most people, I’ve realized, don’t even GET the concept of sobriety, let alone have it in themselves to judge anyone for being sober–especially in a setting where they’re getting their fix. I think most people are just too busy having a lot of fun, having a little fun, or not having fun to worry about what anyone else is doing at a party.

Sure, I noticed there was champagne, but I felt too bloated to really care. I might have said no anyway had I not been sober (I have a short fuse on champagne). I was actually really thirsty toward the end of the night, and as I was drinking my bottled water, I did notice one person cracking open beer after beer; and what I thought foremost was, Wow, that looks SO like the opposite of what I want right now (which was water), not, Wow, she’s drinking a lot and really fast, maybe I should waste two brain cells contemplating HER choices?.

One thing I do when I start to feel “thoughtful” about my not drinking (like, wondering what others are thinking of me, if they’re thinking anything) is I relax. I literally make my body go slack, take a deep inner breath, and try to project this feeling of inner calm to the outside. I KNOW from experience that when most people are drinking, they’re not thinking AT ALL about those sober folks in the room. And, if there is a split-second thought of, Oh, what a wet blanket, it fades in the next instant and is replaced by the all-consuming, Where’s the wine (or beer, or vodka, or weed, or whatever)? Projecting a sense of calm to those who have been reduced to lower-brained mammals seems to me the best way to say, I am doing fine, thanks, and get them to back down and think it was their idea. 😉

While I didn’t necessarily want to drink, I had one familiar moment of, Aww, this is SO not going to be fun/Aww, this would be SO much more fun and I’d feel SO much more a part of it if I was drinking. It was fleeting, a minor blip. What a relief, after over 14 months from my initial sober date, to finally be at a point where it feels practically normal–and good–to be sober in social settings? Let me be the first (not) to tell you: it gets better. It does, it does, it does. Your mind recovers, literally. You BECOME sober, which means that it doesn’t happen overnight. But happen, it DOES. I mean, I NEVER would have thought I could socialize sober and enjoy it– and here I am, beginning to do so.

What am I trying to say? I guess that both drinking and not drinking has become almost a non-issue these days. Within a matter of weeks, actually, that table has turned. There is a point–at least for some people, including myself, who maybe USED wine but wasn’t ultimately DEPENDENT on it–where the cravings and obsession and thoughts of drinking die down enough to be replaced by thoughts of what to do with your career, and what to do in your relationship, and everything else that’s important. I don’t want to say that I’ll be drinking again–most likely, no. However, nothing in life is black and white–a personal mantra that gets stronger and stronger with every single passing day of sobriety.

(Maybe my “dip”-turned-month-long depression finally lifted? Like someone smart once said, and I’ll say it again, Carry the fuck on!)

Brussels sprouts and Saturday night!

24 Aug

11:58 pm

I never used to like cooking for people. It made me feel really uncomfortable–almost more uncomfortable than eating in front of people. To me, cooking for someone was like me taking a megaphone and putting it next to the collective ear, blaring “I never eat so how could I know how to cook!” And it’s true: a lot of my bulimic tendencies can be traced back along a winding thread to core issues. I never felt safe expressing my feelings, and I somehow felt very strongly that eating was a form of self-expression. Cooking, too. If I was afraid to let you in on my feelings, of COURSE you couldn’t watch me eat, I used to think. And, if I couldn’t show love and affection, of COURSE I couldn’t cook for you either.

Before drinking, I had food issues. Not exactly of the eating kind, though I did binge (compulsively overeat, I think is the technical term that matches most closely what “afflicted” me from about 17 to 21 or so). It was more an emotional block surrounding food: when I ate in front of people (not when I binged, then I felt release), and when I cooked, I felt emotionally exposed. And, it was a horrible feeling.

When it comes to cooking for others, the first thing that usually comes to mind for many women is cooking for “our manz.” You know, you’re supposed to be this mother Earth (sex and food) goddess, who just so happens to know how to keep her manz by making his belly feel good and round and full. (Yeah, the concept made me want to throw up a little in my mouth, too–literally.) I never had a manz until later (my first boyfriend showed up when I was 22), and by that time, my cooking “skills” consisted of being able to feed myself semi-regularly. Which, as a diagnosed bulimic, wasn’t going so well.

I feared being judged. Of COURSE, I can’t do this right, my self-esteem issues willed me to believe. And, believe I did. It wasn’t like I was a klutz, I just had no practice at opening up and sharing how I felt. And, this somehow transmuted into me being unable to serve people. I was afraid of what they might think of not just my food, by of my expression–was I easy-going or uptight, warm or cold, abundant or sparing? I believed I was all the bad, an uptight, frigid, pared-down “nervous ninny” who had NO business trying to feed anyone, let alone a crowd.

Looking back, I feel sorry for how harshly I judged myself.

Anyway, it took me YEARS to be able to feel safe enough to begin cooking with a boyfriend, let alone serve him food and be able to simply enjoy him enjoying it–and not take it personally, like he was rejecting my entire emotional being if he didn’t like it. I HAVE cooked for a group, mostly with family members (they don’t count, in my book) and my current boyfriend. I made a pie once for an ex, and by the time I was done, I was so shitfaced I can’t remember much except that the dough was a lumpy, uncooked mess when I took it out of the oven. I don’t remember if I cooked it more or not, but I knew in my heart that he thought it was almost as shameful as the way I drank (to quell my nerves throughout the entire process). What an ass, for not telling me to quit–both drinking and making pies while drunk.

Fast forward to now, 159 days sober and having just spent the evening working on my latest creation: pureed brussels sprouts! I know, weird, right? My host mother in Paris (I studied abroad during my junior year in college) would make it all the time, so I think I just felt like going back. WAY back, as almost 20 years have passed since I was there.

It turned out well, I must say. What I truly love about cooking is the “art project” nature of it. It’s like my form of art project; and the best part is, it’s completely not intellectual and the product is kind of WAY better than like, a poem or a painting. I mean, you can fucking EAT IT! I love using the ingredients that I have, and guessing what I should substitute in for a missing one by aroma. I love smelling things, and I love imagining how two or three different ingredients could, combined, amount to an approximate texture or taste of something else.

What the FUCK does this have to do with being sober? Well, foremost, I wouldn’t be doing this on a Saturday night if I was out at the bar, drinkin’–the entire process was a three-part one, starting with steaming, followed by food processing and then blending. If I wanted to look on the dark side, I’d tell myself that I *should* be out, socializing instead of holing myself up, making fucking brussels sprouts puree. For God’s sake, it’s not even a main dish! (And, even worse, I just made that, nothing else.) Or, I *should* at least have attempted to subvert the old ways of thinking, invited a few peeps over, and we could’ve, you know, made dinner together–including but not necessarily limited to pureed brussels sprouts.

But, I’m NOT going to look on the dark side. All in due time, or, baby steps. I like cooking, so why not? And I’ve come a long way toward not only cooking, but being able to enjoy the process of sharing food. I also feel like cooking is an art project, something that I can do that doesn’t resemble thinking-based, improvement-oriented hobbies (reading, writing, playing an instrument, etc.)–good for someone like me.

And the best part? I never once thought that drinking would have made tonight better. If I had been drinking, I’d probably have ruined my taste buds, oversalted, eaten WAY too much and woken up the next morning wondering where the hell all my puree went (not to mention, brussels sprouts are not something one wants to binge on, believe me), and/or passed out before I finished. Instead, I’m enjoying the memory of sipping a few hot, savory spoonfuls as I type this blog post to my friends in the good, old “sobersphere.” Now, that’s something to toast my fourth (oops) Diet Coke-on-ice to!

WordPress is wonky–can someone help me?

23 Aug

11:18 am

Well, aside from coming out of a few weeks of self-centered, poor-me doldrums, AND making it to 22 weeks plus 4 days today, which is the LONGEST I’VE EVER GONE SOBER–I have issues with WP.

One is, I am no longer seeing some people’s posts in my Reader feed. I haven’t made any changes to my settings, so I’m not sure why this is happening.

Two, and again I’m not sure what’s going on here, when I go to comment on some blogs that I’ve been commenting on for over a year, the system is prompting me to put in my identity, doesn’t include my personal gravatar, and appears to need approval from the blogger (isn’t it that once you comment, and are approved, your comments are always approved with no need for the blogger to approve you each and every time?).

Help! I’ve looked through all my settings and don’t know. I haven’t made any changes to them, so I’m lost. Thanks, friends…

Lack of motivation, or, My attempt at neuroscience

20 Aug

5:25 pm

Lack of motivation. Bored to tears is not just an expression. Maybe some days you’re simply not meant to get much done? Except, ahem, eating and drinking everything in the house. (Why is it that after quitting drinking, we turn to food and substitute drink? Is there something so hardwired about equating “food substance” or “something that is going into my alimentary canal” with “reward” that we can’t shake it no matter how long and hard we try?)

Today is OK–meh, actually–and I can deal with that. However, I’m having the usual brain fart: I find it difficult to hold my thoughts in form; like food that wants to be vomited up, my thoughts want to come out in fragments that don’t resemble much of anything that makes sense.

Is this writer’s block, or simply something I have to contend with from now on? PAWS gone wild? I’m hoping the latter, but most of the time, my patience wears thin. I don’t have time for this shit.

Once every few days, I take note of my motivation level, which seems to me to be pretty damn low. And, I think I’ve figured it out: maybe for so long I associated EVERYTHING–work and play, life in general–with drinking, now my dopamine circuits can’t (won’t?) fire for anything without the attached reward (wine). It goes almost without saying that that sort of freaks me out, considering that I need to like, eat and work and laugh, whether or not (not) there is wine involved.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “normal” people–and even a lot of drinkers who did not fall as far as I must have–simply cannot understand this. Their dopamine circuits still allow them to desire to do many things, whether or not booze is in the picture. Like, eating, or going to the gym, or working. I was actually vaguely aware of how much I relied on the “reward” of wine in order to motivate myself to do any of these things toward the last few years of my drinking. And then it got worse: I skipped eating altogether; I only worked out in order to both be able to drink more and maintain a modicum of health such that my body could continue to drink more; in the end, the only thing that got me through my often painfully intellectual day was the reward of wine after having gotten through it and, later–it got even worse–the reward of wine DURING said day.

It was a neverending cycle, and I’m not sure how I ended up in its claws OR how I managed to extricate myself. Maybe throwing up a bottle of red wine at 3:30 am and then drinking an entire OTHER bottle before getting up, showering, and getting on the commuter rail by 7:20 am became one of those few-and-far-between memories that could override the need for wine? Uh, maybe.

Dopamine is involved not only in giving you pleasure, but in making you want to seek out pleasure. Motivation to do, or in science speak, to perform behaviors that are associated with pleasure. Now, if EVERYTHING you do–for me it ranged from running to writing to travel to talking on the phone with friends and family–you associate with the reward of drinking, and you place a high level of importance on this reward, eventually your dopamine circuit is only going to fire to motivate you toward these associated things as long as there is the reward of wine. If there is no reward of wine, there is no dopamine, and therefore, no motivation. (I’d like to do some interviews on this, but I think this is the gist of it.)

When the associated behavior/triggers are going out to bars, or hanging out with friends, ditching the wine isn’t the end of the world. But I associated everything with drinking.

Now, I feel no strong urge to do anything. I work because I NEED to, and I run and eat and read and hang out and go swimming and take care of the dogs and plant shit because…I know it’ll make me feel better, eventually. I do love certain things, of course, and living sober is amazing, don’t get me wrong. I just have to think my way into wanting it all, more often than not. Some days, though, all that future focus cannot cover up the present lack of reward. And, what’s worse, I’m afraid (worried) that this new normal might not right itself anytime soon.

With all that in mind, I continue to do and strive, and get about 25 percent of what I want to get done actually done every day. And I’m learning to accept this, and not judge myself. This is the only way, I somewhat resignedly tell myself. You got yourself into this, now you have to (and can) get yourself out. Is there another way, though? Does it have to be this hard? I honestly don’t know…

Anyway, I don’t mind waiting, and right here and now is a pretty good place to take a seat. Happy Week 22 plus 1 day to me! By Saturday, I will have passed my longest record of 158 (almost) days sans booze. Wowie. Thanks to ALL OF YOU, for listening and cheering and empathizing.

Slogans and quick fixes, sobriety is not

19 Aug

12:09 pm

No Motivation, The Right to Refuse to Say I’m Sorry, Turning It Off–these are titles of posts I never sent (posted) this weekend. GAH. Obvs, I haven’t been feeling that well.

But you know what? I don’t have to feel great, or feel “more like myself,” (because I feel less like myself than ever before), or be bouncing off the walls. All I have to be is sober! I can spend entire days drinking Coke Zero and weeping and holding on to my sobriety with a death grip–it all means something, and it’s all teaching me something about myself. Which is, drinking most likely simply exacerbated existing mental and emotional (are they different?) problems, not caused them. I hold a lot of rigid ideas about what I “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing, which exacerbates my stuck-ness. The best I’ve ever felt is when I said, Fuck it, and went and volunteered for a few months doing manual labor in a foreign country. All these things relate to work, which for me, relates strongly to both self-validation and creativity, which ultimately relates to mortality. Maybe I think too much and do too little?

On Saturday night, I felt the same way–out of control and volatile, emotionally–sober as I have often felt drunk. The EXACT SAME WAY. And, it scared me. It was eye-opening, too, in that, like I said, I thought that booze caused this in me; I never could have imagined let alone believed that it already existed, in a certain form. Obviously, it wasn’t as severe, but the feelings, the go-to reactions were of someone deeply not at peace. Thankfully, it’s over, and I feel better today. (I even had to “save to draft” a few emails and such because they were SO out-of-control angry.)

I tried to write (fail), I tried to read (fail), I watched “Sex and the City” the movie and “Devil Wears Prada.” I tried to go running and realized that due to PMS, my sciatica flaring was making that impossible. I cried over the fact that I am no longer…of the era, as it were; that I may have expired. My time in cold East Coast city–my ERA there–is over. “Kids” in their late 20s and early 30s now rule the roost. This is a hard fact (misinformed opinion?) to acknowledge. I downloaded some sample books to my Kindle, which made me feel a bit better, put the Coke Zero away, and somewhat successfully pressed some of those written words through the meat processor that was my brain. And then, the curtain came down, and I simply quit and went to bed.

“Quitting and going to bed” is not my style, but maybe, just maybe, it HAS to be from now on. Just like opening myself up to new career paths. A few years ago, the counselor I was seeing told me that I didn’t have to continue the pattern of workaholism in my family, which my dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather passed down to me and my brothers (I see it in all three of us now). That I could change the course of my “destiny.” She saw the pattern, of my drinking being one tool I use to protect myself from the fact that I was simply repeating what my dad had done his whole life: working himself to the bone as a way to scratch an itch, sure, but also and mostly, as a way to please and/or impress his father, and grandfather. Now, I have a choice whether to live out that same sort of life/lifestyle. I have a choice, which I can make. Do I feel ambivalent, and guilty, and afraid? Sure as fuck I do! Can I also choose to feel all these things, not drink, not work (sometimes), and go to bed anyway? Sure as fuck I can!

On that note, I am going to sign off. I’ll get to all those posts soon, although sometimes in this forum I start to feel like the wet blanket. Sobriety isn’t easy, though, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I hope everyone is having a great day and believe me, if you want to drink, like really really really want to? Don’t. Don’t give in! You can do this, just like little old hurting me. (If *I* can do this, anyone can!)

A new day, a new bull to…slay?

13 Aug

11:07 am

It’s a new day, and I’ve got some perspective. Still not bouncing off the walls, but grateful for all I do have.

My life right now seems to be all about wrangling with my perspective, like a cowboy (cowgirl) on a live bull. I’m the cowgirl (obvs), and the bull is my mind. Perspective is the movement, the taming, the wrangling of that bull by me.

I had an acupuncturist who once told me that she didn’t come to be a kung fu master and a rock solid presence without hard work. Day in, day out, hard mental work. Wrangling, I think she meant. I was a self-pitying, 115-pound, freezing-cold MESS when I first went to visit her, and to this day, I remember her steaming look: take responsibility. We all have to wrangle the bull.

I’m going to work today, and then take comfort in some hobbies, which include tomato plants and dogs. Enjoy the sun. Go for a swim, or a snorkel. Honor my past, and my choices. Try to read a bit of Paradise. (Toni Morrison is a genius writer, but man, it’s hard to get through her prose with a foggy brain; still, I will try.) And, hopefully, realize that I CAN do this, if I want to, sans meds.

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