Thursday, July 23, 2020

Comfy Slippers

    I've been thinking a lot lately of an often referenced quote as I approach my goal of giving up alcohol for a year, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore" (Andre Gide). When I think of this quote as it applies to my life today, I find myself asking, "What is my shore?" and "What are the new oceans for me?" 

    I can't think of the quote without thinking of comfy slippers. They go hand in hand. For me anyway. I gave up wearing my comfy slippers last year when I made the decision, on July 30th, to give up wine for a year. At the time, I wasn't aware that I'd actually have to yank off my slippers and go barefoot for the duration of my "experiment". I think I thought I'd just make one change in my life, but be able to basically keep the rest of my life as it was, and keep wearing my slippers. I was mistaken.

    As the year has progressed, I've come to see how my slippers are basically the shore I had to leave in order to do what I needed to do. They are my coziness and my predictability, my routine comforts. They are the known, the tried-and-true. They are the ways I have dealt with discomfort, sadness, irritation, anger, and all the other yucky stuff that life sometimes brings. They are a light and breezy glass of white wine, or a smooth and soothing red. They followed me into many a lounge booth and hugged my feet at family gatherings and other outings, always comfortable, and always familiar. They were on my feet a long time. 

    And the new oceans, what of those? They are me, floating on a raft in the middle of the unfamiliar, alone and wondering, "What in the hell have I done?!" They are me leaving behind those things that I was able to hang onto. They are the place with no handles. In fact, in order to survive here, I've had to release quite a few attachments, both literally and figuratively. But as chaotic as things have sometimes been in the middle of this new ocean, there has also been at times a rich calmness and depth of experience that was often lacking when I was a slipper wearer. As scary as it feels to have not much to hang onto, it also feels liberating. There is an authenticity in being in these waters that I didn't feel enough while at shore. 

    It's not that complicated to understand though really. Anytime you leave the shore and venture into the ocean is to go into the unknown (unless you're a sailor or a captain of a well-traveled ship of course!). You do this when you decide to make major changes in your life. And any time you do this is to catapult yourself into the chaos of the unknown, so this act requires courage, on many levels. But the first act of courage, as Gide said, is to "lose sight of the shore", and I think he was right about that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


"Anxiety- got me on the run/Anxiety- yeah, I just need someone/ Anxiety- can't get nothin' done/ Anxiety- spoils all the fun" - Pat Benatar, Anxiety (Get Nervous).

    Ever since I can remember (a long time surprisingly), I've walked alongside of anxiety. I haven't called it anxiety forever, because way back when, it wasn't commonly called that. There were other names or other ways of talking about people who were frequently anxious. For example, I grew up being told I was a "worrier" and that I "worry too much". And nobody was wrong about either of those things. I was a worrier, worrying about multiple topics at a dizzying speed, from a very early age.     

    I still sometimes have flashbacks to 6, or 8 or 11 year old me, laying in bed, trying to fall asleep but not being able to before navigating a series of troubling thoughts. The thoughts ranged from banal topics like, "Oh no, my library book is overdue, am I going to get in big trouble for that?" to not-so-banal topics like "What happens when we die? Do we just stop existing forever? And how long is forever?" Looking back now, I am amazed that the child me was even able to sleep at all after playing some of the more  harrowing scripts in my little mind. 

    The anxiety didn't leave me once I hit adolescence either of course. No, it stayed with me, tagging along as I navigated teen friendships and intimate relationships, and school pressures, and my changing body. It hung around, whispering in my ear all of the things that could go wrong, or that were already wrong with me, or with my life. Its favorite thing to whisper was "What if...". Those 2 words would then be followed by other words, words that were capable of instantly breaking my spirit. "What if he doesn't like me back?" "What if they don't include me?" "What if I fail the math test?" "What if they think I'm ugly, or fat, or boring, or not cool?" Anxiety was constantly by my side, but hardly my friend.

    By early adulthood, anxiety was so much a part of me that I often struggled to know who I was apart from it. Around that time, a new companion, depression, crept into my life and set up camp. The two of them showed no mercy, bombarding me with awful thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. I started devouring self-help books in a frantic attempt to fend them off. I figured I was doing it all wrong, that I should be doing something to help myself, that the problems were all mine, that I had created them and so I could fix them. And sometimes this worked. Sometimes, my anxious and depressed companions would fade into the background. But this was always temporary- a few days, weeks or rarely, months- and they would always return, grabbing both of my hands with a vengeance. It didn't matter where I lived, they followed me. For years, my adulthood was spent moving or traveling to different places, or changing apartments in an attempt to "start over", in the hope that the old me, the worrier and depressed me would disappear. 

    In my late 30s, and with the help of a therapist, I began to see that the depression that had brought me to the therapist in the first place was really just exhaustion from being anxious all the time. My mind and heart had finally surrendered and a strange hopelessness and fatigue with life set in. I understood that the anxiety had become stronger than I was, knocking me over more days than not. But I also understood that I was letting this happen. I was letting it define and defeat me. We began to talk in therapy about recognizing the anxiety but knowing that it didn't have to incapacitate me. I started reading about "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy", and I started to look at my anxious sidekick differently. I also started to understand that the anxiety was never going to leave my side as long as I lived, and so I was going to have to learn how to deal with it.This was a big revelation for me, and a turning point. In retrospect, however, although I began to understand all of this, it would take over another 10 years for me to live this truth fully. 

    One of the ways I had dealt with the anxiety, since the age of 18 really, was with alcohol. I never used alcohol regularly, as in, never daily, but I did use it most times when socializing. In my 40s, newly split from my partner and raising my son alone half the time, I socialized more, therefore drank more. I started to have a new routine of sometimes stopping by the liquor store on the way home from a lounge visit with friends to buy a bottle of wine just to keep the buzz going. I would then suck back a few more glasses while phoning people; this meant I wasn't drinking alone. The alcohol was the one thing that could quiet the anxiety beast at my side. The anxious thoughts would diminish and a calm would overtake me; it didn't matter that it was an artificial calm. It worked and that's all that mattered. The problem is it worked to induce a calm state but there were just too many negative consequences for me to choose that as my main coping mechanism. So I decided to quit.

    These days, my main way to cope is to meditate, bombard myself with uplifting self-talk when I need it, and to exercise. As corny as it may sound, I hold hands with my anxiety more often than not now. I meet her where she needs to be met, let her have her say, but then I do my own thing. I understand her fears, her vulnerabilities, her raw, sore spots. I'm okay that she walks alongside me. But she isn't me. She never was, even though sometimes I struggled to see that. I now know that there is a me apart from the anxiety, a bigger me, a healthier me, a wiser one. And I can sometimes even look at the anxiety now as my companion, rather than my enemy. In the spirit of observation and compassion that meditation has taught me, I can say, "Oh there you are again. What is it you would like to say to me today?" I can listen, but not be defeated by it. We just walk together, side by side, my anxiety and I.




Thursday, July 2, 2020


    A little over a month ago, I had to do one of the hardest things I've had to do in this life. I had to put our lovely dog down. It wasn't a surprise. I had known it was coming because two months before, I had taken her to the vet for an ultrasound to see what all the mystery had been that was causing her troubles and I saw the huge mass in her chest cavity staring at us from the screen. "How long does she have?" I asked, surprisingly matter-of-fact. "A few months," he answered. His assistant then asked me if she could give my dog a few treats and then said, "Enjoy every moment you have with her". I nodded, started to tear up and wandered bleary-eyed out the door, stopping to pay at the desk on the way out. I remember looking at a young couple waiting with their puppy, and looking down at my own dog's face, now thoroughly sprinkled with grey, and thinking it really wasn't that long ago that she was an adorable pup herself. 

    But it was that long ago, almost 11 years ago, to be exact. She had grown up and gone through all of her changes with me; I was by her side through it all. When she came into my life, it was at the request of my ex, who suddenly, around Christmas time that year, decided we should get a puppy. I was on the fence, leaning more towards the "No!" side, but I ended up caving. My ex was persistent, and part of me had fluffy dog fantasies that won in the end. So we picked her up from the Humane Society... well, my ex picked her. She was the puppy he wanted, barking frantically at us from her cage as we looked at her. The barking of course hadn't escaped my notice. "That one? Really?" I said. "She's pretty loud". A few minutes later, we were in a room, just the three of us (my ex, me, our 6 year old son), and a young woman brought her to meet us. I remember feeling reluctant, as she wasn't the one I would have picked, but there she was nudging her face against my legs, there she was nestling her small 3-month old body against mine. I was the first one she chose, as soon as she entered the room.

    Fast-forward almost 11 years later and I was still the one. My ex became my ex not quite a year after we got Licorice, and a year after that, in a new relationship, he informed me that the dog could no longer go to his house anymore. We had an agreement that the dog would follow the kid, but the new love interest's disdain for dog hair meant that I was now a full-time dog owner. Countless conversations in cozy lounge booths with friends followed wherein they would all shout out vicious insults about my ex, indignant that he had left the responsibility of the dog to me. I lapped all of that up of course, because I was angry, resentful, bitter and felt trapped. My ex suggested at one point that we get rid of the dog because "neither of us wants her". He was kind of forgetting the seven year old who had furiously attached himself to the animal in a way that only "only children" do. 

    I obviously didn't get rid of the dog. I couldn't do that to my son. But I remember realizing the definition of the word sacrifice, as if for the first time; everything about the dog seemed a sacrifice to me. She came to represent all that I had to give up. When I looked at her, it was through the eyes of entrapment. I'd sometimes go into mini rages as I observed myself, yet again picking up dog poo in the backyard, yet again vacuuming up endless dog hair, yet again grabbing her leash to take her for a walk, motivated by guilt alone. In those first few years after our split, the resentment filled me too frequently.

    But then, things changed. One day, after a particularly tiring day at work, I pulled up to the back of the house, turned off the ignition and just sat in the car for a few minutes, thinking of all of the chores I still had ahead of me that day. One of my obligations was to take the dog for a walk. I started to feel the irritation squirming and growing inside me, started to play the same over-worn script in my head (the "poor-me" one), but suddenly, a thought popped into my brain, "You need to be a stoic about this. This is your life. Accept it, deal with it, and stop complaining". Later that night, I did my usual and looked up the definition of stoic online, and found one that summed it up nicely: a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. I knew then that I had to set that task for myself. I owed it to the dog, I owed it to my son, and I owed it to myself. So I did.

    After I made that decision, life with Licorice (or our "Black Beauty" as I sometimes called her) was a lovely, fulfilling adventure. I no longer bemoaned all the things I had to do in order to have a dog. I welcomed them... for the most part. I no longer let resentment overtake me, no longer let my mind tell stories that made me a victim in the long-running drama that was my life. I saw Licorice for what she really was-- a sweet, beautiful, loving family pet-- and I owned her finally, fully and completely.

    When the diagnosis of cancer happened, the first thing I had to do was tell my 16 year old son. I picked him up from school, pulled over to the side of the road and told him the bad news. We spent the next 24 hours crying together and deciding what we were going to do. Both vets that were involved at the time told me that there was a strong possibility that the tumor in her chest would rupture at some point, leaving her in "severe respiratory distress". We didn't know if we should risk that, so we thought of putting her down within the next few days, even though she seemed, outwardly, mostly like her usual self, just an older version. But then we just couldn't do it. 

    We got two more months with our black beauty, and we savored our time with her. The last day of her life, I took a few selfies of the three of us before we went to the vet's, realizing regretfully that I had never taken pictures of the three of us in the past nine years, pictures of our little family that could sit on the bookshelf in the living room, and show everyone what we meant to each other.

    When it was time to put her down, my son and I were together with her in a quiet room, plowing through a box of kleenex together. The clinic was empty that night as we were the last clients of the day. I held Licorice's head in my lap and her heavily sedated body offered no resistance. I kept looking at my son who couldn't speak, crying softly beside me. My heart ached for his suffering. Because he couldn't speak, I spoke for the both of us, "We love you Licorice. We love you, black beauty. We'll miss you sweetheart". When she had the final injection and her body jerked suddenly a few seconds later (the vet had told us that would happen), I felt her spirit leave, and in that moment, my tears fell harder. In that moment, I understood fully what I was losing.

    Watching our pet die was one of the most painful things I have experienced, but there was a strange beauty in it too. I remember thinking as I was going through it all, holding her body in the room, "I am doing all of this right now and am completely in the moment. I am present, fully aware, conscious. And I will stay present afterwards because I'm not going to have a glass of wine to numb the pain". I realized that I was feeling excruciatingly painful feelings, but I was still okay, that I would be okay. I realized that my son was feeling the same feelings, but that he would be okay too. I realized that I was role-modeling for my son how to deal with suffering. And that is a beauty all its own.




Monday, June 29, 2020

The Moderation Fantasy

    I'm a month away from completing my year-long alcohol-free experiment and am noticing this thing I've named "The Moderation Fantasy" rearing its head. It chases me around the house, in the car, on walks, out with friends, at family gatherings. It sometimes calls to me in my sleep. It creates colorful bursts of opportunity for me, happy scenarios, good times... always good times, never bad. It is a fantasy after all.

    In it, I sit, looking glowing and composed, always smiling and carefree. The fantasy finds me in different places. I might be on a chair on a restaurant patio, on a lounger on a deck, sitting on a dock at the lake, reclining poolside, or in someone's backyard... all locales in keeping with the theme of summer. I might be anywhere, but I am always with others in the fantasy, and always with a glass of wine in hand. It might be a refreshing, crisp, cool white. It could be a lighter red that I'm nursing, fingers lightly caressing the stem of a wine glass as I elegantly bring the glass to my lips. 

    In the fantasy, I feel the wine start to take effect, do its magic. My worries begin to shrink, receding somewhere further back in my brain. My normally overthinking mind slows down its rapid pace and a fuzzy stillness creeps in to take its place. The fuzziness extends to my body; I become loose, languid, light. I am, in that moment, at one with my surroundings, intimately connected to my companions. I feel fabulous.

    The fantasy is a snapshot of a moment in time, never more than that. If it were any longer, it wouldn't be a fantasy of course. Real-time couldn't support it. Playing the fantasy forward a few hours longer to push it into the realm of the real would definitely find the story significantly altered, likely for the worse. I know this. That is why I like to keep it as a snapshot instead. Lately though, I've been trying to figure out how I could stretch the fantasy, push it into the land of the real, but without the ramifications that real-life wine drinking has often brought to me. How I could live the fantasy out in real life... on the dock, the deck, the patio. How I could, in short, moderate.

    I've been trying to figure this out because I am coming to the end of my experiment, so I am wondering what's next for me? Thinking back on my life, I have many, many memories of good times where alcohol was involved, times that didn't find me in rough shape emotionally, mentally and physically the next day. There were also many times when I could moderate, when it wasn't a big deal to "only have 2". I only had a problem with binge-drinking sometimes or often, not always. Because of this, it is easier for me to latch on to the responsible-drinking memories than it might be perhaps for someone who found moderation impossible on all occasions. Because of this, it is easy to push away the memories of drinking escapades gone bad. Because of this, I begin to wonder if I could, realistically, sit on the patio, perfectly composed, smiling and healthy, wine in hand, and stop at two once my experiment ends?

    I already know the answer. Yes of course I could moderate. For sure, I could do it for a time. But could I do it forever? Should I try in order to find out? Or should I continue on this alcohol-free path and see where it finds me? Would resuming drinking basically mean throwing away all of the gains I've made in my life over the past year? And if so, why would I do that? Perhaps an honest look at what those gains have been is in order?

    I know that the main reason I am even considering inviting alcohol back into my life is the moderation fantasy growing ever larger, it seems, by the day. What I need is a reality check in order to balance out that perfect picture, that snapshot, that won't quit. And suddenly, there it is, something I've read about that describes the state in which I am finding myself: Euphoric Recall. Wikipedia tells me it is "a psychological term for the tendency of people to remember past experiences in a positive light, while overlooking negative experiences associated with that event". I begin to see that this is a powerful case of "euphoric recall" that is tugging at me and won't let up. It is an actual thing, a term, created because other people have experienced this. It is real. It has a name. It was masquerading as a fantasy all along, but now I can see it for what it is. Now I know what it is I need to conquer...

Friday, June 26, 2020

Living Consciously

    I am almost a month away from completing one year without alcohol. As time goes on, I have come to understand that going alcohol-free for me has also been making the choice to live consciously. Eleven months in, and I thought I'd share a few observations I have about this path...

1. Choosing to live consciously- meaning to NEVER numb out- is definitely a challenge to set for yourself. It is for sure akin to climbing a huge mountain. It requires emotional, mental and physical strength, stamina, fortitude, determination and a willingness and okayness to stand out from the crowd. It's a big deal and people who choose to live like this all the time are brave people indeed. 

2. We who choose this path in a world that encourages distraction, escapism and numbing out are in the minority. While climbing this particular mountain, sometimes it is a lonely experience as there are not many travelers on this route. Sometimes it feels like it is only you- solo- on the trek.

3. As hard as it may sometimes be, it is also during these times that you come face to face with yourself. And then true magic can begin. A whole new world opens up, an inner world that you might have avoided for a long time. You might rediscover long-buried parts of yourself, or other parts entirely that you have never met.

4. Living consciously is also closely tied to living authentically. I wrote in my journal on day 100 earlier this year that "I have never lived more authentically in my life (except maybe in my childhood) than I am living now". I am 52 years old, so that's a lot of years not being true to myself. Not casting blame or beating myself up (what's the point in that?), just something I've noted!

5. Some days I feel exhausted from feeling all of my feelings all the time, and I start to fantasize about numbing out with several glasses of chilled white wine, or a smooth, voluptuous red. But that doesn't last too long anymore because I am better able to distinguish fantasy from reality these days. And the coolest thing ever about this journey is all that stuff I read about feelings not lasting forever... is true! If you wait out yucky or uncomfortable feelings a bit longer than you think you are able to handle, you suddenly realize they've diminished in intensity or disappeared altogether. I never get tired of this.

6. Finally, I'm aware that I am a baby on this journey. There are millions of other souls on the planet who have also chosen to live consciously, for their own reasons, and many who are much further along than I am. I am in awe of, and inspired by, these people.

    So here I am, eleven months in, trying to live my truth every day, and definitely learning so much about myself, others and life as I go...

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Bubble

     I have this thing I call the "wine bubble" and I need to write about it today. The reason for this is that I am finding myself forgetting more than usual lately the reasons I quit the wine. I am finding myself thinking of all the good, cozy, fun things about a life with alcohol in it while the lousy (or soul-shattering) things take a backseat. This is probably happening because I am 1.5 months away from completing my 1-year alcohol-free experiment, so my brain knows I could drink again once that is done. So this is where the bubble comes into the picture...

    I call it the bubble because that is what it felt like when I was drinking wine. I loved the fuzzy feeling about half-way into the first glass, where things took on a less sharp, less serious shape. I loved how the people drinking with me also looked less sharp, their edges softening under the soft glow of the lounge booth lights. I loved how my normally racing thoughts began to slow down, how any nagging worries or concerns that I brought to the table began to shrink, how things seemed to suddenly matter less. I loved that we were all in the bubble together, nestled in our safe, cozy place of comfort as we talked about the things going on in our lives. We were connected. 

    And yet, in some ways, we weren't. The truth is we were more likely each in our own bubbles sitting under the illusion that we were in the same one. The truth is we were each becoming more or less "bubbly" (in more ways than one of course) as the minutes turned to hours. But in the end, it didn't really matter whose bubble we were in because it all just felt so good. Until the bubble burst, inevitably, the day after. And this is the thing I have to remember as much as I remember the bubble. This is the thing I need to drag out of the box I stuck it in awhile ago. I need to haul it out now more than ever and name it.

    The day after was so completely different from the bubble of the night before that I often felt  cheated. That next day took on a sour, sickly, disappointing hue more often than not, especially as I got older. I was distinctly aware that the bubble had burst, leaving me alone, in its wake. I'd drag myself around the house, stunned at how absolutely awful I felt. How was this possible? How could I feel so wonderful and then one sleep later, wake up to this? The part that wasn't so surprising but that pissed me off nonetheless was how proportionate everything was in this ridiculous game: the bigger the bubble, the worse the day after was. It was a rule, a law, a perfect example of cause and effect.

    When I decided to give up alcohol for a year, I did it for a few reasons, but one was the bubble. I was tired of it bursting and leaving pieces of me everywhere the day after. I was tired of being disappointed. I was tired of feeling sick. I was tired of the ups and downs. I realized that the bubble could no longer compensate for the day after. When I quit drinking wine, it was because I could finally see the bubble for what it really was- a puffy cloud of illusions that so easily burst in the light of day. I need to remember that part about the bubble. And I do.





Saturday, June 13, 2020

Two Worlds

    I'm between two worlds these days. Have been for awhile now. I've been calling it my own little purgatory, for want of a better word. What I really am is in that place between "there" and "not yet there", struggling to embrace the moment, even though most of me just wants to get on with it.

    But get on with what? My other life... the one after the alcohol. I could also add the one after the smoking (did that for 20 years) or the one after the bulimia (did that for 6 years, 30 years ago). I could add those things because they are variations on the same theme as the binge-drinking, my most recent penchant while on this planet. I decide to look up the definition of penchant on google and I see instantly on my phone, "a strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something". Yep, that about sums it up. I had a strong habitual liking for wine. And cigarettes. And food. I definitely had a tendency to drink, smoke and binge. But what did I also like? What did I also have a tendency to do? 

    I liked escaping, avoiding, numbing my emotions and distracting myself. I liked to do that a lot. And I had a tendency to do those things, sometimes more, sometimes less, but pretty much consistently. I didn't like feeling discomfort of any kind, so I told myself I didn't have to. I found solutions in various behaviors over the years- 35 years to be exact. I arrived at this number recently after realizing that I started engaging in numbing behaviors (as I will fondly refer to them now) around the age of 17, when the eating disorder began. I found a way to temporarily take away the emotional, mental and spiritual discomfort of where I was at in life, and so I immersed myself in those behaviors. Six years later, and the eating disorder behind me, I found another trick- smoking- and proceeded to do that for the next 20 years. After I quit that (almost 6 years ago), I fell more in love with wine than ever. The alcohol has been with me through it all, regularly enough since the age of 18. I'm 52 years old now, so I guess that is a long time for a penchant. 

    The booze was my long-time pal, but it really didn't become my lover until I quit smoking. I still had a dislike, evidently, for discomfort of any kind, so I began uncorking the wine bottles more frequently in order to address that. It worked, until it didn't, of course.

    Then 320 days ago, I decided to quit drinking wine for a year, I did that to see if I could do it and to see if other things in my life would change for me as a result of not drinking. I did that without AA (that is another blog topic, or 10) and without other real-life supports of any kind, mostly because those supports are hard to find (another blog topic for sure). I did have other supports in the form of books. I read and continue to read many things related to quitting drinking and addictions in general (more blog topics). These authors are my lifeline; they've helped to keep me on this path. But lately, the path is a bit blurry. The road I'm walking on doesn't have the clarity I'd like it to have, sometimes it's hard to see even a few inches in front of me to where I am heading.

    I'm heading of course to My Other Life. I know this. And I am terrified. I know also that I am in that place between there and not yet there, and it is a tough place to be. I spend a lot of time wondering why it is taking me so long to get to my other life. I have visions of what that other life is (again, another blog topic) and the fact that I can't touch it frustrates me to the core. On the other hand, I also seem to be turning around a lot lately to look back on That Other Life, the one I left behind. It reaches out to me with it's warm, comforting embrace, reminding me of the fuzzy glow of lounge booths, reminding me of that particular solution, reminding me of the wine. I know by now that this isn't about the wine really, but for some reason, that is what I still see when I look back. 

    I have an inner knowing somehow of how easy it would be to just go back to that world. I can taste the effortlessness of it. It lures me with its promise of the familiar, the known, the comfortable. It tells me that I'm too old to start again, to build something new, to find another tribe. It whispers in my ear, too regularly it seems, "Just come back. Stop this ridiculous quest you are on. What are you even doing anyway? What's the point?" It wants me there. I want me there. But then I don't. 

    Then I look down at my feet and remember where I am standing. Then I feel myself, anchored in this moment, to this spot, solidly, this spot between there and not yet there, and I know I am okay. I am between two worlds and I am okay. I know that I will hear the whispers again, will turn my head back to look, but I also know that looking doesn't have to mean returning. I begin to understand that looking back is probably necessary sometimes. But the beauty is that I can then turn and look forward, to that place I am heading, and as scared as I am, for all the reasons I am scared, I also feel a surge of excitement, and I decide to go with that.

Comfy Slippers

     I've been thinking a lot lately of an often referenced quote as I approach my goal of giving up alcohol for a year, "Man canno...