The Last Day 1

After finding some success last year with being alcohol free, this year has been awful. I have spent the vast majority of the year drinking. I hide it because I am ashamed of it. And the shame just drives me to drink more. I have been inconsistent with exercise and healthy eating, and gained about 10-12 pounds since November. I am not happy with myself. I missed running the marathon this year because of how much I was drinking and how little I was training.

I have participated in a program called The Live Alcohol Experiment from This Naked Mind and Annie Grace (who wrote the books This Naked Mind and The Alcohol Experiment). There are daily videos and journaling exercises and the live portion included a closed Facebook group for support and live Q&As with coaches, including Annie herself. I find her approach to quitting alcohol so refreshing and non-judgmental. Part of my struggle has been that I find traditional recovery very shame-based and makes me feel like even more of an outsider than I already do. The idea is that you go AF for 30 day and dig deep into exploring your beliefs around alcohol. I participated in this in January, but didn’t finish because I started drinking heavily again after about a week. I did it again in May. Drank most of May, too, but I continued watching the videos and doing the journaling. And then again in July. Still no success giving up the damn vodka. But increasingly, I find myself not really wanting it, just picking it up out of sheer habit. I’ve been getting curious with how I feel when drinking. I’ve been going back and watching the Alcohol Experiment videos again. I’ve been listening to audible books on repeat, like Craig Beck’s Alcohol Lied to Me and This Naked Mind. I’ve re-read sections of William Porter’s book Alcohol Explained. I have not given up on taking my life back from the grips of alcohol. This morning I woke up after drinking almost an entire bottle of vodka yesterday afternoon and evening. I felt horrible. I started reading the paperback version of This Naked Mind, which I’d started in the past but never finished. I started digging in with a highlighter and taking notes in my journal.

And then it just clicked. I don’t need that stuff in my life. I’m done. Alcohol is a highly addictive poison that doesn’t do anything it promises. The promises are all empty: alcohol makes you have more fun (I actually have more fun without it, so I can remember my evenings out). Alcohol is needed for socializing (no, it’s not, I’ve enjoyed socializing without alcohol and had more fun without it). Alcohol relieves stress (not really, it just numbs you and then the problems that were causing the stress are still there, but then you feel like shit from a hangover). Alcohol relaxes you (no, it poisons your body, and your body and brain produce chemicals to counteract the effects of alcohol and so you end up more anxious and with horrible sleep). All alcohol does for me is make me red, puffy, bloated, gain weight, and miss my workouts. It makes me more anxious and depressed. It keeps me from becoming the woman, athlete, and lawyer I want to be.

Goodbye alcohol. I’m not looking back and I’m so excited to have made this decision for myself.

10 Years of Trying? Or 10 Years of Contemplation?

 I have been in and out of the rooms of AA for just over 10 years now. In fact, I think it was 2005-2006 when I attended my first couple of AA meetings. I was in law school, and knew drinking wasn’t serving me, and there was a classmate who had gotten sober just before law school. So I went with her. I remember a meeting on the CU campus where a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 19 or 20 years old hugged me and told me I never needed to drink again. I didn’t understand. I WANTED to drink. I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t attend another meeting until late 2007, when I had a new doctor who was treating me for depression and anxiety. I was fairly honest (not entirely) with him about how much I drank, and he suggested that I quit drinking, and referred me to AA. I attended a few meetings. Again, I heard people say that I never had to drink again. I still didn’t understand. It was early 2008, when I decided to study to take the bar exam again after 2 failed attempts in 2006 and 2007, that I decided to attend AA meetings regularly. I got 2 weeks, then drank. A man in the meeting I attended regularly said that there is no such thing as a slip. I think I got close to thirty days before I drank again. After the bar exam, I got a sponsor and started working the steps. I was working a job that was 45 minutes away from where I lived. Even with my schedule and commute, I attended several meetings a week and met with my sponsor for a couple of hours on the weekends. I passed the bar exam that spring. I remember having a few more slips in there, and finally getting close to 90 days during the summer of 2008. I remember my sponsor telling me I wasn’t spiritual enough (how does someone judge another person’s spirituality?) and people telling me I needed to attend more meetings. I felt like there was always someone telling me something that was in direct conflict with what someone else said. They all told me not to trust myself. THAT was no problem, as I had never trusted myself. I was raised to doubt myself. I think that issue is a story for another day. I finally ended up drunk all of Labor Day Weekend, finding a rehab not far away, and my husband taking me there the day after Labor Day. I was there for 30 days. I remember wondering why there wasn’t regular one-on-one counseling. I remember telling a counselor that I had been in an abusive relationship and that was when my drinking started getting really bad, and she told me it doesn’t matter, because I am an alcoholic. That felt like once again, I was being dismissed. I remember sharing my “first step” in group, which involved telling your story and how you came to realize you had a problem. My story involved – still does involve – years of self-doubt, self-sabotage, and yes, law school. After I finished, the group told me I had too much ego and then proceeded to try to cut me down to size. I couldn’t believe that a woman with self-esteem as low as mine who never learned to love herself could be told she had too much ego. It was cruel. And the counselor did nothing as I sobbed uncontrollably and the other women just kept telling me I thought I was better than them because I was smart and had gone to law school. I’m not better than anyone! But screwing up law school is a big part of my story that led me to realizing I might have a problem with alcohol!

I remained sober for a couple more months after getting out of rehab, in spite of being let go from my job and being broke again. I found a job in another town, the ski town where I had lived prior to law school, and we moved so I could take that job. I had trouble staying sober there. I would attend meetings, and see people that had been in court that day for a DUI and I was the prosecutor. It was awkward. I missed alcohol and started drinking again. I wasn’t supposed to drink anymore, because I had gone to rehab and was supposed to be “better,” so the shame around drinking became so great that I started hiding it. I would call in sick to work and drink during the day. That began the pattern of drinking and hiding, shame, and trying to go back to AA when I felt like I “should” get sober. That, I think, is the operative word: SHOULD. I thought I was supposed to be sober and “better.” I had so many reservations about the people in AA, telling me what to do and to not trust myself and all the conflicting (and often downright illogical) advice and the damn slogans. One minute you were told that “your worst thinking got you there,” the next minute someone would tell you to “think, think, think.” Well, which is it?

It wasn’t until sometime in 2017 that I decided sobriety was something I could do. I had a couple periods of more than a few days during that year: 7 days, then 9 days, then 26 days toward the end of the year. That was the most sober time I had since my post-rehab relapse to drinking that led to my spiral of drink, hide, shame, and drink some more. In January 2018, my husband gave me a sort of ultimatum. He knew my pattern. He wanted to support me, but just didn’t know how. I sobered up for a couple of weeks. Then back to the drinking. Then another couple of weeks in February. And back again. In March and April, I got to 52 days sober. During that time, I meditated, journaled daily, read, ran regularly, and ate healthy foods. I only attended one AA meeting during that time, and it was at day 45. I saw one of the women from that women’s meeting at the 30K start in April. I was happy to see that another member of AA was a runner. I had been told in the past that attending AA should take priority over exercise. That never made any sense: my mood and ability to stay sober have always been bolstered by regular exercise.

I drank again a few days after that race, for about a week. Then I got it together so I could run – and finish, unlike last year – the full marathon in May. I went back to that women’s meeting that I liked. It was really the only meeting where there were good people, great spirituality, no judgment, and happened to be at a good time and in between where I work and live so not inconvenient. I asked that woman who I had seen at the race to work with me. She said we should pray about it. The day before the marathon, at the expo for packet pickup, we met up and decided working together was the right thing. We met once for a long walk, and then I had a trip to Colorado and drank. I had been sober for 34 days. I didn’t contact her when I returned. And so, the summer has been a lot more drinking and hiding and not so many days without alcohol, though there were a couple periods of a week or two were I would stay sober.

I have done so much more WORK during 2018 than I have in any of the past 10-12 years since I first started questioning my drinking. I have participated in coaching groups, worked one on one with recovery coaches in training, and implemented tools to support my overall growth and healing. I have made progress. I have felt better than ever before. I have also had a bunch of backslides. The difference is that I finally WANT to be sober. I never really did before. Sobriety was something that I was SUPPOSED to do, that I felt like I SHOULD do. But I was never totally in the game.

James Prochaska, PhD created a theory of change where change involves 5 stages. The first stage is pre-contemplation, and at that point, people don’t realize they even have a problem or need to change. Stage 2 is contemplation, where a person knows there is something they need to change. Stage 3 is preparation, where a person is doing some research about how to go about making the change. Stage 4 is Action, where a person starts doing the work to make the change. Finally, there is stage 5, which is maintenance. There is also stage 6, which is relapse, and that is acknowledgement of my belief that change is a process, not an event. This is discussed in-depth in the book, Changing For Good.

From 2006 until 2016, I was quite firmly in the contemplation and preparation stages. I knew that there was something wrong with my drinking and that it was affecting me negatively. I even took some actions during that time and did a whole lot of reading and research and seeking out other people who had similar experiences. 2017 became a time of going between preparation and action. And I can honestly say that 2018 has been the year of ACTION. I have spent this year taking action like I never have before with respect to healing and changing my relationship with alcohol. So, instead of feeling bad about having failed at sobriety for the past decade, I am now looking at the past year as the time that I actually really started trying to get and stay sober because I WANT to. I have been struggling to stay sober not for 10 years, but for 1. All of the lapses have been genuine lessons and steps on the path of action.

I reconnected with the woman who had agreed to work with me. I met up with her at a meeting a couple nights ago. It was a good meeting. A Big Book study where I had insights and gained understanding about things that had previously totally confused me. Yesterday, that angel of a woman texted me and told me she believes in me and that she wants to help me. She gave me my Step 1 assignment. Today, I am grateful to be able to admit that I am an alcoholic. I am excited to be on the path to staying sober and healing all of the stuff that has kept me stuck for so long. I am worth it. I can do it. I am no longer ashamed of the past 10 years, as that was my time of contemplation and preparation. 2018 is my year of action.

Marathon of healing

Last Saturday, I finally completed a full marathon. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, and so symbolic of how far I have come. I was registered for the same marathon last year, and sabotaged it by having a days-long vodka binge before the marathon, and even drinking much of the afternoon and night before. Needless to say, I didn’t finish. That I even started is amazing, but to try to finish with my body poisoned by several days of non-stop drinking would have been insane, not to mention potentially quite harmful. The shame that enveloped me after that self-imposed failure was too much and sent me on several more days-long binges last summer and into the fall. I barely ran. I barely did anything. In fact, I was barely surviving. I wrote about it here.

This year, in 2018, I am rewriting my story. Yes, there have been a couple of those shame-fueled check-out-of-life binges where I just lay on the couch with my drinks for days. And in between those are increasing numbers of days free from the grips of alcohol, working to free myself from the choke hold of shame.

I signed up for the same winter race circuit that consists of a 5k, 10k, 10 mile, half marathon, and 30K (18.6 miles). I missed the 10K due to drinking, but did well in all of the others. I placed third in my age group at the 5k on a hilly course. I crushed my previous half marathon best time by over 10 minutes, and crushed last year’s 30k time by 30 minutes! It sure does help when you aren’t hungover! As of that 30k at the end of April, I had been alcohol-free for about 50 days. I felt great, was running well, and was starting to heal. Not just physically, but emotionally, too. REALLY HEAL. And running was playing a big part in that healing. Yet in spite of the work I was doing to heal the shame-based wounds that kept driving me back to the bottles of vodka, I found myself just a couple of days after the 30k trying to escape. And escape I did, me and the vodka, laying on the couch or in my bed, for a week. Then, on May 8, I got out of bed, looked at my red, puffy face, and told myself that I deserve better. That I am worth it. That the pain of healing is better than the pain of staying stuck. That if I can run a 30k, I can get through anything. And I reminded myself of the marathon that was just a couple of weeks away.

On Friday, May 18, I was on my 11th day sober. I felt good, and excited about the marathon. I left work early to do a couple of errands and to go to the marathon expo to pick up my race packet. I was simultaneously nervous and excited. I KNEW I WAS GOING TO FINISH. While my training could have been a bit better, I had been running better than ever. I could have done a couple more longer runs, but I knew that if I could do a 30k and a mile or so cool-down after, I could finish a marathon. Not finishing was out of the question. My husband was spending that night away, as he was participating in a cycling event. In the past, I would drink myself silly on nights he was away. Not this time. I fueled my body with healthy food and lots of water. I had spent the entire week before the marathon being careful of the foods I was eating and drinking copious amounts of water.

On Saturday, May 19, I woke at 3:30am. Yes, you read that right: 3:30 AM! I needed an hour to have water, coffee, journal, meditate, and do a couple sun salutations before getting dressed. I left my house at 4:45am to get to where the busses to the start were loading. I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be able to be up and clear-headed at that hour. On the bus, I ate my banana and honey stinger waffle and sipped my pre-workout drink. I looked around at the beautiful landscape as we headed up into the mountain valley. The weather that morning was perfect: it was in the high 40s, clear, and no wind. I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be on that bus, not hungover, and about to run my first marathon.

The whole time I was running, I kept thinking how lucky I was to be there. I thought about how far I had come, and the role that running was playing on my journey to healing a lifetime of hurt, shame, and abuse. Running had become one of the most important tools in keeping me sober. I kept pushing forward through fear, shame, hurt, and lapses the same way that you push through a long run when you aren’t sure how far you can go: one step at a time and one foot in front of the other. Slowly if necessary, and fast when it feels right. Running was teaching me to tune into my body, and I was also learning to tune into my emotions in the same way. I often listened to uplifting podcasts during my runs to help me make mental shifts in how I thought about myself. I was moving from “not good enough” to “I deserve health, wealth, love, and happiness.” With each run, I learned that I was worth it. Every step I took made me stronger and gave me the courage to heal. At age 45, I was DONE being in the choke hold of shame. It was time to heal and allow myself to flourish, and running gave me the power to heal and the strength to imagine flourishing.

The first half was pretty easy, and I ran my second best half marathon time ever. I slowed down during the second half, and took walk breaks occasionally, mostly at the aid stations. I looked around in awe at the beautiful valley and mountains that surrounded us. I smiled at the volunteers at the aid stations and spectators scattered along the course. I hit mile 18 and still felt pretty good. In the race pictures taken at mile 21, I was smiling. Yeah, my legs were getting tired and sore, but how often does a person get to run down Ogden Canyon without any traffic and with people every couple of miles handing out Gatorade and water? At mile 20, I said to a young woman who looked like she was struggling, “Only 6 more miles!” She looked at me like I was nuts. “6 miles?!?” she said. In my mind, 6 miles was nothing. Then we popped out of the canyon and onto the river parkway that would take us into town. 4 miles left. 4 miles is an easy weekday run for me! Well, it turned out to be the most difficult 4 miles of my life. And the best 4 miles of my life. I had to take walk breaks. The temperature at that point had heated up to almost 70 degrees. I didn’t care. I was going to finish. No matter what. I was sober, and because I was sober, I got to do this. Sure, it was hard. But so is sitting with all the pain and shame that had been driving me back to the bottle for the past 10 years. I’d rather run 26.2 miles than confront that emotional pain. Of course, if I could run 26.2 miles, I could most certainly confront that emotional pain. I can confront that emotional pain BECAUSE I ran.

As I turned onto Grant St., I told myself only 5 blocks left. I channeled Jens Voigt, and told myself “shut up legs.” I even sped up a bit as I neared the finish line. I felt like jello, and felt elated at the same time. I was going to finish! I crossed the line at 4:56. Not fast by any means, but I DID IT! I raised my arms in victory as Metallica played in my ears. I yelled, “HOLY SHIT!” as I approached the smiling, cheering volunteers handing out medals. While walking – or maybe stumbling – around the finish area grabbing water, gatorade, and orange slices, I kept thinking that running a marathon is crazy and who the hell does that? I also felt accomplished. I did it. I beat the inner demons that wanted me to sit home drinking and wallowing in years of hurt. No more, demons. I am a RUNNER. I am a MARATHONER. I can do hard things. And I will prevail.

This year, I am rewriting my story. And I can do it because I run. I do it the same way that I run: one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and feeling gratitude the whole time.

2018: A Healing Journey

Wow, I really should write on my blog more often. I have the best of intentions, and yet I don’t manage to find time or inspiration. I shall work on that. I can’t believe that the last time I posted was in November!

Here’s a summary of my journey: I made it to 26 days without alcohol during November and into early December. Then I lapsed, big time. The thing that was the trigger was desperately NOT wanting to attend my office Christmas party. There are only 4 other people in the office, and I see enough of them every day, and I am most definitely an outsider. When everyone else is LDS and you’re not and almost all they talk about is church stuff, it feels uncomfortable. When you are the only person who runs and eats salads and everyone else is overweight, it’s weird. Anyway, that Friday night, I did not want to be at a restaurant with the coworkers. I called in sick that day to work. I was plagued by feelings of guilt over not wanting to go to the party. So I drank. And then I drank almost every day until sometime after the New Year. I went two weeks AF, then lapsed into another binge. Then another short period AF, then another binge.

I had an awful two week period where I was at home every day on the couch hiding from life and drowning my feelings in alcohol. March 11, I got up and decided that I wanted something different. Already, I knew I was capable of living differently because I was racking up more and more days alcohol-free. But the binges in between were such dark, scary places. I had started participating in a group coaching session every week – personal development for people who are navigating recovery, including people like me who just aren’t “getting” recovery. I was starting to shine the light on my shame in that group. I got back into seeing a therapist. I kept running, with my eye on the spring marathon that I failed to complete last year due to my week-long binge that sabotaged my ability to run very far let alone 26.2 miles.

I made it 51 days sober during that streak. Interestingly, I did not go to a single AA meeting until day 45, when I decided to attend the Tuesday evening women’s group I’d enjoyed in the past to collect my 30-day chip (a little late, but whatever). Several days after that, I participated in the final of the local winter race circuit, a 30K. I saw one of the women from that meeting at the 30K. It was nice to see another AA person at a race. I beat last year’s time by 30 minutes! I felt so good almost the whole way, until the temperature climbed around mile 15. I was proud of myself and my efforts and my training. I was sober, and that made a world of difference. Three weeks before the 30K, I had crushed my previous half marathon record by over 20 minutes. Being sober really helps my running! And running was really helping me to stay sober!

Then, the day after the 30K, I had the worst allergy attack I’d had all spring. I could barely breathe through my nose and my head felt awful. On Monday, I felt worse, and stayed home from work. And that ended my AF streak of 51 days. I felt sick, and I felt badly about staying home from work, and I was tired and needed a mental health day. I had felt that coming for a couple of weeks at that point. I drank that day, and every day for the next week. That was early May. Then, as quickly as I had jumped off the wagon, I got back on. I have now been sober for 18 days; today is day 19. It has not been difficult. Each time I have an AF streak,  it gets easier. I rarely think about alcohol, and when I do, I am repulsed. I have been using a relaxation/hypnosis app called Quit Drinking. I use it as I am going to sleep at night. I figure that if I am hearing new thoughts about alcohol while I’m about to fall asleep or actually asleep, my subconscious will change. I think it is. Along with reading This Naked Mind and Alcohol Explained, my thoughts and beliefs about alcohol have changed dramatically. Reading other books such as Self Compassion by Kristin Neff and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown are helping to change how I think about myself. Engaging in therapy – and now also EMDR therapy to address and heal past trauma – is helping me to heal.

I am on a big, exciting, healing journey. I am ALL IN. I am using all the tools I can without overwhelming myself: group coaching, some one on one coaching with a sobriety coach, AA meetings a couple times per week, therapy, EMDR, self-help and personal development books, podcasts for inspiration, and finding connection. Oh, and RUNNING. Running is helping me to stay sober. Without a doubt. I will write more about running and recovery in my next post. And I’ll share about the marathon!

Feelings and the economic instability of law practice

Today I am on day 13 without alcohol. The clouds are clearing (as is my skin) and the feelings that I had sequestered in some dark corner of my soul are starting to creep out. I am prepared for that, or at least I think that I am. I have been meditating more regularly in these past couple of weeks. I finished up a beginner’s meditation series on the calm app yesterday, and today I began one of their other beginner’s mindfulness meditation series called 21 days of calm. With a long history of trying not to feel whatever it is I’m feeling and trying desperately to escape my truth when that truth doesn’t fit the mold to which I try to conform to please others, I am on a mission to learn to sit with all that comes up and to acknowledge and embrace my truth. And now that the clouds are clearing, that truth is going to start rushing forth like waters bursting a dam.

One of those areas that I am curious to watch unfurl is the area of career and where my heart truly lies. I have had doubts for many years about fitting into the legal profession. In spite of that, I left the MSW program I started in the fall of 2014 to make room to move and also because I couldn’t get my head around taking on more student loan debt for a career (my goal was to become a therapist, something I still wish I had done long ago) that would not pay much more than the monthly student loan bill. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I estimate that my monthly student loan payment, if I were to combine the law school loans with loans from an MSW, would be nearly half of a beginning therapist’s paycheck. That just doesn’t make financial sense. So I fought my way back into the legal profession after a nearly 3 year hiatus during which time I worked in mental health, social services, and studied for the bar exam in a new state.

More on all that later, as the thoughts and feelings and truths make themselves known (and as I let them burst forth, rather than drowning them in vodka). Today, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the economic realities of law practice. Yesterday, I received an envelope from my health insurance company. I found that odd, since I had been enrolled since early summer and have not yet used the insurance so wasn’t expecting any denied claims or explanations of benefits. Instead, it was a notice that my employer had not paid the premium for our group plan for the month of November. The notice was dated November 20. Our group is small: there are only 5 of us (and of those 5, only 2 of us are lawyers, so we are the only ones generating revenue), so I imagine the premium isn’t pretty. I recalled overhearing the owner-attorney’s husband/office manager telling one of the assistants that we were $12,000 in the hole for the month. I couldn’t figure out how, as I had billed a fair amount for October and I get a small fraction (25% or so) as a paycheck. And I knew that the owner-attorney billed quite a bit; October was a busy month for us. It got me thinking about the economic realities of law practice. Legal advice and advocacy is a service that a lot of people want, but it is usually the last thing that they are willing to pay for when bills arrive each month. With a doctor or therapist, people pay for a specific service, like a check-up or 50 minute appointment, at the time of service. With law, it is unclear how much time a given case will take due to so many factors beyond anyone’s control – especially in family law. The $2500 retainer generally covers only a portion of any given case. Once that runs out, people beg for the ability to make payments and we often will concede, especially when judges won’t let us out of a case. So we get stuck billing hours that go unpaid.

That notice from the health insurance company had me thinking about the financial reality of law practice. The vast majority of lawyers in the U.S. practice as solos or in very small firms, and when your clients refuse to pay, you struggle to make ends meet. I’m not sure that I like it enough to be willing to not have health insurance or risk forgoing a paycheck if people aren’t paying their bills. Is my work really a service with true value? The parts of my work that I enjoy the most involve counseling and advising: counseling people on how to emotionally survive the turmoil that is divorce and custody law and advising on how to most effectively communicate with their ex-spouses/co-parents. If I knew back when I took the LSAT and applied to law schools what I know now – that law school is a massive money suck with little guarantee of a return on investment and most lawyers are scrambling to bring in enough money to cover overhead let alone pay themselves anything beyond a very modest middle-class wage – I absolutely would not have gone. My salary has never been higher than my total loan debt. I drive an 11 year old car, and only have disposable income (for things like entering running races or for my husband’s numerous cycling activities and expenses) because I am married and we both work. Perhaps I am overly pessimistic, but I don’t see a good economic future in law practice. Hopefully my continued meditation practice will give me the ability to mindfully accept that reality.

Escape

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., a day that has brought me equal parts happiness and pain throughout my life. I read an article that the day before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest drinking days of the year. That was certainly true for me up until, well, yesterday. Until I stopped going to bars regularly about 8 years ago when I first started trying the whole sobriety and recovery thing, I would park myself at a bar every Thanksgiving Eve. When I was in college, I would usually try to find a bar that was open on Thanksgiving itself, to drink away the pain of spending awkward time with my parents for the holiday. When I stopped going to bars (because I wasn’t “supposed” to anymore, since I had ventured into the land of calling myself alcoholic and needing to “recover”), the day before Thanksgiving became a day to leave work early and go home to drink as much as possible before the husband got home. Of course, many days have been like that, holiday or not, over the past several years.

What is it about Thanksgiving, the day before, and really this whole holiday season that makes us drink so much? It could be that people are reuniting with friends and family that they have not seen for some time, and drinking is part of the reunion celebrations. I suspect that for many, like me, drinking around the holidays is a form of escape. I have been tying to escape, especially around the holidays, since long before I ever started drinking or using other mind-altering drugs.

I recall at least one Thanksgiving, while I was still living near my parents and had graduated from college, where I voluntarily took a shift at the restaurant where I worked on Thanksgiving so that I would have an excuse to leave after Thanksgiving dinner. I was always looking for ways to avoid the awkwardness of the holidays with my family. The holidays were really no different at my house than any other day: it was my parents, me, and my brother. The only difference was we sat through the uncomfortably silent dinner in the more formal dining room rather than the table in the kitchen and used the special china that had been handed down to my mom by her grandmother. And ate a lot more than normal. Otherwise, it was exactly the same as any other day. The same tension between my parents. The same routine of us being all under one roof but being completely far apart at the same time. But my parents always made such a big deal about these holidays and how special it was for us all to be together. How the hell was that any different than any other day? In high school, I often felt stuck in this place where we pretended to be a happy, cohesive family when the reality was that we were four actors in some ongoing play, all pretending to be something we weren’t.

For me, I was pretending to be happy. I was pretending to be that child that would make my parents proud. Make them love me. But I knew the love that was expressed primarily after my achievements was not real love. And I somehow knew that love from people who did not or could not love themselves was empty. I knew somehow that the relationship between my parents was toxic, and I sensed the toxicity with every breath I took in that house. So I sought every way possible to escape. In high school, that meant joining every possible activity to be at school for as many hours as possible. I recall days that I was there for nearly 12 hours, with an early morning weight workout before classes then after school tutoring and then sports then working on the musical. In college, that meant living in the town where I went to college, a mere 30 minutes from my parents’ house. It meant going back home as little as possible, and drinking as much as possible when I was there. It ultimately meant moving 1500 miles away to Colorado (and now Utah).

Even though I am far away in my own beautiful part of the U.S., the feelings of angst, awkwardness, and expectation of what the holidays are supposed to be have never left. So I continued to escape, and to seek some other strange stage on which to be an actor in a play of belonging. That stage for many years was the artificial camaraderie of bars. The feeling of homecoming when bellying up and ordering the first drink, the feeling of being loved when someone would buy me shots, and the artificial alcohol-induced laughter all replaced the sober, silent, forced interactions with my parents when I was home. Then after I ventured into the waters of recovery, I had to hide my drinking. I wasn’t supposed to go to bars anymore. So I no longer had a place where I “belonged,” as artificial as that belonging was. I was on my own, but still escaping the feelings and memories associated with the holidays. I drank as much as possible. I didn’t need anybody, and I didn’t need to feel whatever it was and is that I feel when my parents say at the other end of the telephone conversation how much they wished I were there. I feel guilty for not wanting to participate in a false scenario of happiness and love.

This Thanksgiving is different. I am not escaping. I am on day 11 free from the chains of alcohol., and stepping off the stage of some artificial life that other people think I should live. The feelings and memories are going to flood back. And the damn state-run liquor stores are closed. Good. It is high time that I confront how I feel, that I learn to sit with it. That I stop trying to escape and stop trying to be someone I’m not. Today, I am fully present and I intend to be fully, authentically ME. Whatever that is. I’ve been dying a slow death while stifling who really I am to fit myself into whatever play I happen to find myself in at any given period of my life. I am now writing my own story, as scary as it may be.

This Thanksgiving and holiday season, I choose to stop trying to escape. I choose to be present for me.

6 Days and A Prayer

I just re-read my last post, in which I wrote about the shame of not finishing the marathon, the shame of continuing to drink and binge drink and miss days of work as a result. That pattern continued until last week. I pray that I never go back to where I was, and the cycle in which I’ve been stuck for several years. To be fair, the number of days alcohol-free did increase overall compared to the past few years. I figured out that in October, 42% of the days were alcohol-free. That is a big accomplishment for me, given  that I was a daily drinker for most of my adult life, with periodic binges added to that in the past 10 years. I read the book This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace, and I’ve been watching her videos, listening to her podcast and diving into other authors and resources she recommends. One thing that she says that really stuck with me and got me out of the shame of drinking after a period of days without is that we need to look at our overall progress. She says if we have 8 out of 10 days free from alcohol, then that is an 80% success rate. Pretty good, right? But in recovery circles, anything short of 100% success – meaning complete sobriety – is a failure, and you must start all over at Day 1. Can you imagine any other illness or condition for which your doctor would say you have failed if you have not achieved 100% success? I think about high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is 150/95, and you doctor encourages you to make lifestyle changes to achieve a blood pressure of 120/80 (or lower), and your blood pressure is 135/90 at the next checkup, would your doctor tell you that you have failed? I highly doubt it. And if she does, go get a new doctor. So why is it that anything but 100% sobriety is considered failure in recovery from addiction? Yes, that is the goal. However, many of us are so fueled by shame and that shame keeps us returning to the drink or drug, creating a vicious cycle. In the mental health and social work world, we point out people’s successes in an effort to help them build upon those, no matter how small. If a person with severe depression has trouble getting out of bed and completing daily tasks, they are applauded for the days that they DO get out of bed and shower to get to an appointment. That’s HUGE! So why not applaud the addicted person for each day without a drink or drug?

Still, I am counting my days. Today is Day 6. I feel extremely grateful to be here, and have absolutely no desire to return to the pit in which I found myself just over a week ago. I was “sick” from work three days that week. I had mediations the other two days, and how I made it through those, I have no idea. I didn’t check my work email. I tuned out. Clients were calling for me, but I wasn’t there and I wasn’t checking email. I couldn’t. I just wanted to escape and to be numb. The days that I was at home, I drank all day and laid on the couch watching stupid tv, eating crap food, and sleeping intermittently before waking up to pour another cocktail. I made sure I was in bed when my husband came home from work. Of course he knew what that meant. I was getting up after he went to bed to make more drinks and return to my room to continue the numbing. I’d sleep for a couple of hours, then wake up to make more drinks. I was in a cycle of just waiting until I could get the next drink. The days that I went to mediation, I felt shaky and cloudy. My face was red and my eyes were not clear. I honestly don’t know how I got through those two days. I was so ashamed, but felt compelled to drink again to ease the pain of the shame. A week ago yesterday, I got out of mediation and went to get more alcohol. The store was closed. It was the day the state observed Veteran’s Day. Good ol’ Utah and its state-run liquor stores. I contemplated driving to Wyoming to get some alcohol. Just over an hour to get there. And I decided it wasn’t worth it. The reason: a text my husband had sent me two days prior telling me he hates it when I “secret drink” and that he barely trusts me. I received that text while sitting in mediation. My stomach sank. He deserves better. It was time for me to stop. I needed help. I needed to talk to someone who feels this same level of shame, and who understands what it is like to try to drink the shame away, only to have the shame continue to snowball.

So I went to an AA meeting. I had been to one women’s meeting twice in the past month or so. I decided that I needed to at least try again, because I needed real-life, in-person connection. The Facebook groups are great, but there is something about real-life interaction that is healing. So I went to a meeting at a women’s sober house in town. Afterward, I went up to a woman I recognized from the women’s meeting I had enjoyed, and asked to talk. I teared up. My face was already red from the week-long binge. She hugged me and I started to cry. A couple other women came over to hug me, and allowed me to cry in their arms. I felt safe. I told the first woman how shitty I felt, how scared I was, that I was scared to lose my job, and that I had been drinking in the middle of the night. She nodded, and said she understood and she had been there. I was simultaneously surprised and relieved. Thank God, someone gets it! I told her about the text from my husband, and that he deserved better. She said, “YOU deserve better!” I shook my head. She said I deserve to be happy. Again, I shook my head. She told me to practice saying it to myself until I believed it. I laughed and cried at the same time. She asked for my number and texted me immediately after I gave it to her so I could call her. She introduced me to a couple of other women. I left feeling loved and understood.

I returned home to my husband. I told him he deserves better and apologized, even though I knew he was wary of my apologies. He told me that I deserve better, and I started crying again. All last weekend was filled with tears, anxiety, and fear. I posted some cries for help in two of the closed Facebook recovery groups I belong to. I got lots of responses, love, and support. I texted the woman from the Friday night meeting several times. I still couldn’t keep myself from drinking. But the bottle I bought Saturday lasted Saturday night and Sunday night, which is a feat given that I was putting away closer to a bottle a day earlier in the week. Monday right after work I got to an AA meeting and picked up a 24 hour chip. The woman next to me asked if she could pass it around. I handed it to her and watched as she bowed her head while holding the little silver chip in her hand. She then passed it and each person held it and poured their love and hopes and prayers into that chip. That chip will be my last 24 hour chip. I pray it will.

I have prayed each morning since last Friday night. Prayed for strength and courage. I have felt it, especially yesterday when I was determined to go to an AA meeting even after a really long day. It was the same meeting I attended a week ago with a puffy, red face and heart filled with fear. I am not free from fear, and it is not likely I ever will be, but I certainly feel more capable of facing it today. I felt buoyed by the stories, laughter, and hugs from people in those rooms. There are things that I dislike about AA, and for my logical side, there are resources to satisfy my need to understand addiction. But for the spiritual emptiness and loneliness that I feel, I need to be in those rooms and I need to do those steps.