Monday, January 28, 2019

My First Motorcycle Wreck

When I first started blogging again, I was focusing on my sobriety journey. Now that I have over 4 months under my belt and don’t constantly think about it, I realized I have so many more things to say. While I still will report on my journey to stay sober, I want to write about other things as well.
It’s been about a year since I rode on a motorcycle for the very first time. One thing bikers will tell you is that it’s not if you drop your bike, but when. The same is true for having a wreck of some type – not if, but when. I knew this going in. It’s a dangerous hobby, even if you are the greatest, safest rider out there. Big pot holes, distracted car drivers, debris on the road, giant rock haulers are all out to get me. Straddling a gas tank while maneuvering through 80 mph traffic and balancing on two wheels is dangerous.

I always wear a helmet, gloves, long pants, and close-toed shoes even from the first time I hopped on the back of my husband’s bike. For a few months riding as passenger, I only wore a half helmet and sometimes only a tank top if it was hot. It was after two close friends had pretty serious wrecks last year that I decided to take it further. I bought Kevlar riding pants, an armored jacket, armored riding boots, and a full face helmet. I ALWAYS wore all of it. In the summer, I had a mesh armored jacket and told myself if I was too hot, I should just skip the ride.

Technically, this wasn’t my first wreck. Several months ago, we were out riding and switched bikes before we rode back home. When my husband pulled into the driveway, the throttle on his bike (that I was riding) stuck, and I lurched forward into the back of him, tapping the back of my bike he was on. It barely knocked over the bike, and he landed on his feet. Neither of the bikes nor he was injured at all.

Fast forward to a little over three weeks ago. My husband and I had ridden to a motorcycle show in downtown Dallas, about an hour ride through heavy Interstate traffic. When we left in the morning, it was quite cold, so my layers and armored gear were welcome. While we wandered around the convention center during the day, though, it had warmed up significantly and was 65 degrees. We planned to ride to lunch just a few miles away still in downtown, so both of us opted to leave our armored jackets in our saddle bags and just ride with our long-sleeve t-shirts on.
Navigating busy downtown streets, I was in the lead as I usually am (my husband jokes that he gets lost in his own closet, so I generally lead when we ride). We were on a very busy two-lane street. We were in the right lane and needed to merge left to prepare for a left turn about half mile ahead. Instead of watching the car right in front, I was looking in the distance toward our next turn. I saw quick brake lights as the line of cars ahead stopped quickly and instinctively did what they tell you not to do in motorcycle school. I grabbed a handful of front brake.

For those not familiar with motorcycles, the brake for the front wheel is on the right grip of the handlebar, and the brake for the rear wheel is a pedal on the right side. Proper braking involves gently squeezing the front brake while gently pressing the rear brake. About 70% of the bike’s braking power is in the front brake; however, and many riders use just the front brake much of the time. That works fine as long as braking is steady and gently. Still, it’s a bad habit many riders get into. If you don’t practice using both brakes, you’re much less likely to use both brakes in a quick stop or emergency. If you just grab that front brake, like I did, the tire can lock up and cause a skid. Which it did. I saw brake lights well ahead of us instead of right in front and reacted by grabbing the front brake. My bike lurched right, then lurched left before falling on its side and sliding maybe 15 feet. My husband, just a few feet and to the right behind me tried to figure out which way I was falling so he could swerve the opposite and avoid running over me. His quick swerving action kept him from barreling over my head, but it ultimately caused his bike to fall and slide, too. Both of us jumped up almost immediately, running toward each other to see if we were both OK.

It’s something you always hear from survivors of any type of wreck – everything moved in slow motion. Though the wreck happened in maybe 15 seconds, in my mind it took hours. I saw the brakes ahead. I grabbed the brake, I skidded slowly left then right then left again, and felt the bike falling. I bounced off the cement and slowly turned my head to see his Harley barreling toward my face. Then I saw him falling, too, soooo slowly. Somehow my leg didn’t end up pinned underneath the bike, and I felt like I leapt up from the ground to see if he was OK.

We were extremely fortunate in a number of ways. The car behind us braked fast and avoided hitting us. My husband didn’t hit or run over me. Another biker was nearby, stopped and ran over to help both of us pick up our bikes and make sure we weren’t seriously injured. We quickly walked the bikes to the curb and began to take inventory. Both bikes have engine guards and leather saddle bags, which prevented much physical damage. My front right turn signal was ground down and dangling off the handlebars (though it still worked), and there is a small scrape on my windshield and pipes. My husband’s saddle bag ties were ripped off the support, and there is only a tiny little scrape on his.
Physically, I had a small hole in the knee of my Kevlar pants, but not a scrape on my leg at all. Remember the decision to not wear our jackets, though? I had a hole in the elbow of my t-shirt and a nasty 4 inches of road rash on my right forearm. He fell in the opposite direction and had an almost identical bit of road rash on his left forearm. After we confirmed nothing was broken and the bikes weren’t leaking any fluid, we slowly and cautiously rode to a Chinese buffet to eat and take further inventory. We both washed our scrapes and took turns bandaging each other’s arms and managed to eat, still in quite a daze. We still had about an hour of ride time to get back home. We ate, stopped to gas up, donned our full jackets and gear, and opted for a slower route on backroads instead of barreling down the highway.

When we got home, we both realized we didn’t really remember eating. I imagine we were slightly in shock from it all. After showering and changing clothes, we made a pot of coffee and spent much of the evening in a daze from it all.

All in all, it was a slow speed wreck with very little damage, but I learned a lot from the experience. Never again will I decide to leave off my armored jacket “just because it’s a short ride”. Every time I have ridden since that day, I have been practicing using both brakes even for slow speed stops.
I can tell you one thing: road rash HURTS. It doesn’t look like much to scrape off a few layers of skin, but the first few nights, the pain would wake me up at night. Finally, three weeks later, I have a soft pink 4-inch layer of new skin. It is still tender, but I am no longer in pain. Sometimes the new growth is itchy. I still have a huge bruise across my upper thigh, but it’s finally fading out.
My husband, on the other hand, noticed a spot on his arm an inch or two away from the road rash about a week and a half ago. He thought it was a spider bite, but it was getting angrier and redder. When we were out running errands, his entire arm and hand swelled. He went to the doctor last Monday and was given antibiotics. The doctor called back Thursday morning and told him the swab came back as MRSA. Drug-resistant staph. MRSA can hospitalize people for weeks on IV antibiotics sometimes. That, and it’s highly contagious. They called in a much stronger prescription, and I set about doing a deep clean of the house – washing sheets and towels, wiping down surfaces, and scrubbing. I still had a raw, open wound on my own arm, so was vigilant to wash and cover it often. Fortunately, he went back to the doc this morning and got the all clear to return to work. The drugs were working to knock it out.

We don’t know if the MRSA had anything to do with the wreck, of course. It could have been a coincidence. Opening a long wound in his arm, though, certainly could have invited those nasty staph bugs into his system.

Overall, we are very fortunate and very thankful. While full head-to-toe gear cannot protect from the most serious of accidents, it certainly did its job to prevent further road rash on my legs. If we had both just put our jackets back on, we likely would not have both had ugly, painful road rash. Maybe he wouldn’t have developed a drug-resistant staph infection.

Either way, we are fine. The bikes are fine. While I was a little nervous the next time I rode, I DID get back in that saddle as soon as I could. We both have ridden several times since that day.
And we are both a little more cautious and a little more vigilant about gearing up.

134 Days, 9 Hours I would rather be sober, thinking I am an alcoholic

I haven’t written in close to two months, but I’m happy to announce that I am still sober. I have remained sober...through my birthday, through the holidays, through life’s stressors...sober.

After 4 ½ months, I am no longer thinking about alcohol very frequently. It’s just not something I do anymore. Every once in a while, I spend some time still wondering about why I began to abuse alcohol. I can think back to all the times, all the scenarios when booze was involved. It’s no longer shame or guilt, though. It just is. That’s who I was, but it’s not who I am anymore.

I am still struggling with emotions, however. I mean, that’s expected, right? I can’t have lived almost 45 years without knowing how to process and really feel feelings and just figure it out all at once. Even before I started drinking, I never really knew how to handle feelings. In my family, we did not talk about good OR bad feelings in much detail. We still don’t.

We’ve never talked about my sister’s death in emotional detail. We talk about her occasionally, but we don’t dare venture into the feelings surrounding it. I can’t imagine how losing a child so young has affected my parents. I can’t imagine how it felt for my father to have found her unresponsive and cold in her bed that morning she missed her dialysis appointment. I wouldn’t DARE bring it up.
SO, I have taken this process of getting sober to learn how to process my own emotions. I am still terrible at it, but I think I am getting a little better. I am trying to talk to my husband about my feelings - both good and bad. I am trying to share with my close friend and my kids. Hell, I am trying to share my feelings with MYSELF if that makes sense. It’s still hard, but it’s definitely better than it was. I am certainly quicker to tears when I am frustrated or lonely or sad or angry, but I also get over negative emotions more quickly.

The biggest issue I have had with this sobriety process is trying to figure out where I belong. AA is not something for me - meeting and crying and telling stories over and over again has absolutely no appeal to me. When I made up my mind to stop drinking, had no desire to spend so much time in my past, rehashing the stories and dwelling on it. Don’t get me wrong - AA has tremendous value for many people. It’s just not me.

When this journey first started, I was reading addicts’ memoirs, following different sobriety groups on social media, and trying to absorb everything I could. One quote I saw really resonated with me:
“I would rather be sober, thinking I am an alcoholic than be drunk, thinking I am not.” 
That quote really spoke to me. Many people who abuse alcohol drink heavily but don’t believe they have a problem. This quote was so very meaningful for me - better to stay sober and think I have a problem than think I DON’T have a problem and continue abusing my body.

I think it’s common for people who abuse alcohol to deny, deny, deny. Was my problem truly a physical addiction, or was it just a psychological coping mechanism? Was it just my way to self-medicate and avoid dealing with feelings and difficulties? I am keen to think I never was physiologically addicted to alcohol. After all, I did not suffer through withdrawal symptoms, at least not the severe ones. I was more tired than usual and extra emotional for a few weeks, but I did not have nightmares, the shakes, nausea and vomiting, or any of the other frightening withdrawal symptoms that can happen to alcoholics when they stop cold turkey. Frankly, fear of those things happening is one of the reasons I didn’t stop sooner.

After watching my father-in-law go through withdrawal multiple times and get diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, then watching him relegated to living out his remaining days in a nursing home, I. was. terrified. Nobody really knew how MUCH he drank, but we all suspect it was much more than he let on. His roommate suggested close to a half gallon of vodka a day when his drinking was at its heaviest, but she was in denial I am sure. Regardless, his problems arose when he didn’t drink. He would NOT drink for a day or two and have seizures. His roommate found him every time (it was 3 or 4 times over the past several years) and called 911. Had she not been there each time, he might have died a few years earlier than he did. The same thing would happen each time - he had a seizure, paramedics couldn’t or had a very hard time waking him up, he would go to the hospital, go through medical withdrawal, get somewhat better, and eventually go back home. 
February 2018 was the last time he had another seizure and ended up in the hospital, but this time he was moved to a nursing facility and was diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff. He was 69 years old. He had another seizure and brief hospital visit a month or two later, but seemed to be doing as well as he could be. My husband got power of attorney. We sold his house for him. We made sure his will was in order. He eventually came to understand he could never live alone again, and we had started looking for a long-term facility to rent him an apartment. And then very early on July 4, he stopped breathing. We don’t know if he had another seizure or if someone had snuck alcohol to him or if his battered and abused body just stopped working, but the truth was he died just a week after turning 70 years old because of decades of severely abusing his body with alcohol.

SO, watching all of this happen while I myself was still abusing alcohol, of course I was extremely scared those things would happen to me. For a while I didn’t stop drinking because I was afraid of withdrawal. When you start to research how to quit drinking, many sources warn against quitting suddenly. You can literally die from stopping alcohol cold turkey. Fortunately, thankfully, the level of my abuse had not yet addled my body to that extreme, that permanently.

The biggest thing I have had trouble adjusting to is figuring out where I fit in. Riding my motorcycle has been my savior, my stress reliever, my go-to thing to guarantee feeling better physically and mentally. BUT many biker-related activities are surrounded by alcohol. Poker runs, meetups, other activities include booze. Granted, we have a group of riding friends who just want to ride and end up somewhere for a meal, but it’s been a challenge balancing that. Many activities around motorcycles are saturated with alcohol. Some of the motorcycle dealership events and other biker meetups have free beer or booze. We went to a bike night week before last, for example. They had FREE beer, wine, and liquor, but charged $2 for a bottle of water! How wrong is that?!? Another activity was Friday night - a meetup of a ladies’ riding group I am in at a tattoo shop. I’d love more ink, but it was also a free beer/BYOB event. It’s not as difficult being around people drinking as it was at first, but I still would rather skip events where drinking is the primary focus.

Spending time with our closest friends was a challenge for a few months, because it makes me very uncomfortable when I know people AREN’T drinking just because I am there. We hung out a few times after I got sober, but it didn’t last very long and they wouldn’t drink like they normally would. FINALLY we went to their house for a game night weekend before last, and it was not a big deal. I mentioned beforehand - PLEASE have drinks if they want to. They had a few beers while we had diet sodas and sparkling water and guess what? We had a great time playing games! It was not a big deal at all.

Overall, this far in, my biggest challenge is just figuring out where I fit in. My emotions are still raw and delicate, but honestly I think my emotions are normal. It’s just the first time in 15 or 20 years that I am feeling everything fully.

The worst thing I am doing to my body is still smoking some of the time to get through the most stressful and difficult times, but I’ll address that when sobriety is second nature and not something I still have to consciously do. Every day is a little bit easier, but I still have moments where I have a fleeting desire to stop at the liquor store or want ‘just one’ glass of wine. I still have to tell myself I don’t drink anymore. Those moments are coming less and less frequently.

I have also increased my caffeine consumption. I understand now why AA meetings always have a huge urn of coffee. I drink more coffee than I ever did before, but I am not concerned. I have morning coffee and now sometimes have an afternoon cup or even one or two in the evenings. Not a big deal at all.

Overall, life is good. My job is good. Our marriage is good. Our kids are good. Our finances are good. We have lots of friends and plenty of activities to fill our free time. Honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

I never thought that quitting drinking would impact so many different aspects of my life. I mean, nothing much has really changed other than me not going to bed blasted most nights, but my perspective has changed. Who would have thought I would enjoy remembering what I said and did the evening before? The day I decided to stop drinking turned EVERYthing around for me.

The transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took weeks of stumbling and fumbling while I defined my new existence. It took a while (and is still taking a while) to define my new reality. Honestly, I never thought I would be where I am right now - completely sober, feeling feelings, enjoying relationships with friends and family, making plans for my future, and embracing my life. I feel like I wasted the last 15 years either drinking or thinking about drinking, and now I am just ready to LIVE.

Friday, November 30, 2018

77 Days, 14 Hours: The First Time I Drove Drunk

Part of recovery from an addiction is spent looking backward. I try to be a look-forward, don’t-dwell-in- the-past type of person for the most part, but I think it’s vital when recovering from an addiction that we spend a little time exploring the possible reasons and triggers. To examine some of the early behaviors. To engage in some healthy analysis.

For me, and I imagine for many people in recovery, a lot of time is spent trying to figure out why. Why did I become an alcoholic and my spouse can have two drinks or no drinks and it’s not a big deal to him? What trauma caused me to use alcohol as a medication to quiet my brain and pain? What was the scenario that flipped the switch in my brain and body from drinking for enjoyment to drinking to numb, from a few heavy drinking nights of partying with friends to almost nightly drinking nights of blackouts alone?

While I do recognize the value in searching our pasts to try to understand the addiction, I am also careful to recognize the danger in dwelling in past trauma or difficult situations.

The fact is, now that I’ve spent 11 weeks trying to figure myself out, is that I NEVER learned how to drink healthfully. As I think back to different situations and scenarios when I drank, I am realizing now that it was ALWAYS binge drinking. While there may have been a few occasions when I had 2 or 3 glasses of wine and stopped, it seems like almost every situation when I drank, I drank extremely heavily. Somewhere along the line, though, it switched from partying with friends on weekends to drinking alone most nights of the week. The patterns and behaviors of being an addict have always been there.

My senior year in high school is when I first tried booze. I might have tried a drink a handful of times before then, but it was really then that I full on began to drink. My parents didn’t drink, so there was never alcohol in our house. It was my senior year when I was going out more and more and meeting up with friends who could get alcohol. I didn’t drink all the time, but when I did, I got drunk. Granted, that’s a common theme among high school and college kids – many experiment and drink too much. Most, hopefully, learn their lesson and learn their limits. I certainly didn’t.

So anyway, my senior year I was sort of dating a guy. Well, I was dating HIM…he just wasn’t committed to the relationship. But after an emotionally and physically abusive relationship my junior year, I had incredibly low self-esteem and thought I HAD to have a boyfriend. This guy was nice enough, but he tried to tell me he wasn’t interested in a commitment. I ignored him and wallowed in my insecurity. He was still hooking up with his ex and a few other girls. One Saturday night, I had gone to sleepover with a girlfriend whose mother was out of town. We had the house to ourselves, so of COURSE we ended up having a party. It was 1990, so wine coolers were the go-to booze for hip teenagers.

Several people came over and we drank. I got totally smashed. But the boyfriend/not boyfriend was not there, even though he was mutual friends with everyone at the party. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones and social media, so I went the old-fashioned route and called him. And called again. He didn’t answer. In my booze-addled brain, I was convinced he was with his ex-girlfriend and was ignoring my calls. Drunk, jealous, insecure me did the only thing I could. I drove to his house.
Here’s the kicker – I didn’t have my own car in high school. I I did the next best thing. I ‘borrowed’ my friend’s mother’s little Honda. I guess my friend and the other guests had already gone to bed – not sure where everyone else was when I left.  Anyhow, it’s 2 a.m., it’s pouring down rain, I am drunk, and I am driving a car I stole from my friend’s mother (who was on a business trip). He lived at least 20 minutes from her house on the other side of town, too.

When I got to his house, his truck wasn’t there, the lights were all out, and his mother’s and sister’s cars were gone, too. It looked like the entire family was gone for the night.

I don’t remember driving back at all. I don’t remember getting back to my friend’s house. What I do remember is jarring back to reality when I ever so gently tapped a box fan sitting in the garage with the front fender when I was pulling back in. The rest of the details and the rest of the night are fuzzy – I guess I managed to press the remote to open the garage when I got back, close it behind me, return the car keys and shut the garage door before I stumbled into her bedroom and passed out. I do know that drunk little 18-year old was VERY lucky she didn’t get pulled over, she didn’t kill or harm herself, she didn’t kill or harm someone else. Aside from an old box fan in the garage, nobody was the wiser. She didn’t learn anything from that experience.

You see, addicts have rules, especially functioning ones like I am (or was, I guess). I had rules. But the thing is, despite having rules, we are very good at bending them and completely rationalizing when we need to change them in the moment. 18-year old me in 1990 and 45-year old me in 2018 had rules. They kept her in control, and they kept her from admitting she was a drunk. My brain lied to me and said I followed the rules, so I was safe. I didn’t drive drunk.

I only drank at home or limited to only 2 or 3 drinks if I did go out. And I DID drive drunk or drive while on the way to getting drunk. But in my mind, I could always rationalize it. In my mind, I never drove while I was drinking, but in reality, I did. Coming home from getting trashed at our friends? Of course I could drive, it was only a mile or two through the neighborhood. Running to the corner gas station for a pack of cigarettes. Going to a meeting at my kid’s school (I only had ONE drink in my water bottle to calm my nerves, right?) Coming home after a wine tasting with my friend (they didn’t make us spit, so I of course drank every drop of every taste)

The fact is, I drove under the influence quite a bit, and was DAMN lucky I never got in trouble or got hurt or hurt or killed my passengers or a stranger. I cannot even try to imagine how I would feel if I had gotten a DUI with my kids in the back seat or had a wreck and killed a young family all because I was “OK” to drive.

The first time I drove drunk, I was 18 years old, stole a car, and had a fender bender with a box fan. The last time I drove drunk was the last night I drank, 78 days ago. As I had done dozens of times before, I stopped at the liquor store and bought a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Coke zero. I pulled into the gas station next door – over to the side of the entrance so nobody saw me. I poured out the top two inches of Coke zero and filled it back up with vodka. I drank that the remaining 20 minutes of my commute home and already had a good buzz going by the time I pulled into the driveway.
Rules don’t matter if you bend them or downright break them, and addicts’ rules are constantly bent and broken.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

74 Days, 10 Hours: Learning to Let Things Go

Gosh, it’s been almost three weeks since I checked in to my blogosphere here. No worries, nothing has been wrong - I have just been super busy with work, riding my motorcycle, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and spending time with family and friends. Life has been go, go, go, and I honestly am not even thinking about being sober constantly. I guess that’s a great sign. The first month or two, I was thinking about sobriety and staying sober all the time. Now, I am actually going a day or several at a time without even thinking about the fact that I am not drinking. Whereas before, it was on my mind all the time, now it just drifts in and out.

It’s getting so much easier.

Sure, I still have evenings where I come home after a long day of work and monetarily think a nice glass of wine or six would be just the ticket. And over Thanksgiving weekend, I had 5 days off. Drunk Rachel would have easily translated that into a free-for-all to drink every night I was off work. I thought about it once or twice, but again, not a big issue.

I LOVE Thanksgiving – it’s my favorite holiday, and for the past 10 or so years, I have insisted on cooking every single dish from scratch, on my own. I love the whole process of planning the menu, shopping, organizing how and when I was going to cook every dish. My husband is a chef, and even he knows he was to stay away from the kitchen the Wednesday and Thursday of Thanksgiving.
And while yes, I love the whole process and tradition of Thanksgiving dinner, I realized this year that setting ridiculous high standards for myself to cook an entire huge meal on my own is unreasonable.

In learning to be sober, I am learning to let things go.

I am learning to not only ask for help, but also LET people help and tell myself it’s OK to not have a perfectly clean and organized house and immaculate full holiday meal.

I am convinced this is 100% the factor that is keeping me sober – taking the pressure off myself to maintain a full-time job, a clean and organized house, a balance bank account, a happy marriage, and successful, happy kids. Nobody else expects me to do all of these things to perfection – nor do they care. It was a little thing in the grand spread of food we gorged ourselves on, but the kids made a from scratch pumpkin pie (including from scratch gluten free crust) and my husband made mashed potatoes as well as peeled and cut apples and sweet potatoes. Allowing them to do these things for me was a BIG deal. A huge deal. Somewhere in my mind a decade ago, I decided I needed to cook this entire, ridiculous huge meal completely from scratch and completely alone.

I am learning to let things go.

Another big one? My kids and my daughter’s boyfriend put up the Christmas decorations this year. I just sat back and sipped a mug of coffee while listening to them laugh and decorate.
Giving myself permission to NOT try to do everything has had amazing results.

I’m also staying busy doing things I love to do.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my husband and I and 6 other friends rode our motorcycles 3 ½ hours north to Broken Bow, OK for the weekend. This was my first overnight motorcycle trip, and I cannot wait for the next one! Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, and we had a beautiful ride while taking in the changing fall colors. Broken Bow is next to a national forest and park, so we rode the twisty hills a bit Saturday afternoon. Sunday, on the other hand, was quite the opposite. A cold front came through overnight, and we rode that 3 ½ hours in 38 degrees with 20+ mph winds. On the bike going 70 mph makes the wind chill somewhere in the single digits or lower! I had 3 pair of gloves, 2 pair of pants, 3 shirts, and a neck gator under my helmet, but those things did little to keep me warm. We were all 8 frozen solid. It took a hot shower and several cups of coffee after we got home to finally get warm!

A few of our friends ordered a beer with dinner Saturday night, but it wasn’t a big deal. I have never ridden and had even a single drink (other than when I was a passenger on my husband’s bike), so being on the bike makes it super easy to avoid alcohol.

And then, like I mentioned, I had 5 days off for Thanksgiving weekend. The weather was glorious, and I rode my bike at least a little while every single one of those 5 days. We had planned Thanksgiving dinner for 6 p.m. that evening, so I did all my cooking prep work early in the day, and hubby and I ventured out to find somewhere open for lunch.

Friday was the best by far. Instead of battling crowds of people for crap I don’t need on Black Friday, I set out on my motorcycle Jezebel alone around 10:30 a.m. I headed northeast and looped around beautiful country roads, just me and Jezebel, my tunes playing in my helmet. I stopped and had lunch on my own and just enjoyed time alone. It was windy and in the 60s, so a little cool, but very pleasant. I stopped a few times to take in the scenery and took a few photos of the two of us.


There was hardly any traffic on my route by myself. I ended up meeting my husband when he got off work at 2:30 and rode a bit longer with him. My Friday was completed with 166 miles of riding time, a clear head, and a happy soul.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

55 Days, 9 Hours: One Last Bender

Sobriety, for the most part, has been relatively easy for me. My physical withdrawal symptoms were minor the first few weeks and are pretty much gone by now. No tremors, no migraines, no major insomnia, no violent mood swings. I was tired a lot and slept hard and cried easily, but those have evened out.

I am however battling a recurring thought: the desire to have just one more bender. I imagine this is common among alcoholics, especially those who have to quit drinking suddenly and unplanned – after an arrest or hospitalization, for example. My first day of sobriety wasn’t really planned out. I had a particularly bad night of drinking and blacking out the night before and simply woke up with the idea that I was finished. I poured out what was left of my bottle of vodka that morning and simply stopped drinking. I didn’t go to rehab. I didn’t go to AA. I didn’t have a plan or a strategy for withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t do ANYTHING except just not drink. My advice to anyone trying to quit drinking is NOT to do what I did and have no support in place. In the early weeks, I would simply listen to my body – eat what I wanted, sleep when I wanted, smoke if I felt like it, cry if I needed, abandon housework if I felt like it. I had ONE job, and that was staying sober. It certainly got me through this first almost 2 months, but I think I am terribly lucky.  

No, it wasn’t easy, especially at first. Alcohol is EVERYwhere, and I am acutely aware of it. Dinner with girlfriends: one orders a sangria, they all talk about different alcohols they’ve tried and like. An upcoming party: a vodka distributor is offering $5 specials. Friends come to visit: they don’t bring their regular six pack of beer and bottle of wine, which was ALWAYS on the agenda. Ads on Facebook. Liquor stores on my route home from work. A few coworkers making plans for happy hour after work. All of these little things I usually wouldn’t have even thought about compound and scream at me.

I guess this urge for one last bender stems from both how I quit (unplanned, suddenly) and the fact I didn’t have a final binge to signify the end of my drinking era. When I was drinking that last night, I had no plans to quit the next day. Sure, I had tried to quit probably a dozen times the past few years, but usually that was veiled in false promises to myself and attempts to ‘control’ my drinking. Only on weekends. Only wine. Drink water in between each drink. It’s a very common scenario in alcoholics before sobriety really takes hold – this attempt to control it and prove to ourselves we aren’t, in fact, major alcoholics.

So anyhow, the past few weeks I have had several thoughts that I wanted one last time to drink. Of course it isn’t rational, but neither is addiction, right? A few times driving home from work, my mind danced around the idea of renting a hotel room alone, buying a bottle of vodka, and just getting completely blitzed one last time. A few times my brain drifted back to where it used to be: I could stop for booze on the way home, hide my bottle, and get just a little tipsy at home. I’d cut it off before my husband noticed, right? But I wouldn’t. I thought I could cut myself off before blackout stage dozens of times before. I never could.

Despite these feelings of wanting a last hoorah, though, I haven’t indulged them. Instead of pushing them down, I am sitting with the craving and the desire, feeling it completely, and letting it slide away. And inevitably, it does slide away. I know it’s just the booze demon trying to rear its ugly head, trying to drag me back down to the bottomless pit of the addiction. I also know it is important to feel those cravings and acknowledge them, so I can let them drift away. Amazingly, they always do. Really, that’s true for any unhealthy craving – they eventually go away.

Instead of giving in to that craving, that desire to get trashed just one more time, I do something else. I hop on my motorcycle for a ride. I fix a delicious cup of hot coffee. I read sobriety blogs. I read a book on my Kindle. I watch a stupid show. I take a hot bath. I suck on a sugar free hard candy.
I have read quite a bit about people who relapse. The percentage of addicts who fall back into their addictions is staggering. It’s a very real possibility, and it is something I know I will have to battle to avoid at some point. There is a reason we hear about people entering rehab for the 4th, the 5th, the 10th time. I cannot plan for difficult scenarios that are bound to affect my life down the road. Nobody can. But what I can plan for is having strategies and methods – healthy ones – that are my response for those trying times. Death of a loved one. Loss of a job. A bad car wreck. Financial troubles. A cancer diagnosis.

Things like this happen to everyone at some point in life, but living a healthy life is about how we respond to these events. Instead of turning back to that old friend, the bottle, we have to retrain our minds to turn to healthy self-care to manage stress and trying times.

I know my brain keeps trying to tell me to have one last epic drunk, but I am going to recognize that feeling, fully embrace that it’s just a feeling, and let it go.

Monday, November 5, 2018

53 Days, 8 Hours: 202 Miles in the Saddle

One year ago today, I was at the same weight I was at on my first day of sobriety, 9/13/18. Despite sticking to a keto eating plan pretty much this entire last two years, my weight bounced up and down a few pounds. Well, DUH. I was eating spot on, but was still pouring vodka down my gullet most days a week. All my efforts to making weight loss progress were foiled because of this goddamn demon on my shoulder. I have resumed my keto plan plus added paleo and am working on limiting my artificial sweeteners since then, so I am basically keto and drastically reducing dairy, diet sodas, and sugar free treats as much as possible. And wouldn’t you know, I have lost 7.4 pounds in the 53 days since I quit drinking. And I didn’t lose any the first few weeks of sobriety while I was just focused on not drinking and allowed myself to eat whatever my body asked for. So, that’s really 7+ pounds in maybe 3 weeks. Spot ON!

A friend messaged me yesterday after we spent the day together and told me he can tell keto is working for me – he said he definitely sees it in my face and was impressed at hubby and I sticking to this plan so well. We bikers ride together quite a bit, but every ride either starts or ends somewhere for food (or both!) – in some restaurants it is very challenging to select foods we can eat. While my focus is just to continue gaining health, it’s certainly nice to have someone notice improvements.
North Texas was blessed with lovely weather the majority of the weekend, which means as much time as possible on the motorcycles! Except for one short rainstorm Saturday night, it was cool but not cold, sunny, and pleasant. Friday evening, the husband and I hopped on our bikes and went out to dinner – Snappy Salad, one of our regular spots. There are locations all over Dallas/Ft Worth, and I think we have visited just about all of them. It’s easy to eat keto with a big salad. I had the Cobb with ranch dressing, which is a perfect keto meal – lettuce, tomato, boiled egg, bacon, grilled chicken, avocado.

After dinner, we headed to Best Buy, and hubby bought me a Kindle Fire 10 for an early birthday/celebration of 50 days sober. For years, I hadn’t been able to read much at all, which SUCKS. My degrees are in English. I’ve always been a reader and devoured books since I was 5 years old, but the past 8 or 10 years I never could get into any book. I blamed thyroid brain fog, but wouldn’t you know (surprise, surprise!) once I got sober, I wanted to read again. I read Friday night on the new Kindle until well after midnight. Drunk me would have been well into passed out land before then.

Back up a week – the previous Saturday, we traded in 3 of our motorcycles for 2. It was a great deal, and we actually ended up getting some money back. Hubby got another Harley (his 2nd) and I ended up with a very powerful 1500 cc Suzuki Boulevard M90. It’s a muscle bike for sure. Mind you, I just started riding in January on a 400 cc maxi scooter. I moved up to a 700 cc motorcycle to an older 1500 cc motorcycle to this one. This beast has an engine almost 4 times as big and weighs almost twice as much as my scooter. Here I am with my new baby:

Anyhow, I am certainly having to adjust to a bike with so much power and was feeling quite fumbly and awkward. In fact, Friday night, I told my husband I felt like I needed to re-take the motorcycle class because I felt like such a newbie. I still stall the bike at least once a ride, but this weekend gave me lots of opportunity to practice.

Saturday, we rode just a little, but my confidence increases every time I go out for a ride. And Saturday afternoon, my husband taught me a trick to keep from stalling when I take off from an incline. I kept trying to twist the throttle while still holding the brake with my right hand so I wouldn’t roll backwards while simultaneously releasing the clutch with my left hand. He taught me a trick for hills that works. It’s all about finding the right clutch position and just enough throttle to not move forward but not roll backward. I reminded him that the things about riding that come naturally to him from riding all his life are still new to me. There are so many things they DON’T teach you in the riding class…like how to take off on an incline.

Anyhow, we went to an event at the local Harley dealership, which is intimidating. Loads of experienced tough biker dudes, and one cannot pull up and look like an idiot! That went smooth enough – I managed to pull into the parking lot and back my bike into a parking spot, which is a feat in itself. These thighs have to push 700 pounds of metal backwards to park! We didn’t do a whole lot of riding Saturday – headed back home, and I showered and got ready for a meetup with several of my lady rider friends. Heavy rain was forecast, so all of us drove our cars (known as ‘caging it’ in the biker community) and met for a lovely dinner. This in itself was a win for me. My social anxiety used to be so bad and amplified by my alcoholism, that I NEEDED a drink or two before meeting people for anything social, even with the closest of friends. Not only did I not drink before or during our dinner, I wasn’t even anxious. One lady had a single sangria, but nobody else drank and it was not a big deal at all. I was cool as a cucumber driving to the dinner and just relaxed and had fun laughing and chatting! I have never been good at friends, especially of the female variety, so it’s fucking incredible I went out with a big group of them and felt completely natural.

Sunday morning started with our usual – a short ride to downtown Denton, TX for the weekly Bikes and Coffee meetup. Every single week, anywhere from 20 to 80 motorcycle riders or more show up, hang out and chat and look at each other’s bikes. We have only missed maybe 5 or 6 weeks in over a year. Our plan was to go there and visit a bit, maybe grab some lunch, and then ride back home to relax.

But a handful of our friends planned a ride we hadn’t been on before. I was a little nervous on my new bike, because one section of this ride is very technical – lots of twists, switchbacks, and hills. We didn’t have anything specific planned for the rest of the day, so of course we went along. This, too, was not like the old me. Old me did NOT like spontaneous activities. I always needed to have things pre-planned. If I planned to be at home all Sunday afternoon and evening, then it would take an act of miracle to change my schedule. I wonder if it was a way to keep in control of every aspect of my life (except the alcohol, of course). I am organized to a fault, and generally have my days scheduled out to the hour. I think that’s how I managed to remain so functional – my life was compartmentalized and all of the things I needed to do were scheduled out. Despite getting drunk most nights a week, in my mind I was managing to juggle work, family, house and even scheduled my drinking. The point was taking off for a long ride with no advance notice or planning was another big deal for me.

We took off on 11 bikes and headed West. We stopped at a cute little homestyle cafĂ© in Jacksboro, TX for lunch. This place had an impressive buffet. It reminded me of Sunday dinners at my Southern grandmother’s house when I was a kid, where she cooked way more dishes and food than we ever could eat – fried chicken, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, beans, fresh hot rolls, cobbler, bread pudding… I had a short moment where I didn’t think I would be able to eat anything on my plan, but that drifted away quickly. I picked out the biggest fried chicken breast I could find and made a huge salad from the salad bar. I carefully peeled all the glorious crispy breading off my chicken and enjoyed just the meat. I managed to skip ALL of the carby, sugary, luscious looking food and chowed down on skinless chicken and salad. If I had eaten all that gluten and high carb stuff, I would have been miserable for hours. Instead, I was fueled up and focused for the second part of our ride – the very technical advanced route.

Here are the bikes lined up in front of the restaurant – mine is the 3rd one from the right.

The twisty advanced section of Highway 4 was a BLAST! I stayed near the back of the pack since I am still adjusting to this new bike and hadn’t done many tight turns and curves on it yet. I was behind a friend who tends to take curves a little slower, and wouldn’t you believe it, I found myself wanting to take them faster!

We ended up riding just over 200 miles and were gone from 9 a.m. until around 6:30 Sunday. The squiggles running vertical on the left side of the map don’t look like much, but that was in fact about 20 minutes of intense turn after turn with deep curves and switchbacks. It was a blast!

That 200-mile all day affair was EXACTLY what I needed to gain confidence on my new bike. With every hour that passed, I felt more and more competent in managing this beast. On the last 45-minute stretch, we parted ways with our friends just as the sun went down. That final stretch after the sun went down was chilly! It was probably 55 degrees, but when you’re riding 70-80 mph in the open wind, the wind chill is 15-20 degrees colder. Even fully covered and geared up, that wind sneaks in! We got home, and I immediately started a pot of Texas chili (keto of course!), even before I changed out of my riding boots and kevlar pants. A bowl of spicy chili and a hot chai were just the thing I needed to thaw out and relax. We ended a very full day tired but happy.

Friday, November 2, 2018

50 Days, 12 Hours: Finding Joy

At least in my experience, the first several weeks of sobriety are a bit of a blur. Fortunately, I did not have any major physical withdrawal symptoms, but the emotional and psychological ones were ever present. And the tiredness. The first few days, I slept in fits and starts, but within less than a week of staying sober, I got tired. OH, so tired. Sleep when I was drinking was erratic – if I passed out from drinking, I would sleep hard for a few hours, but then wake up 5 or 10 times a night and never felt fully rested. Or I would go to bed drunk super early, sleep until 1 or 2 a.m., and then get up for a few more drinks. Plus, I was in a chronic state of dehydration I imagine, so much of my nights were sprinkled with chugging a cup of water (and of course waking up to pee several times). My guess is alcohol use prevents the body from fulling getting into or staying in REM sleep. I am no scientist, but it makes sense to me. Alcohol disrupts circadian rhythms in addition to jacking up a whole host of chemical processes in the body.

I think once my body realized the alcohol was no longer coming, it started to actually relax and let me catch up from years of terrible sleep. I started to sleep deeper than I have in years, maybe waking once during the night to pee, but then being able to fall right back to sleep. On rare days I don’t have to wake to an alarm, I can easily sleep a solid 9 or 10 hours now. I had given up being able to sleep more than 6 or 7, and was so used to sleep quality being terrible, I had just given in. That was how my sleep was going to be for the rest of the night.

When I wake up now, I am quickly wide awake and actually feel rested. I feel like my eyes are finally wide open, if that makes sense. Since my diagnosis of thyroid disease back in 1996, I don’t remember ever actually feeling fully rested. Even now, 7 ½ weeks into my sobriety, I am still amazed when I wake up and realize I have slept 6 hours straight through, woke up for a few minutes, and went back to sleep for another hour or two.  

Parallel to better sleep, I started to realize I didn’t need my morning coffee to start functioning. I used to need at cup of two of coffee in my system for basic functions – now I will make my coffee, pour it into my travel mug, and not even touch it during my hour-long commute to the office. A few days, I even noticed it cold perched on my desk another hour into my workday. I love, love, love coffee and will likely keep it in my routine, but I don’t feel like I need it anymore.

So back to the title of this post: Finding Joy. As my body continues to heal and my mind continues to clear up, I am finding joy in small things. Last week, I went to refill my water bottle at the office and found myself humming on my walk to the breakroom. On Monday I stopped at a gas station for a drink and noticed they were playing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. I smiled to myself.

North Texas has had record, ridiculous amounts of rainfall this fall. I think October ended with close to 16 INCHES of rain for the month – this is the wettest October on record for this area. Our lakes are full and several rivers and creeks have flooded or are straining at their banks. Many afternoons have consisted of downpours and the resulting heavy traffic. One afternoon, I was slogging through Dallas rush-hour traffic, at a stand-still on I-35 in a rainstorm, when I glanced over and noticed a lush green vine with brilliant purple flowers growing over a concrete barrier. That vine washed away the traffic, the stress of work, the frustration at an hour and a half long drive. It was pure peace and beauty in the middle of a slick, concrete traffic jam. I inhaled slowly, held my breath, leaned down to turn up my music, and exhaled even slower while I smiled. That vine, overflowing with purple flowers centered me. It brought me back into my own peace and quiet. The rows of hundreds, thousands of cars creeping northward beside me, red brake lights flashing on and off, quickly fell away.  

I am starting to find joy.