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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

48 Days, 12 Hours: My First Attempt to Regain my Health

In late 2014, I decided to try and address some ongoing health issues. I have Hashimoto’s, which is an autoimmune condition that attacks the thyroid. As is unfortunately quite common, my lab work was ‘acceptable’ according to doctors, but I still felt most symptoms of thyroid disease. I became my own advocate and learned the importance of making lifestyle changes to alleviate many of the symptoms. Among many others, I had chronic fatigue, joint pain, body aches, plantar fasciitis, low libido, extreme sensitivity to cold, ongoing brain fog, irregular menstrual cycles, chronic diarrhea, and painfully dry skin and hair. Further, my 5’3” frame had blossomed to an unhealthy 265 pounds, my highest weight on December 4, 2014. I had tried different weight loss plans off and on, but the weight kept moving up. I was on thyroid replacement hormones, but my antibodies were still through the roof. The simple explanation is that antibodies indicate the body is still attacking the thyroid. I was in a constant state of inflammation, so no wonder I was miserable.

I learned a lot about food sensitivities and elimination diets as well as other lifestyle changes that could help and even heal. I launched into trying a variety of different elimination and eating plans, not with the primary goal to lose weight, but just to feel better. I tried different bouts with autoimmune protocol, specific carbohydrate diet, paleo, Whole30, Atkins, keto, and just about every other plan out there. It was through a series of trial and error that I figured out a number of foods that caused inflammation in my body. I settled into my own version of low carb – grain, sugar, fruit, legume free. I also stopped eating milk, yogurt, and ice cream because they ALWAYS have unpleasant side effects for me. With a handful of exceptions these past 4 years, I have mostly stuck to this eating plan. I have kind of a tiered approach to foods I avoid – the highest is gluten, and I avoid it as much as possible. Dairy except for hard cheese and maybe a little heavy cream are next. From there, my body’s reaction is less intense, and I will sometimes allow gluten-free grains, sugar, fruit, and peanuts/beans.

In 2015, I started feeling better and lost a slow and healthy 28 pounds in 2015. Most of my symptoms started to go away within a month or two. I kept up my momentum in 2016 and lost another 26 pounds that year. I did all this while still drinking relatively frequently (and always to drunk every time I DID). I even wrote a blog post about what worked for me for weight loss. I distinctly remember bulleting out booze as a part of my success! How fucked up is that? I rationalized that I had eliminated symptoms, I was losing weight, and my antibodies had decreased drastically. I was able to keep alcohol in my eating plan by switching to vodka and diet mixers (no carbs!). I was still losing and feeling much better, so hell yes, bring on the booze! It was only a matter of time before the alcohol ramped up and the health improvements fell flat on their face.

Throughout 2017, though, I lost my focus on my health and myself. That’s the year my drinking was at its absolute worst. I still somehow managed to stay on my grain, sugar, fruit, and legume free eating plan most of the time, but I was drinking like a fish. I ended up gaining back around 16 of the 54 pounds I had lost the previous two years. The first part of 2018 was speckled with a vicious cycle of days not drinking and eating my own version of keto with days of heavy drinking and occasional ‘cheat meals’ where I ate whatever I want. Through the earlier months of 2018, I actually stopped drinking probably 6 or 7 times – I would make it a few days sober and then find a rationalization to have some drinks again.

As of today, I am actually 15 pounds lighter than I was at the beginning of 2018, which is quite the miracle considering how much I was drinking. And still, about half of that loss has been in the 7 weeks since I stopped drinking completely.

The first month or so of my sobriety, I told myself I could eat and drink whatever I wanted, just to stay off the booze. I was not going to worry about losing weight or meeting perfect macros or exercising 150 minutes or week or, well, ANYthing. If my body asked for something non-alcoholic, she was going to get it. My single goal was just not to drink. Surprisingly, I’ve remained mostly keto throughout this. I hear of recovering alcoholics binging on candy, pasta, junk food, and the like, but I never felt the need to consume the foods I haven’t for the most part eaten for almost four years. One thing I have allowed myself is not to worry about my caffeine and artificial sweetener consumption. I have certainly increased my coffee and diet soda intake while I have focused on my sobriety and have downed half a bag of sugar free candy a couple of times (and MAN the gas from those things! You don’t want to be NEAR our bedroom if both hubby and I have chowed down on sugar free sweets that night!) I have also overeaten low carb junk food sometimes, like pork rinds and dip, processed summer sausage and pepperoni, and big portions of cheese, but in reality have only eaten things outside my eating plan a handful of times.

But now, 48 and a half days in, I am ready to tighten up the reigns again and get back to my focus on overall health. I am back to paleo keto because that’s how I feel best and have cut back on allowing unlimited artificial sweeteners. I’ve gone back to using coconut milk instead of heavy cream in my coffee. I’m laying off all dairy except for grass-fed butter and am only using stevia/erythritol in limited amounts – no other artificial sweeteners.

Don’t fret, dear reader, though. I know my sobriety is still just a tiny little infant, and I have to coddle and nurture it. While things are going well – very well – for me right now, I know life can sneak up on the recovering alcoholic. My plan is to clean up my eating further, but I will listen intently to my own brain and body. If I absolutely need to eat at a pizza buffet to keep from drinking, then so be it. The number one goal is just not to drink. Period.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

47 Days, 9 Hours: High-Bottom Alcoholic

When people think of alcoholics, they tend to picture someone bedraggled, maybe homeless, drunk around the clock. The alcoholic always has a flask or bottle hidden somewhere and can’t get through the day without topping off their coffee with a shot of whiskey or pounding down wine all day long. Alcoholics can’t start their day without a drink. They stumble constantly, even when sober-ish.
The reality, although some alcoholics do fit that stereotype, is that many of us walk among you. We have jobs, drive cars, go to school events, pay our bills. That’s one of the biggest responses I have gotten since I made my battle with alcohol abuse public: “Oh, I had no idea!” Of course you didn’t. I am what one might call a functioning alcoholic, a high-bottom alcoholic.

From, “I am what is commonly referred to in the world of sobriety as a ‘high-bottom alcoholic.’ In other words, I got sober before losing my job, my family, my life, and most importantly, my sense of self (for the most part).” 

I, like many functioning alcoholics, had rules. I never had a drink to start my day. I didn’t drink while I was working. I didn’t drink every single day, but when I did, it was always to oblivion. I only rode my motorcycle once with a massive hangover (and was likely still a little drunk since I had quit drinking only 4 hours earlier). My house was always relatively neat and clean-ish, and I always paid my bills.

But the truth underneath was very ugly. At my lowest point in 2016 and 2017, I had vodka in my water bottle at school events for my kid. I would pour my first drink of the day (a glurg of vodka into my water bottle) to head to the school pickup line.  I had vodka in my water when I attended a hockey game with my kid (she drove). I had to have a few glasses of wine before we went to visit friends. Sometimes I would drink to near pass-out stage, go to bed and sleep a few hours, and then wake up at 2 a.m. to have 4 or 5 more drinks while my family slept peacefully.

When we started riding motorcycles in September 2017, but drinking did decline quite a bit. I had something to look forward to and wanted to wake up clear-headed and well-rested before a long ride. I was drinking less frequently (but still always to extremely drunk when I did).

We hear that addicts have to find their own ‘rock bottom’ before they will seek help (or die or go to jail), but that’s not truth for many of us. I feel fortunate that I am a high-bottom drunk. While my husband knew for many years I had a problem abusing alcohol, he didn’t leave (although he admits he might have if we could have afforded to be separated). I was never arrested or had a wreck. I didn’t have my children taken from me for neglect. I never was fired.

It’s also a myth that addicts don’t realize they have a problem. I have known I had a problem for a very long time. I cannot tell you how many times I got up the day after passing out or blacking out and pouring out a half bottle of vodka or the rest of a bottle of wine. Dozens of times, maybe more. I might even go a few days without drinking, but then lie to myself that this time I could handle a few drinks and shut it down before it got out of control. One day a few months ago, I had even shoved a half bottle of vodka in my work backpack, drove halfway to work, and threw it away in a gas station trash can. I didn’t want my husband to find the evidence in our own trash.

My high-bottom was a combination of a few different things. One was the last night I drank, September 12. I wrote about it in my first blog post. I drank quickly that night and blacked out while we had some friends over to pick something up. He told me they were stopping by when I was still semi-coherent, but I am unable to stop drinking once I start. I don’t remember most of that evening, but my husband said I was stumbling and slurring badly. I don’t even know if the friends knew exactly, but I am sure they suspected something was up. It was embarrassing and humiliating.

Another was my daughter’s birthday a week earlier. It was the same routine – I picked up booze on my way home from work. We were supposed to wait for her to get home from work to open presents, but I was already too far gone well before that. I had no choice but to go to bed around 8 that evening and unceremoniously pass out. It’s completely shocking – I had started drinking around 6 p.m. and was already completely blitzed in less than two hours. I knew my husband was disappointed. I knew my daughter’s heart would be broken, but there was nothing I could do. In the moment, I could not stay up and fake semi-sobriety. I had to sleep right then.

Yet another was several months ago, during a panic when I ran out of vodka well after stores had closed. Everyone was asleep, and I drank some of my husband’s sampler of 12, 15, and 18 year old scotch that night. Over the course of a few weeks, I would eventually finish off all that scotch and ultimately throw away the bottles. In June, my daughter brought him back a very expensive and special personalized bottle of Jameson whiskey from her trip to Ireland. He looked for the scotch sampler to put it with, but of course it was nowhere to be found. And of course, I lied about it – I had no idea where it was. Thank goodness I was never tempted to sneak into his bottle of Jameson. It still sits unmolested on the shelf, but that’s the only alcohol that’s been in our possession since I stopped drinking almost 7 weeks ago.

As I have reflected on my drinking behavior from my early college years, I can realize now that I have always had a problem. I simply cannot have just one or two drinks. Every time I have a drink, I NEED to have as many more as I can pour down my throat. Period. To me, that’s the defining criteria for someone with an alcohol problem – the inability to just stop after one. I could go weeks, sometimes even months without drinking, but EVERY time I did have a drink, I needed as many as I could get.

I grew up in a house with parents who did not drink. My mother’s father was a drinker, but she never really talked about it much, other than completely demonizing alcohol. The message I heard was that alcohol in any amount was terrible. I was never around adults who could drink responsibly and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a single scotch in the evening. In my house, it was always bad. It didn’t help that one sister married a raging, abusive alcoholic (and his family of raging alcoholics) and the other married a recovering alcoholic. As a teenager, I had only ever witnessed the extremes. I didn’t drink more than a handful of times in high school, which was mostly terribly saccharin sweet wine coolers (and even then, I never only drank one or two). In college, I started to binge drink more heavily, mostly on weekends with friends. Even back then, I recall passing out sitting up in a club. Amazing I can remember this so clearly, considering it was 1992 and I was quite drunk at the time. I had passed out with both a mixed drink and a lit cigarette in my hand. I woke up when the hot cigarette ash dropped on my bare leg.

Through college and our early marriage, though, alcohol was mostly a celebratory thing. We drank on weekends, at parties or out at clubs, usually with friends. And never alone. Although I drank way too much back then, it was still a fun activity.

It was later, maybe 2006, when I learned how to drink alone and drink to numb feelings – stress, sadness, anger, frustration…it was no longer a fun thing to do, but became a coping mechanism. Drinking ramped up slowly but surely – when I was working full time, going to school full time for my bachelors and masters degree, raising two kids, and trying to keep a household and marriage together, I found myself needing wine more frequently. My husband worked nights and weekends then, so it was easy to chug down a bottle of wine and be safely in bed asleep well before he got home. By the time my sister died unexpectedly in 2011 and we started having some serious financial struggles in 2012/2013, I had already learned that booze was the only way I could process (read ignore) all these emotions and bury the stress. When my son’s anxiety and depression became very severe in 2015, I didn’t know how to process it either at first, and my drinking really ramped up. By then, I had begun drinking hard liquor more often. I still enjoyed wine, but hard liquor was much faster.

I never had a single defining rock bottom. It was a series of events over many years that finally culminated in me just being tired. Tired of lying and hiding my drinking from my husband and kids. Tired of not being able to stop drinking once I started. Tired of forgetting how dozens of evenings ended. Tired of not remembering if I had sex with my husband the night before. Tired of feeling worthless. Tired of feeling no emotions. Tired of waking up to read my outgoing texts and social media posts, dreading anything regrettable I might have written. Tired of feeling like I had to stop for vodka and diet coke just to face coming home after work. Tired of leaving my husband embarrassed or having to apologize for my behavior. 

I was just tired, and that was my high-bottom.