Sorrow

One day I’ll write about where I’ve been the past 3 years.

But for now it’s about how quickly the unthinkable and horrible can become the every day. Like how I can wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday wishing I could go back and spend more time with my cold, dead father.

On September 15, 20116 my dad took his life. The manner of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, but the cause of death was alcoholism. Anyone who knows him says, “I can’t believe John would do that.” Except me. I can’t believe he’s completely gone, but I know that suicide is a real possibility for many alcoholics who find they are, for whatever reason, unable to live sober.

Must have been a few years back that he mentioned his rendezvous with terror, bewilderment, frustration, and despair. I have had my own mild encounter with the four horsemen towards the end of my drinking. I remember relating to him. I wanted the conversation to say, “Yes. I get it. We have this in common. Isn’t it great we’re going to share this sobriety thing? Everything can get better now.” But I knew somewhere deep that I couldn’t possibly understand his suffering. It was so much bigger than anything I’ve known. And no human can help with that kind of pain.

Over the last 4 years there has been a growing, reluctant realization that he wasn’t ever going to get better. I wasn’t able to accept him just as he was. I pulled further and further away.

So here it is. This is alcoholism. And it wasn’t his fault. My greatest heartbreak is that he didn’t know he was forgiven, that he didn’t know how to be loved, that he never heard the good news sing inside his heart, that he couldn’t see that anything can be mended, and that I can’t do anything about it.

I love you, Dad. And I am so, so sorry.

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February 9, 2012

One year ago today I popped open a bottle of champagne at around 4:00pm. I was celebrating getting through another fucking day. I pumped a bottle for my baby, and proceeded to drink the whole thing. The plan was to get nice and numb because that made bedtime more bearable. It wasn’t a daily routine (yet), but it was familiar. I had it all planned out.

But then my husband called and said he’d be coming home early from work. This really threw a wrench in things for me. Any normal person who is drinking champagne home alone on a Thursday evening with a 3 year-old and 6-month-old in her care would quickly switch to water and get her wits about her. But that’s not what I did. I opened a bottle of red wine, took a big swig and hid it in the bookcase in the hallway. My husband came home, kissed me, asked if I had been drinking and I lied spectacularly. I drank the majority of that bottle in secret for the rest of the night. The baby woke up at some point and I was faced with a decision; warm a bottle and have my husband ask me why I’m not breastfeeding, or go and feed her. I sat on the edge of my bed, nursing my baby girl, drunk as a skunk. I went back downstairs and “fell asleep” on the couch while we watched TV.

At 3:00am I awoke with my heart racing out of my chest. My head was swimming with guilt and self-loathing. I was used to this feeling. The middle of the night detox. Of course, I didn’t know that was what it was. I did know that it had been getting worse over the past couple years. As the previous night came into not-so-clear focus, I hit my bottom. I didn’t have to get arrested. No one staged an intervention. All that happened was that I saw myself clearly. My two major realizations were that I chose alcohol over my children and that I was capable of successfully lying about my drinking. I became fearful that if I could lie about this, then what else would I lie about? How far could it go? I then had not so much a vision, but the sudden knowledge that by summer I would be drinking daily. And as I looked over at my husband sleeping, the next thought that came in my head was, “He can’t save you. No one is coming to save you from this. It’s up to you.” And I suddenly just knew I was an alcoholic. I shook my husband awake in the middle of the night to tell him I was an alcoholic and needed help. I told him I was going to get help.

Et tu, Costco?

Costco used to be my favorite place at Christmas.  I’m sure you see where this is going.

I was there by myself on Sunday.  It’s rare that I get to shop by myself. We needed gas, diapers and dog food, but I decided to seize the opportunity for some me time by doing a zombie-like stroll through the entire store.

The liquor and sugar is out of control this time of year.  That must have been why I loved it so much.  Specialty chocolates, truffles, peppermint bark and this crap.  Super-size bottles of bourbon in fancy boxes.  Sometimes with novelty glasses!  An expanded champagne selection and a whole separate section dedicated to the booze that is on sale.  I can practically feel the fireworks going off in my neural synapses.  I’ve been in the store since the holiday stuff arrived, but hadn’t paid much attention until Sunday.

I wasn’t really bothered until a man passed me and in his cart he had 6 bottles of what used to be my favorite wine.  You see, they’ve never carried this wine at Costco.  I was making special trips to buy it at a wine store.  I freaking loved that wine.  Seeing that Costco had also discovered it and picked it up almost took my breath away.  I suddenly felt a big sense of loss.  Like a friend of mine said here, I was queen of good, affordable wine.  I was a connoisseur in my own fantasies, but it was like my talent was being confirmed by Costco.  I was so good at drinking.  I relished researching, shopping and tasting wine.  And always more, more, more.  A true love affair.  A fucking alcoholic.  I’m also a pretty good baker.  These talents make so much sense now.

I guess I haven’t contemplated a drink too seriously since the very earliest days of sobriety.  I mostly get sad and resentful that it’s not an option for me.  I’m not sure if you noticed, but what happened at Costco began before I even got there.  See when I mentioned that I was trying to steal some me-time, that should have been a dead giveaway that the trip wasn’t going to end well.  I went there looking for more than just diapers.  I was looking to feel better.  What I got was a million reminders of the things that I can no longer use to make me feel better.  I resisted actually walking through the liquor sections.  I’m lucky Costco hasn’t carried Moose Munch for a couple years because I had already decided I would buy it if I found it.  You better believe I looked for it.

I’ve read a couple other blogs also talking about dealing with more cravings lately.  I agree that it’s the time of year.  Everything so shiny and special, everything I’m missing out on, everything the holidays used to be, all the good times I had drinking through this time of year, fun and warmth and togetherness, but I think most of all it looked really pretty and sparkling.  And it seems both easy and impossible to get that back.  Hard to accept that it won’t be that way again.  Hard to accept that I’ll never relax into the ritual of planning and executing a perfect holiday dinner wine pairing.  Hard to accept that the relief is really gone.

How I Made Preschool Heritage Month All About Me!

November was heritage month at my son’s preschool.  They sent home a poster board where we were supposed to put some pictures of traditional dress, food, celebrations from our country of origin.  I’m a western-European mutt with no real knowledge or connection to my heritage.  My husband is a New York Italian, so I figured it would be easiest to just go with Italy.  I Googled some images and pasted them to the board.  I tried to get my almost-4-year-old involved but he really wasn’t interested.  There was a sign-up for parents to pick a day to come in and share something about their heritage, but I kept putting off signing up because I just wasn’t sure what I had to contribute.  I’m not even slightly Italian, especially now that I don’t partake in any of the things that I thought were most interesting about Italy- wine, dairy, gluten & sugar.  Thank God I still have cured meats.

Looking back, I realize I was fretting about this quite a bit.  I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, so I didn’t want to even try.  Were ALL of the other parents doing this?  At one point I observed another mom teaching the kids a Korean children’s song and my ego freaked out.  I procrastinated on it until November ended.  I was relieved, but I admit I felt like I got away with something.

Until Friday night when at bedtime I asked my son about heritage month and he burst into tears.  Bear in mind, getting him to tell me anything about school is like pulling teeth.  His only topics of conversation are Power Ranger and Spider-man, so when he looks at me with a quivering lip and says, “All the other mommies came to my school and talked about heritage except you and that made me so sad,” I was just leveled.  I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I couldn’t believe that he noticed, that it mattered.  He’s only 3!  I fucked up.  I looked him in the eye and made a sincere apology.  I’ve already emailed the teacher and am going to go in and talk about pasta in the next couple weeks.

I’m grateful for  this experience because it has shown me that I don’t have to be drinking for my alcoholism to get in the way of me showing up for my kids.  Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my desire for the spotlight and what that’s all about.  My need for attention and praise at the public level is what prevented me from doing a heritage month presentation.  If I can’t have the best presentation, then I don’t want to have to do it at all.  I want the teachers and other parents to be humbled by my awesomeness and fawn over me while I feign humility.  In this defect, I hurt my son.  I’m also seeing how I have hurt my husband who tells me all the time that I’m awesome, but I’d rather be affirmed by the number of “likes” my Facebook posts get.  I guess it’s really just grand-scale codependence.

It’s a good fucking thing that the 11th Tradition exists.  I know the solution is the same for every other problem I have.  Sponsor, higher power, meditation, 7th step, help someone.  It’s not gone yet, though, so I’ll anxiously be awaiting your replies.  😉

Giving Thanks

In October of 2011 I ended up in the ER with debilitating stomach pain.  It had been bothering me for weeks off and on, but one night it became excruciating.  My (at the time) 2 year old and 3 month old were sleeping, so I had to drive myself to the hospital.  They did an MRI and the Dr. let me know it was possible I had an ulcer.  They asked me to follow up with my PCP, so later that week I sat in my Dr.’s office while she told me that in addition to the gastritis/ulcer, I had a hiatal hernia and my liver was enlarged.  She needed to order more tests to find out what was going on with my liver.

I’m typically a nod-and-smile-type patient, but I found myself saying, “I’ve been drinking.”  I was honest about how much.  She recommended I go to AA.  I was a blubbering mess.  I couldn’t believe this was happening; that I was that bad.  I mean, sure, I loved to drink, but I didn’t drink every day.  Ok fine, my preference was to have at least a bottle of wine to myself, and maybe I’ve been wanting more than that lately.  The fact that I was having physical consequences due to drinking freaked me out to a degree that I knew I had to do something.  So like any alcoholic in denial, I imposed a 30 day ban on booze.  Perfect timing for me to be able to drink again during the holidays.

I could not conceive of a holiday without alcohol.  My fondest memories from my childhood are being at my grandma & grandpa’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We’d arrive to an oven-heated house, filled with the smells of my grandma’s cooking.  We’d congregate in the living room, my grandpa pouring drinks for the adults.  Everyone seemed so flushed and happy.  Men drinking an expensive scotch, women champagne.  My grandpa would let me come with him to pick out a French wine from his makeshift cellar under the stairs.  He would make up silly songs and dance.  I remember feeling loved.  I don’t have a ton of memories from my childhood.  It wasn’t horrible, but there was a high level of disfunction underneath the surface.  I guess on the holidays everyone was on their best behavior.  More likely they were drunk and just cared less about all the fucked up stuff going on behind the scenes.

I’ve spent every single holiday since trying to recreate those feelings.  I’ve been trying to go back.  God, this realization makes me so sad.  At least behind the sadness comes a deep compassion for myself.  I didn’t know any better.

So I started drinking again on Thanksgiving 2011.  I remember quite vividly the plotting and planning that went into that.  I think I probably spent that whole 30 days deciding what I would drink.  I was basically ecstatic.  What I also remember is a general feeling of chaos.  I always was trying to achieve the most Martha holiday I could muster, and I made myself totally insane in the process.  Forgotten items, mismanaged time, too many dishes, unwashed table cloths, eating late, overcooked dishes, the huge mess… and the drinking.  I drank a lot and remember trying not to slur at dinner.  I continued to drink throughout the holidays.  The wheels didn’t really start coming off until January.

At the beginning of my sobriety I was really concerned about this time of year.  It seemed so depressing to think of a holiday season without all the fun drinks that come along with it.  Now what seems depressing and exhausting is last year.

I Work Out

On Halloween of 2011 I went to my first ever Crossfit class.  I was 3 months post-partum and a week into a 30 day break from drinking due to the fact that I had shredded my stomach lining with wine and Motrin.  A picture of health!  I arrived at the “Beginner Level” class and was dismayed to find about 30 extremely fit “beginners” milling about waiting for class to start. By the time I overheard some bro with his shirt off tell his friend that this was his 8th day working out in a row, my stomach was in my feet. I didn’t belong here.  The coaches sent us on a run, there was a combat crawl and some other impossible movements.  I thought I might be dying.  Then they said it was time to start the workout.  Fuck.

I tried to pep-talk myself through (“Start where you are!”) and swallowed down the rising lump as I realized I was going to be the only person who didn’t finish the WOD (workout of the day).  The coaches started calling out for everyone to announce their finish times.  I realized my failure, my fatness was going to be called out in front of everyone.  I ran before they could see.

My goal for my life was not to be an overweight, suburban mother with a drinking problem who leaves an exercise class crying, but there I was.  I don’t want to be dramatic because it is just Crossfit, but this was a defining moment for me.  I disappointed myself by allowing my fear and shame to send me running, but at the same time a fire was lit.  I was a little bit angry… at myself, at the world in general.  Anger isn’t an emotion I’m comfortable with.  And maybe this is the cosmos aligning for me because if I hadn’t been on a medically necessary dry spell, you can bet your ass I would have drank over this.  I’d stuff it down, shut it away and say a big, “Fuck you!” to Crossfit.  But I couldn’t drink over it, so I stewed about it for a month and somewhere inside me I decided that someday I would come back and kick Crossfit’s ass.

If I hadn’t gotten sober, this would have just been tacked onto the end of my “Shit I’ll Never Do” list.   I conceded my alcoholism about three months later and around 90 days sober the opportunity to have another go with Crossfit manifested in a God-shot sort of way.  I’ll spare you the story cause it’s not that interesting and this post is getting long, but I decided to try again in a different environment.  It was still physically very uncomfortable.  I felt all of my insecurities were on display, but I applied the tools I learned in AA to Crossfit.  I could feel that fire that had been lit 6 months prior, so I surrendered to it.  I made the commitment to just show up, no matter what I was thinking or feeling.  Exactly like I did when I started attending meetings.  Just show up and do the work.  I pushed past the voice that said I’m too fat, too slow, too weak, too tired, too sore and put one foot in front of the other.

I got into action, and I didn’t stop.  I didn’t stop until I didn’t want to stop anymore.  Just like dieting, I was never able to stick with exercise.  Exercising was always the thing I should do because I’m fat and unhealthy, and that is the absolute least inspiring reason to do something.  From that perspective, exercise is a punishment.  I’ve done bootcamps, stroller workouts, spinning, yoga, Zumba.  I’ve tried it all.  I have an idea about why Crossfit works for me, but I think that deserves a post of it’s own.  What is important is that my WOD’s are a reward not a punishment.  Even when it feels like I’m pushing myself to the physical brink, it’s one of the only times in my day where I’m not thinking about my kids, what’s for dinner, what I should do with my life, etc.  All I’m thinking about is how the fuck I’m going to lift this 110 lb barbell over my head.  Then I do it and am in awe of myself.  And all I had to do was keep coming back.

I’m All Out of Love

I’ve watched my husband let his program and self-care slide over the last week, and I can see that he is suffering from that. This morning he was wallowing a bit and said something to me about giving up.  My response was, “I’m really sorry to hear that.”  He went on a rant of sorts about me not believing in encouragement, that I’m not a caring, loving person.  I think I previously would have just taken it and stuffed the feeling, but I stood my ground and told him that I don’t accept him turning his bad feelings into a personal attack. I said I loved him and am willing to help him if he tells me exactly what he needs.  He wouldn’t drop it. I eventually ended up yelling at him in front of the kids that he was hurting my feelings. He made a big display about me lashing out in front of the kids, suggested that my behavior would damage them, and then retreated upstairs.

Last night during a meeting someone shared that he finds himself acting out when someone says something that makes him fearful.  I thought about this today and realized that I freaked out because what my husband accused me of might just be my greatest fear about myself.  The thing that I worry might actually be true.  The thing that probably is true because I’m an alcoholic.

Last night I was called out in an online forum for defriending a fellow alcoholic on Facebook.  I fessed immediately, letting her know that I took her off my feed because I didn’t want to see her jokes about drinking.  I didn’t think twice about that decision, I felt it was best for my sobriety.  But then I read the other members responses to her, and a thought began to creep in.  “Everyone else is trying to support and understand.  You’re the mean girl.”

When I accidentally got pregnant with my son, the terrifying tape that played in my head was, “What if you don’t love this baby?”  I wondered if I was one of those women who might harm her baby or abandon her children.  In the final weeks of my drinking, my husband told me he was becoming afraid to leave me alone with the kids each morning.  I was afraid, too.

The Big Book tells me I’m selfish, and I most certainly believe that.  I have a hard time understanding other people’s struggles and have a low tolerance for their pain.  I’m judgmental.  I’m not affectionate.  Is this the real truth about me?  That’s what I’m afraid of, but I don’t think it is the truth.  These are my character defects, right?  This is the armor I put on a long time ago.

I can feel my brain fighting this.  It feels really tense, weepy, angry, so I’m guessing a surrender is coming.  I don’t understand how I’m going to digest it all, but I’m going to try and ride it out.

Here’s a fucking song.

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Confession time!  I’ve spent most of my life afraid of the dark.  Last Friday when my 3.75  year old insisted on going in the haunted house at his school, I’ll admit I was less than thrilled.  Even though I know it’s the drama club in masks, I just really don’t like being surprised, being caught off-guard.  I put on my brave face and we went in.  We only had to turn two corners before he freaked and we had to run out the front.  I was totally relieved.

This got me thinking about my fear of the dark in general.  There have been times in my adult life where I was too afraid to get up and go pee in the night.  I was sure I was going to encounter a ghost walking down the hall to go get the baby.  Maybe an axe murderer was hiding in the closet.  Mostly I suffered from the feeling that my impending doom was surely lurking there in the dark.

I noticed the other night that this feeling has gone away since I stopped drinking.  I sleepily stumble down the hall nearly every night to get the baby without even thinking about the serial killer behind the door.  I wonder if because I was a periodic, I was perpetually suffering from PAWS.  I have heard some alcoholics who have claimed to have experienced that inexplicable feeling of impending doom right after stopping drinking.

It’s great to not be so fearful, but it’s even better to have the reminder of just how sick I was and how much better I am now.  Still not interested in haunted houses, however.

Hope you have a Happy Sober Halloween!

I’m Eating Chocolate Right Now

Pretty sure my keyboard is getting chocolate smudges.  I’m having a sweet attack and am just going to go with it.  I’m worried about my husband’s family in NY.  Sandy is approaching and each time we get on the phone they sound more and more scared.  My father-in-law said it is the worst storm he has ever seen and it hasn’t even touched down yet.

My dog has something wrong with her nose.  I’ve been trying to treat it for weeks and it’s getting worse.  I’m taking her to the vet in an hour and am already pissed off by the bill.  Whatever it is, and it’s always a lot, there isn’t room in the budget.

I got socked with a major drinking craving on Saturday that left me in tears.  We had an extremely rare date night planned, and I got upset that I couldn’t drink.  I played out the fantasy to then end, and even though it ended in me trying to drunkenly add up the babysitter’s money and then overpaying due to literal fuzzy math, I couldn’t shake it.  My 1st step is annoyingly solid sometimes.  Surprisingly what made me feel better was my sponsor telling me that at 16 years sober she gets craving every now and then.  She said that our natural state is to want a drink, and that made me feel like less of a freak.

So what do these three different things have in common?  Weather, illness, alcoholism?  Three things that I’m totally powerless over.  I’ve started reading Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron.  She was talking about control being an illusion.  The big things like natural disasters, sicknesses and oh yes, addictions smash that illusion to pieces.  It throws our powerlessness in our face, and that is quite uncomfortable.  I’ve managed to stop at 4 pieces and feel pretty satisfied.  A little chocolate and reflection goes a long way.

Off My Game

It’s been almost a week since we got back from our trip to Arizona.  I can’t call it a vacation.  I’m pretty sure on vacations you visit beaches not relatives.  It was a challenging week for me.  We stayed with my mom.  This trip being with her was like being with a walking, talking example of all of my least favorite character defects.  I’m so much like her, and I hate that so much.

I have not named or listed my character defects, but boy they are sure easy to spot when another person is acting them out.  Critical, judgmental, impatient, dismissive, insecure, people-pleasing.  (There are, of course, more.)  Actually the people-pleasing is one of my favorites because I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone in rooms say that it’s really people-manipulating.  Now the term people-pleasing makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

My mom has this great way of never saying what she really wants and then being angry about not getting it.  Or maybe she doesn’t.  Who the hell knows?  The point is that I’m constantly trying to predict what is going to make her happy.  I’m modifying my own behavior and attempting to modify my husband’s and children’s behavior in order  to keep things copacetic with her.  It’s maddening.  I knew I was doing this.  I knew that it wasn’t going to work.  I just didn’t know how to stop.  Too much fear, I guess.

Anyway, I’m grateful to be home and back to my routines.  My meetings, my gym, my food and most of all my giant Tempur-Pedic bed.  I was in a real bad funk for the last 2 days of the trip.  Having lots of drinking fantasies and getting real down that I was having them.  I feel like I should be better than that shit now.  I told myself they would pass and I’d start to feel peace again once I got my groove back.  I was right.

I know eventually I’ll have to get better at venturing outside the bubble.  Dining out, social functions, travel; I’ve really avoided those things in these last 8 months.  Last night I went out to dinner with a group of sober gals and it was wonderful.  Absolutely no remorse about the fact I cannot drink and gratitude for the reprieve.