My Red Flags

The author of Unpickled, one of the first sober blogs I found, listed the “red flags” that told her it was time to stop drinking.  I wrote mine to my friend the first week I was sober. Quitting drinking before my life fell apart was obviously a blessing, but with one downside—when the dust settles, it could be too easy to think it was all a big mistake. I wrote my red flags list so that at some future point, if I start thinking maybe it wasn’t all that bad, I can read my list and remember that it was bad enough.

  • The incessant, exhausting, daily internal debate about whether or not I would drink that night. And if so, how much could I have? And would this be a day I would actually keep to that limit?  Having to focus on it so much of the time, drinking or not drinking. Having this take so much energy away from important things.  And still breaking my moderation rules despite all this EFFORTING.
  • Even during the brief times (a couple weeks at a time, maybe a month, tops) that I could achieve something resembling moderation, having to FORCE myself not to have another drink.  Keeping an eye on other people’s drinks to make sure I was keeping pace with the normal people, and feeling irritated because they were never going fast enough to suit me–all the while smiling and chatting and looking “normal.”
  • Inviting friends over for dinner to spend time with them, sure, but honestly…primarily…to set up an occasion to drink that wouldn’t rattle my husband. Being a good friend has always been so important to me. I felt awful realizing I was basically using my friends in this way.
  • Topping off my glass when hubby was out of the kitchen and quickly drinking it back to the level it was.
  • As it became harder not to drink the whole bottle of wine, I would leave just a tiny bit so the bottle would still be there to try and make it look good.   And I knew that if it weren’t for having to worry about my husband being upset, I would absolutely be finishing that bottle and having a couple more drinks besides.
  • Many times, knowing if I drink tonight, hubby is going to be upset because this will be the 3rd night in a row or whatever, and I am causing him pain, and it’s against my own rules besides! But going ahead and doing it anyway.
  • Skipping social events outside the house because I knew I could no longer trust myself to stop while I was still “OK to drive.”
  • I never acted on it (yet?), but I had started eyeing the vodka nips at the register, thinking that would be a quick and easy way to get more on the sly.  Yikes.
  • And last but not least, I did ALL these things while making active and ongoing efforts to moderate, and wanting desperately to succeed…why? You guessed it–so I could keep drinking!

The growing awareness of all this was brewing and stewing during the last few months of my drinking.  Then the panic attacks appeared. I thought, “Oh, spectacular—this is new. Despite my history of periodic bouts of depression/anxiety, I managed to get well into my 40’s without ever having panic attacks. But here they are. Great.” When I quit drinking a week or so after the last one, I thought about those panic attacks and what they were about (I haven’t had one since, by the way). I chalked them up to the semi-conscious, growing knowledge that I would soon be saying goodbye to my beloved wine. That is partially true, but later I saw they were a reaction to something more specific. My drinking problem had reached a peak level of tension that couldn’t be maintained—a tipping point of sorts. Something had to shift, one way or the other. My sponsor/friend put it succinctly—it was “shit or get off the pot” time. I could quit. Or, I could take it to the next level, scrap the feeble moderation attempts, get myself a nice hidden stash, and surrender to drinking in secret to supplement the acceptable amounts I would drink in front of others. That was a line that I knew I couldn’t cross for my family’s sake especially, and yes, even for my own. I believe coming right up to that edge was the source of the panic attacks. I only put my finger on it in retrospect though, after having a couple months of sobriety under my belt. Those first couple weeks, I was too raw, grief-stricken and disoriented to make sense of it.

© soberfire, 2015

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2 thoughts on “My Red Flags

  1. Really honest list. I need to make one of these. For the same reason you stated. I wasn’t that bad. Yet. But I found myself lovingly eyeing the partially (barely) full bottle of wine on the kitchen counter from the night before on my way out the door to work in the morning. Like you said, yikes. I’m not that bad. But I could be. Thanks for the reminder. Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for commenting, Unconfirmed Bachelorette. I knew I had to make that list because so many of my bad signs were as subtle and internal as they were damaging. Some of the things on that list don’t even describe behavior–just thoughts in my head. Who knows if I would remember half those things a year from now? There is so much I don’t yet and maybe never will understand about the physiology and psychology of addiction, but one thing is for sure, the shit on that list is not normal. So I want to remember. Best wishes to you, too!

    Liked by 1 person

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