soberfire

Archive for the tag “connection”

Eight Months Sober: Blessings and Curses

The Blessings:

I’m a better mom.

My kids didn’t experience direct effects of my alcoholism because I did most of my heavier drinking after their bedtime. But I wonder about the subtle effects of having a parent in an active addiction pattern over those last couple years.   And I know they experienced the not-so-subtle effects of my crankiness and irritability due to low-grade hangovers and anxiety. Now I have my patience back. I can be with my kids with joy and ease again.

I’m a better wife.

With my husband, I was cycling between two states: trying to connect and have fun together when I was having a few weeks here and there of “doing well” with my moderation plans, and “checking out”–avoiding him when I was drinking too much. And of course there was the dishonesty of trying to minimize (even to myself sometimes) how much I was actually drinking. He watched it getting worse, and he was afraid for the future and what could happen to our family. That is over. I’m not hurting him and worrying him anymore. I have nothing to hide, and I am present in my marriage continuously. We are together again.

My anxiety has been lifted.

I’ve written extensively about the social anxiety that has cropped up since I got sober. I’m still grappling with some of it (see below). But the really painful kind that has more to do with belonging and loneliness has become so much lighter since I wrote about it. Once I saw the truth of it, where it came from, it transformed.

The true miracle is how my generalized anxiety has all but disappeared. And it happened quickly. Even in the early days and weeks, facing the difficulty of getting through the witching hour without my wine, I felt immediate relief from the backdrop of constant, low-level angst. In the last year or so of my drinking, I knew that I was using alcohol partially to medicate anxiety. I knew that was unhealthy and a really bad long-term solution. But I thought as a short-term fix, it worked pretty well, however ill-advised. I had no idea now much anxiety alcohol was actually creating for me—no doubt the substance itself, but also the internal battle I was fighting daily. I was working SO hard to make it not be true. It was like expending half your energy trying to make the sky green. It’s exhausting, and REALLY stressful!   A lot more stressful, to my surprise, than getting sober—at least for me.

I’m healthier and I feel better physically.

I wake up feeling great, every day. Well, almost. I woke up with a regular, normal headache a couple weeks ago and thought, wow, having a headache sucks–I can’t believe I put up with this so often!

I’m more productive.

I’m getting a lot more stuff done. Because better health and more energy. See above.

Writing.

Sobriety has given me my writing, period. It gave me both the motivation and the material to start this blog. That led to other writing. Some of it is quite shocking to me. Poems out of nowhere. I do NOT write poetry, or so I thought. Once I got started, the floodgates have opened. I see now that writing is part of who I am, and not writing for so many years has hurt a lot. I don’t know all the reasons I sent my inner writer into exile a long time ago, but alcoholism surely is one of them. She is coming home, and I am so grateful. This is a big part of my happiness right now—finally doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I know, with absolute certainty, this would not be happening if I were still drinking.

I can still have fun at dinners and parties. I do still have some issues to work out around this (see below). I may not stay as late. But I CAN have fun. It took some time, but I can be happy with my sparkling water or herbal tea while others imbibe. In fact, I can listen better and focus more on the people I’m with. I am starting to look forward to these occasions instead of seeing them merely as a challenge to overcome.

I see progress. The witching hour is almost not even a thing anymore!  In the beginning, I HAD to have my sparkling water with lemon in a wine glass at 5:00. Now, I don’t even think about it. Sobriety is about so much more than not drinking, of course, but part of it is simply getting used to not drinking by getting some time under your belt. It is still strange sometimes when I think about it—wow, I’m a person who doesn’t drink now—how the #&*% did that happen? But for the most part, not drinking has become the norm in my days. I’m no longer thinking, “Here’s me, NOT drinking.” I’m used to it now. It’s OK. It’s more than OK, it’s good.

 My sex drive is BACK. Maybe not like when I was 25 or 30. But better than it’s been in years. Alcoholism is a libido killer, for sure. Sobriety is not 🙂

The Curses:

I still struggle with what to say when people ask why I’m not drinking. I wrote about this extensively in this post. I am a bit less anxious over it, but it is not the nonissue I would like it to be. I have a new strategy for dealing with drink offers courtesy of a fellow blogger—the enthusiastic YES strategy: “Oh, yes, I’d love a drink, I’ll take some sparkling water, please!” Still playing with it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be really comfortable with this unless I decide to “come out” as a person in recovery. But I trust I’ll get comfortable enough, with time and practice.

Sometimes I still feel sadness over not being able to drink like normal people.

This came up recently. I had coffee with a new friend and later she messaged me, saying “Let’s get together again, this time with dinner and wine!” Sigh. That hit me right in the gut. It isn’t so much about whether to tell her—maybe a little, but I think I could comfortably tell this person. It is grief over not being able to do that anymore. No more bonding with a new friend over wine, no more loosening up and getting giddy with girlfriends in that way that really was wonderful. Oh, well. I remind myself that there are much worse problems to have. It is a blessing to have friends to spend time with in the first place. Perspective.

I’m not losing weight, dammit! I thought for sure the extra 30 pounds would just melt right off given all the calories I’m not drinking. I’ve replaced alcohol only with sparkling water, coffee, and tea with no sweeteners (no artificial ones, either).   I really don’t think I’m eating more. I got faked out because I did lose 5 pounds pretty quickly, but then it came back on and stayed.   So this has been a disappointment. But hey, at least I’m not gaining weight!

A blessing and a curse:

I have to feel everything, or, I get to feel everything!

Feelings have nowhere to hide since I nixed my usual escape hatch. This is hard sometimes. Big feelings feel bigger. Sadness, loneliness, anger, regret, shame—it’s all sharper. I feel it all in my body more. But I am learning that I can let it all come, and in its own time, it will go. I’m learning to trust that I can handle it, and it’s always temporary, so I try not to fight it.   It really is mostly a blessing, even the really hard stuff, because then I get to see that I can come out the other side of it and be better than fine. And I get to feel more joy and more love, too. It’s ALL bigger.

Looking at these lists, there is really no question which one carries more weight. Sobriety is a blessing.

© soberfire, 2015

Being Seen

When I was two months sober, I went to a meeting on a day of the week I don’t usually go because I wanted to get my 2-month chip. There I sat, feeling peaceful and calm, waiting for the meeting to start, when he walked in. Someone I know. He saw me, too, then quickly looked away and sat down across the room. Immediately, my heart started pounding in my chest, I felt my face flush, and I felt nauseous. Full-on cortisol flood. I whispered to the kind soul sitting next to me, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Someone I know just walked in. He’s sitting over there.” She saw my sheer panic and put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, after all, he’s here, too.”

It took me half the meeting to get ahold of myself, and a half hour is a long time to sit in a panicked state. At the time, I didn’t want anyone at all to know about me, other than the few very close family members and friends I’d told. I REALLY didn’t (and still don’t) want people from work to know. If the chips had been handed out at the beginning of the meeting, I don’t believe I would have been able to get up and claim mine. As it was, I had some time to decide. At first, I was sure I could not and would not. With some deep breathing and just hanging on for dear life, I started to regain my composure. Meanwhile, he raised his hand and shared, and I saw that we are the same. So when chip time came around, I stood up, and with trembling and tears in my eyes, I got my chip.

After the meeting, he came up to me and hugged me. I said “I almost had a fucking heart attack when I saw you.” He said, “Well, I almost had a fucking heart attack when I saw you. And in fact, until you got up to get your chip, I assumed you couldn’t possibly be here for the same reason as me. I assumed that since it’s an open meeting, you must be here with a friend.” We talked for awhile and he told me some of his story, and I told him some of mine.  He had been sober just a few weeks longer than me.

I was so glad he had shared in the meeting, and I had decided to buck up and go get my chip despite feeling so vulnerable doing it. If neither of us had done those things, we may not have connected at all, and we may have both left the meeting feeling uneasy and off-balance about being seen.

As I walked to my car, I felt grateful for the way it unfolded, and I thought, “No wonder I always liked that guy.”

© soberfire, 2015

Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 3: Everything Old Is New Again

Soon after I quit drinking, I noticed a strange new development that I didn’t immediately connect with new sobriety. It is still ongoing, although I’m working through it. I am frequently overwhelmed with painful feelings of not belonging, not being chosen, not being included. “Will they like me?” “Do they like me?” “Look at that fun event they posted pictures of on Facebook, how come we weren’t invited to that?” “Oh, I don’t think she likes me.” “Nobody likes me!” I noticed I was feeling increasing angst over these questions and I thought, “WTF is this? Am I in junior high again?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I am! I am 13 again. That’s the age I started drinking—my path to deadening the pain of not belonging, among other things. That 13-year-old girl has a lot of unfinished business. Now that I’ve taken away the anesthetic, she has stepped forward, and is insisting some attention be paid to her wounds.

I’m not surprised at all that old issues are resurfacing, but I am taken a bit by surprise that it’s manifesting as social anxiety. If you had asked me what my main problems were at that age, social difficulties would have been quite a few down on the list. So it’s taken me some time to begin untangling this.

At age 10, my family moved to another state and I had no difficulty making new friends.  Then, at age 12, we moved back. My old friends were at different schools, and I was the “new kid”  at the most torturous age possible.  I had no friends at all for most of the school year, no one talked to me, and I cried every night. It was bloody awful.

I finally started to make friends after running into a girl from school on the beach in another state during spring break. We bonded that week, and when we got back to school, I quickly assimilated into her group of friends. They were good kids and we really did have supportive, loving friendships, and I was so grateful and relieved. At the same time, I was still me–desperate for belonging and fearful of being on the outside again. I wanted to do whatever was necessary to fit in seamlessly. They smoked and drank, so I did, too. They never pressured me, per se. The pressure came from within me, if there was any pressure at all. I remember that when the first opportunities to drink with friends arose, I took them with no deliberation at all—there was no question what I would do.   I quickly learned that drinking made me feel less self-conscious and helped me forget everything except the fun of the moment.

Much happened to me and within me around age 13, most of which is beyond the scope of this post.  My friends were literally my lifeline, and in some cases, I was theirs. I believed I was nothing without them—that they were the only thing good in my life.  I was also consumed by feelings of not being good enough, fears of not being accepted, and fears of losing whatever acceptance I’d gained at any moment.  Despite the fact that this doesn’t match the current reality, these feelings are all coming back up now, I believe because I stopped drinking. The pain feels old and new at the same time, and it feels very real.

The current reality is that I have fewer friendships in my daily life than ever before. I grew apart from a couple of my close friends as we got married and had kids. A couple of others moved away, and while we keep in touch a few times a year, and we can pick up where we left off on the rare occasions we see each other, it’s obviously not the same. As for friends I’ve had for decades that I still see on a regular basis, there is one left.  And there is one other treasured friendship that is newer but solid. The others are tenuous. Months can go by before we see each other or even talk. It seems everyone is just too busy. These newer friendships tend to feel so promising and then they never seem to get beyond a certain point of very occasional get-togethers. I want more. Girlfriends, you know? Like I used to have, people who are part of your daily, or at least weekly, life.

I am beginning to wonder how my alcoholism has affected the role of friendships in my life. I have read articles like this one about the difficulty of growing new friendships at this age, and I know it’s not all about what’s wrong with me. But I can’t help but look around and wonder, where are my soul sisters? Where is my woman tribe? How is it that female friendships have always been so crucially important to me, and yet I have not managed to build a strong and lasting circle?   Was too much of what I have to give taken up by my alcoholism and all the energy it took to try and control it?

Besides being a fun drinking buddy, I have always been the friend who wants to talk about real stuff, and listen to real stuff, too. I know friends have felt loved and supported by me over the years, at least in large part. Since I’ve been struggling with all this, I have considered whether being an empathic person is an ego construct—some kind of story I like to tell myself.   But no–I know it is a genuine part of who I am.  Still, I wonder about the self-absorption that I am told is a hallmark of alcoholism. Is it possible I am not as good a friend as I always prided myself to be?

So, a perfect storm has gathered here. Very currently, I feel lonely for real community with women, and I’ve felt this way off and on for a couple of years. Now I add the layer of my recovery—this major thing happening in my life that carries a stigma, and my conflicted feelings about if and when to tell new friends, and how they might react. And meanwhile, the part of me that is 13 again suffers a preoccupation with belonging and inclusion that has the exact flavor and quality of that early adolescent age. Several times over the last (almost) 8 months, I have been racked with sobs over real or imagined slights and child-like feelings of being “left out.” It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that as a woman in her 40’s, but hey, that’s why this blog is anonymous!

All this adds up to feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable.

There are good things happening. I am blessed to have the close friends I do have. The get-together I was all nervous about in my last post happened last night, and it was lovely. I talked to my sponsor beforehand about all of this, especially the question of what to say about my glass of sparkling water instead of wine. She said, “Let’s put this into perspective. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Worst case scenario is…drumroll…they will think you’re an alcoholic!” That, along with several comments from readers here, helped me relax a bit and not take it so deadly seriously. One of the women did ask if I drink when she saw my Perrier, and when I said no, she said, “Really, not at all? Is that because you’re a better person than me?” I said, “Definitely not, I just discovered I feel better when I don’t.” Not the whole truth, but also not a lie. And that was that. It was a really fun night, and at the end, there were hugs and a heartfelt “We really should hang out more often.” I got a phone call today from one of them and a text from another about getting together again. And, I am meeting another new friend for coffee next week.

These things make me so happy, but I must be careful even about that. I must move beyond diving into tailspins called “What’s wrong with me?” if someone I like seems uninterested in a friendship with me. By the same token, I cannot depend on positive signs of new friendship to feel good about who I am.

Where is the line between healthy, natural desire for connection and community and neediness, desperation?   Wherever that line is, at the moment it seems to be a fine and precarious one for me. I do know which side of that line I want to be on. I want to come to new friendships from a place of genuine interest and caring for others, not out of craving for whatever emotional need friendships promise to fill for me.

Time to listen to the 13-year-old me, hear what she has to say, and discover what she needs in order to heal. As for this longing for more connection and community, I think I must first find that in connection with my own spirit, and with God. I believe the rest will follow.  This is my healing work.

© soberfire, 2015

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