“The Good Ole’ Days”

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A friend just sent me a photo from the good ole’ days.

I can see that my eyes are puffy and my skin is dehydrated, because I’m way too young here to have so many laugh lines. (Well, there is that whole sun exposure thing. Have I ever mentioned that I lived in St. Thomas for a year?)

Those days weren’t that great.

But right now, I’m getting ready to go hiking through my favorite mountain top. Later on, I’ll get some work done, go have an incredibly healthy dinner, and then call some people I love.

These are the good ole’ days.

đź’•

 

No More Tunnel Vision

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Today is Saturday, and I’m free as a bird.

I can do anything I want, or nothing at all. Yoga? Maybe. Or I might drag out my camera and try to take some really artsy photos. Or I might take the dog to that park with the sign that says, “No dogs” and sneak him in under the fence. That’s always fun. And I MOST DEFINITELY am going to the Starbucks drive-through and get a giant chocolate chip cookie and some iced green tea.

I ramble on here for a reason. What I have today is possibilities. I have no goal for the day except to enjoy it and do whatever my heart desires.

No more tunnel vision.

I remember a well-meaning friend asking me if I wanted to join a hiking group a few years back. But how does the involve drinking? I thought. As if reading my mind, she said, “It’s a short walk through the woods, and then we end up at restaurant and have some drinks.” Now we’re talking.

And because drinking made me a slug, I told her that my ankle was acting up, but that I’d meet them at the restaurant. Perfect plans!

I got there early and had a nice pre-drink so as not to drink others under the table, which is seen as unladylike in some cultures. Plus, these weren’t my regular friends, so they might be the type to order a glass of wine and then sip it slowly, making it awkward for other people to order another and another. So rude.

And that’s exactly what happened. They showed up with those hiking stick things, all glowy with health, and ordered tea. (Sweet tea, how decadent!) The waiter ruined by pre-drink plan by saying, “Do you want another glass of wine, miss?” I hesitated just a second, and said, “Sure,” as if he’d pressured me into it. Then I remembered to rub my ankle as if it hurt.

The whole thing was a fraudulent act to hide my only goal: to drink. It was Saturday, and no one was going to stop me from drinking. Not that I didn’t drink the rest of the week as well, but Saturday gave me an extra license to drink. Besides, what if I quit Monday? Better enjoy it while you can.

I could never have relaxed at this outing without the wine. My tunnel vision would make it so I couldn’t think about anything but leaving. I might have gone to the ladies room (alone) and popped open a mini-bottle with my name on it, hidden in my big purse for just these types of emergencies. (My purse could hold up to four mini-bottles for dry weddings, etc. It was big and ugly, as my daugher liked to point out, but it served its secret purpose.)

It’s so nice to be free of that tunnel vision. My mind is free to wander and enjoy the possibilities of just going with the flow. I don’t have to arrange for a drinking lunch, an afternoon nap to sleep it off, and then an evening of more wine.

And a Sunday from freaking hell. Liquor stores don’t open until 12:00.

Free at last.

đź’•

Tomorrow I’m Going to Get My Sh*t Together

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I was just sitting around this morning, procrastinating, when an article on procrastination showed up in my inbox. Wow! First off, I got to meet Mo Issa, who describes himself as spiritually human. I want to be this guy when I grow up. He’s amazing!

Second, his article really hit home. And I’m talking about procrastinating with your life’s work, not about doing the laundry. Here’s a quote:

“In the English dictionary, procrastination is defined as the act of delaying or postponing a task. Put another way, it’s self-sabotage. We place obstacles in our path to avoid the work at hand.”

I did this for years and years through drinking. Your entire life can be put on hold if you’re living buzzed. I could make great plans while drinking. I could even start big projects. I just couldn’t see them through.

This article is well worth the read:

Procrastination is Real, But We Have 3 Ways to Fight It.

A Drinking Story

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What’s Your Story?

Mine runs something like this: I had a great childhood, though I grew into an anxious adolescent. By high school, I was pretty much OK. Going to college, however — that place of higher learning — changed that.

I hadn’t experienced much of the drinking culture in my small hometown. Instead, I jogged and played tennis and painted and went to movies. I was shocked at first, and then gradually drawn in to the almost nightly ritual of going out. The habit of drinking instead of doing other things was formed here, as was the feeling of being truly lost. The two went together, although I couldn’t see it at the time.

If life can be described as navigating a river, then I started to hit the occasional rapid. Sometimes it was exhilarating — flailing about in the raft, trying to get myself back into the flow of the river, and sometimes it was scary, not knowing what might happen next. Sometimes, without warning, I was thrown from the raft completely. Then life became more like survival.

Still, for most of the journey, I traveled with everyone else on the river, especially with other fun people with floating coolers. You can go a lot of places with these people. You can tie your raft to theirs. You can ride the rapids together. You can befriend them, marry them, and have children together. Then you won’t feel so alone — so afraid when the next rapid hits.

So the end of the story goes like this: I went in way over my head eventually, and began to experience some near-drownings. But as is the nature of addiction, I was less afraid of the dark swirling water when I had alcohol flowing through my veins. Soon, I had to drink during the calm parts of the river, just to anesthetize myself from the stress of being out of control. I was no longer sure where I was headed. Part of me didn’t care.

But as luck would have it, I began to link the rough waters and terror and loss of control with the alcohol itself, and not the river. I began to see what a mind-game the whole thing was — drinking to prevent or survive the effects of drinking. I recognized this, and could talk a good game about why I needed to quit. But I didn’t quit for long.

After decades of living like this, slowly making my way downstream, I could see the foreshadowing of how one might die while drinking on the river. It would happen sooner or later, either by declining health or by being flung one last time into the cold, rushing water. And on some deep level — one that barely registered in my wine-addled brain — I knew the choice of how the story ended was mine.

A Mindful Relapse

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In February of 2016, after a promising 8-day start on my new blog and new sobriety, I decided to drink. (Or relapse, as they say. But is it really a relapse when it happens every other day?)

Anyway, I had been doing these mindfulness meditations, where you observe your own thoughts, and I had a brilliant idea. I would relapse, but I would do it MINDFULLY. I would turn this relapse into a learning experience. This thought gave me permission to drink (or course). But it also gave me a sense of purpose: I saw myself as a sort of spy, going under cover in the murky world of addiction for the betterment of mankind.

But also, I really did want to witness the mind-boggling process that had knocked me off my feet over and over again, despite my pledges and promises and resolutions. How did this one slippery little decision keep sneaking past me? Because once I made the decision to drink, nothing could stop me.

Here’s what I learned:

The decision to drink always begins with a thought. And it will seem like an innocent one.

The day of my relapse, as I was sitting at home, minding my own business, this thought came to me: My husband doesn’t seem like he’s having much fun lately. He’s been a little stressed out.

And that was it. That was the first thought. And that thought led me to thinking about how I could help him. I would call him to meet for lunch, just like in the old days. He’d be so happy!

The first thought is often disguised as you helping someone you love. Because you’re a good person and you want to help people. (How cunning is that!)

So I call my husband and arrange to meet him in an hour. I have not yet thought about drinking. But I begin to romanticize the setting. This little lunch outing will be fun! Just like when we were dating. It will lift his spirits.

And that was the second thought. My second thought romanticized the past. Because I begin to savor the idea of a lazy Saturday afternoon … the cozy booth lit with candles … the happy server bringing us drinks.

Drinks … how did that thought sneak in?

As I look at the scene in my mind, there’s a frosted glass. And just the sight of that glass has me imagining the icy taste of that drink.

And just like that, the decision is made in an instant so quick that I hardly notice it. I can’t pinpoint it. I’m not even sure I made it all. But someone did, because now the idea that I will drink is a given.

I don’t question this decision. (We don’t want affairs of the heart exposed to scrutiny.) In fact, the decision takes me out of the present moment. I have already projected myself into the future, where that drink is waiting for me. It’s only in the present moment that  the decision can still be undone. But I am no longer there. This is the opposite of mindfullness.

I am already tasting that sweet elixir, feeling the cold of that frosted glass against my lips. In my mind, that golden liquid is seeping into my veins, easing my worries, joining me in the intimate bonds forged by drink.

I am already gone.

I notice the momentary tug of my conscience. You were doing so well! You don’t have to do this. You know it’s not going to end well. But I rationalize the decision to drink by promising future sobriety. I begin to bargain: True — I was doing well, but I can start back tomorrow. February 1st. It has a nice ring to it … a dry February!

I don’t really believe this, but it’s too late now. The drinking voice and I are co-conspirators. I banish all thoughts about stopping, because the decision has been made, and I don’t want to question it too closely because I want that drink badly.

And I don’t want to see that the decision is a betrayal. Deep down, I know it is. But like any under-handed deal, it has to stay behind closed doors. Money has changed hands, and I’ve been bought and sold, though I’m not even in the restaurant yet. A deal has been struck, but I’m almost unaware of it. In that instant, I collude with the drinking voice to cover it up.

At the 3 am witching hour, I’m sick and hung-over and filled with regret. Enter shame. Only then do I acknowledge that I’ve made another deal with the devil himself.

The Good News:

Isolating that first thought was the beginning of taking its power away. I learned to isolate the first thought, and then the next, and then watch them fall like dominoes. That day, it occurred to me that if I watch for the first thought, and question it, and then unmask it, I might finally learn to think for myself.