facing forward (# 51)

My alcohol free summer has saved me several hundred dollars, at least. I’ve been voraciously buying books for my Kindle, so that has eaten up some of the savings. Then, I started thinking it would be nice to try something new and different.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with my skin. Part of that was because drinking alcohol, the notorious antibeauty serum, was dehydrating me and drying everything out from the inside. Part of it was the fact that my skincare routine has been in the same minimalist rut since my early 20s, when I decided that the best thing to for my skin was pretty much nothing but fingertip scrubbing with shower water and daily application of Oil of Olay for sensitive skin SPF 15. Sure, I would use this or that product from time to time, but I didn’t regularly use anything to cleanse my skin. Benign neglect ruled the day.

Well, over the past few years I started noticing little white bumps, which are called milia, as it turns out. Google revealed that milia result from dead skin cells that get trapped under the skin especially when oils, makeup, moisturizer, and whatever else gradually builds up.  Milia can be avoided pretty easily by regular cleansing and exfoliation.

I disliked the way my skin was starting to look close-up and feel–kind of bumpy all over. There were a few small bumps that seemed permanent, which my doctor identified as a “clear mole” and an “overactive oil gland.” But the rest of the stuff seemed like it didn’t absolutely have to be there. It seemed like there should be a solution.

So I decided to use some of my sober gains to get a facial, something I have not done in about two decades. I told the aesthetician that I had been noticing distressing changes in my skin and I wanted to learn how to face the future and take better care for the long term. I believe this was some of the best money I have spent in a long time.

This woman was a wizard. She confirmed what I had learned about milia, and she told me that it’s okay to take a minimalist approach to skin care but you have to do something to emulsify and wash away that stuff that builds up on the skin. That could be anything from using an oil like coconut or almond oil and rinsing with warm water, to using a cleanser of some sort.

This skin wizard was able to remove most of the milia (you need to get rid of the white bumps sooner rather than later because otherwise they become less encapsulated and more rooted and fibrous, more integrated into the skin). She did such a lovely delicate job that even right after she finished my skin did not look stressed, just a little spotty at the toughest areas. By the next morning, everything looked and felt perfect.

This facial experience was just what I needed. It tangibly improved a situation that had been bothering me. It also felt fitting to use this extra money saved by not drinking on an extra boost for my skin, which has already benefitted considerably from me not drinking. Lastly, I learned new things about how to take care of myself that I can carry forward into the future, clean, clear, and freshly scrubbed.

UPDATE: I am adding a link to an article about skin care products called “essences” that I happened upon today.  I purchased an essence (spray mist) after my facial and I have been using it since, although I didn’t really “get” the purpose of it. This article explains it’s role as a primer for the skin very well and describes how essences have long been a part of Asian beauty rituals. American beauty ritual, by contrast, are far more aggressive, based on stripping skin dry (typically with alcohol-based products) and then slathering on moisturizer. In Asia, it is more typical to prepare skin for moisturizers by moistening it in the first place. In any case, I am pleased to report that my skin is still feeling and looking great with my simple new routine.

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not drinking is the easy part (# 50)

This has been the third alcohol free summer of my adult life. The other two occurred when I was pregnant with daughter 1 and daughter 2. I have only had one night of drinking since before Memorial Day. If it weren’t for that, I’d be closing in on 90 days of life without alcohol right now.

Some might find stopping during the holiday season the most difficult, but in the past, the summer has been the season when I have most enjoyed drinking. There are outdoor music festivals in my neighborhood on a weekly basis and many lovely spots to sit and drink outdoors for this relatively fleeting time. Winters are brutal, so these summer evenings are golden.

But here at the 50 day mark, it has become easy to live my summer life with without alcohol. Summer mornings are as golden as summer evenings. I have turned down alcohol in many situations, and I don’t find it difficult to say, “No, thanks.” It feels very clear to me that this alcohol free life is my positive choice for myself. I don’t feel deprived, and I don’t mind a bit if I am going to disappoint someone if I don’t drink. That reaction is truly theirs to own.  Me drinking does not actually have the power to make that person happy, though it might temporarily assuage their feelings about their own drinking. Anyway, I am not interested in overthinking other people’s reactions to my behavior as long as I feel confident, as I do, that I am choosing behaviors that support and satisfy me. That comes first, for me.

So that’s the good news. It’s very, very good news, but this summer has not been The Best Summer Ever. It’s been difficult. Not getting the job I wanted was a source of anxiety and a huge blow to my ego. It has set off a little bit of a professional crisis. My daughter has been an ongoing source of concern. My husband has been dealing with own professional crisis. I’ve been more tearful than usual. There have not been many high-highs and reasons to celebrate.

Last summer was different: I got married in June and had a whirlwind summer that included a road trip with the kids to the Rockies, Yellowstone, and Moab. There was a lot of excitement and adventure, which continued into the winter, when we bought and completely renovated a house.

As amazing as all those things were, it sucked last year to feel alcohol taking up more real estate in my brain. One the one hand I felt delighted to have taken so many massive steps toward the life I wanted, especially on the romantic relationship front, but I worried that my relationship with alcohol was gradually going to make me dull and predictable, stop me from being fully present in many situation, make me less able to cope with the mundane tasks of life, and ultimately render me unable to sustain the focus to pursue bigger goals and dreams.

I am not over the hump yet. To my mind, over the hump would mean using my time more creatively, writing more, making more jewelry. Over the hump would be actively cultivating new or deeper friendships with women who are living creative lives and not interested in numbing their feelings and sitting passively on their good ideas. Over the hump would be finding not just peace in my current (dull) job, but also pursuing ways to make it more interesting, finding ways of advocating for myself and my skills/talents to create a somewhat more interesting role. Over the hump would be developing simple, steady routines of cooking and doing house stuff that keep family life sweetly humming along (instead of erratically cycling from chaotic to caught-up).

I don’t think any of these visions are unrealistic–achieving freedom from alcohol does create conditions where this sort of life can flourish. Right now though, I am simply reading a lot, sticking with yoga and some running. and trying to set and achieve miniature tasks. I deadheaded lilies! I folded some clothes and put them away immediately!

I am still cocooning and, hopefully, readying myself for eventual metamorphosis, a more vivid life.

ancient history, part 2 (# 46)

ancient history, part 1 (# 7) is about the beginning of my first marriage. Part 2 visits my life as a teenage girl and young adult.

The more you start to need a thing, whether it’s a man or a bottle of wine, the more you are–unwittingly, reflexively, implicitly–convincing yourself you’re not enough without it.

–Leslie Jamison, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

I met Mal thirty years ago. We were high-schoolers from different states, brought together at a semester-long program in yet another state. We became fast friends, sharing interests in Chicago blues, philosophy, Ireland, and, broadly speaking, art and literature of excess (i.e., having sex, drugs and/or rock and roll as major themes). We were attracted to each other intellectually as much or more than physically.

At the school we were “just friends,” and each had other romantic interests. After school ended, though, we stayed in touch and I found ways to incorporate Mal into the rest of my high school life. For example, I went to an all-girls high school, and my group of six close girl friends needed a couple of extra guys to flesh out our prom contingent. Some of these girl friends already knew Mal from the semester program, and, as it turned out, back at his home high school Mal was best friends with a guy, D, who happened to be friends (from summer camp) with my then-boyfriend A and me. So, for this prom, it made a weird sort of sense to rope Mal and D (whom NONE of my girl friends knew) into trekking to our city to serve as the 5th and 6th males of the 12-person prom posse.

My boyfriend A liked Mal, but A was always wary of my connection with him, and rightly so. At the prom afterparty, I recall A barged in and yanked me away from Mal when he thought we were dancing too close. I also recall that Mal had a hard-on while we were dancing, and I liked that.

A and I remained a couple for 6 years–all through college and our first year out, yet intersections with Mal punctuated those years. Mal and I drifted in and out of contact and physically hooked up on three separate occasions. At one point in my last year of college, which was around the dawn of email, Mal and I eagerly adopted the new technology and used it to facilitate an increasing frequent, flirtatious and obsessive correspondence. We were constantly trying to impress each other with our writing and our adventures. We were enthralled by each other’s voice.

My grandmother lived in the same city where Mal was going to college, so for spring break I came up with the brilliant idea for A and I to take the train halfway across the country to visit my her. One night, A and I made plans to go out with Mal, who was by that time an accomplished musician. We showed up at his door with a bottle of Jameson and started drinking. We went out and saw Mal play at a bar, and then proceeded to yet another bar. At some point A abandoned consciousness of the emerging situation and put his head down on the table, while Mal and I kept drinking and talking. We finally cabbed back to Mal’s place, put A to bed and spent what remained of the night making out in the kitchen. We all went out for breakfast together the next morning.

When I was young, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and tumult of my romantic life. All this turmoil gave me endless material to write about, talk about, and process. It made me feel special. Vital.

I believed that “experience” was everything and justified anything. I also revered honesty and believed that it did not matter, so much, what one did, as long as one was honest about it. The problem was that I was not scrupulously honest with myself or anyone else. I was honest enough with A about facts for him to have plenty of reason to be anxious about my love, but not honest enough with him about feelings for us to have a truly intimate relationship.

I was not totally honest with A about the fact that young Miel truly felt that drinking and talking with a guy was the best way to explore potential connection.  Furthermore, in my mind, getting drunk and fucking was the natural consequence of drinking and talking with a person with whom I felt a connection, and this natural consequence, this fated trajectory, this inevitability, was, for me, quite possibly the height of romance (in the doomed sense of the word). I was not honest about the truth that I was willing to trade fidelity for “experience.”

I venerated “experience” but with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear there was a numbing predictability about the type of “experience” I preferred to have as a young woman. Intellectual, intoxicated and, ideally, erotic. Mal was not the only guy I got drunk with and fucked in the name of connection, experience, fate, and romance.

The Vicomte de Valmont says in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, “It is beyond my control.” These words, cruel as they were in that story, resonated with me. The concept of being in the grip of forces greater and more powerful than the self. I always felt that stories of fate, or better yet soulmates, were the best ones, even when they were the saddest. Greek plays, the legends of King Arthur and Tristan and Iseult, the novels of Thomas Hardy, Paul Auster.

As a young female drinker, I loved the way alcohol, above all else, could take me beyond control, my small careful sphere, and catapult me into another world of impulse and action, where I could hurtle faster toward my destiny. I craved a potent way to escape my web of constraints so I could find and fulfill my true fate. I guess I didn’t think I could get there without help.

Sometime around 1997 I fell out of touch with Mal for many years. However, as fate or free will  (you can decide later) would have it, that particular book remained open, and I eventually picked it up again.

to be continued . . . 

 

facing rejection (# 43)

I am now almost certain that I did not get the job I really wanted. Over the last week, as it became apparent that no one was calling me or my references, I started to have moments of intense pain and sadness. I am trying to understand the exact nature of this pain, to wrap my arms around it and define it.

A couple of nights ago I ended up sobbing out my disappointment before bed, in the arms of my husband. It was as ugly as ugly crying gets. Gasping for breath, choking on snot, piles of tissues mounding up beside me. My eyes looked puffy for the whole next day. Among other things, I cried out, more than once. “I am so embarrassed. I am so ashamed.”

This is the second time that I have not gotten a job that a former coworker with my exact same experience has managed to get. This raises powerful feelings of what’s wrong with me, specifically? There must be something wrong with me. What is it? Can I fix it or not? 

I feel embarrassed to ask keep asking my former bosses for references for jobs I don’t ever get. I feel like damaged goods; doomed to be stuck in a job that is dull, boring ,and not well-paying because I can’t interview well enough to get a better job that I am qualified for and could do.

I said before that I felt this particular job might have come up too quickly for me. I wished I had been alcohol free for longer, gotten steadier and more confident. I did the best I could, but fell short of the mark. That leaves me feeling even more anxious about applying for other jobs. About this particular job, I at least felt very secure that I was well qualified. With other jobs, the fit is not likely to be as apparent and as ideal. I will have even more to be anxious about going into other hiring situations.

I don’t know how I will manage the stress and uncertainty of the  job-search process better. How I can arrive at equanimity in the face of my capacity for feeling ashamed.

Who I am so afraid of disappointing? My parents? My former boss? My kids? My friends? My husband. No. Nothing quite makes sense. I am afraid I can’t justify my own choices to myself. That I will never be able to resolve this tension between achievement and falling short. Never resolve the question that maybe I am not doing the right thing, and if I were doing the right thing, I could be both fulfilled and successful at the same time. But what is the Right Thing? And why can’t I figure that out. 

I am still not drinking and very happy with that decision, but, boy, am I raw right now. In the past I probably would have had a lot to drink one night, blown off steam, and moved on fairly quickly from this rejection with a fuck-it attitude. Instead my sad, shamed feelings keep circling around and bubbling up with intrusive regularity, causing me to question, second-guess and bemoan every professional decision I have made in the last 25 years. That is a heavy burden for my soul to carry. My melodramatic tendencies are in full flower. Which means I feel doomed.

On top of the crushed hopes about the job, I am also soaking in the bitter sense that all this “doing my best,” is simply not paying off. I seem to need tangible evidence, “gold stars” of some sort, to feel justified in making the life changes that I have made. I want quicker fixes. I admit that.

A new job, new number on the scale–something! Instead I am feeling so bad. So stuck. Shuffling between a stifling job and home, dealing day in and day out with the steady stream of bad news a difficult teen brings. I rely on yoga, runs and books for temporary anesthesia. My husband is supportive, but also kind of thinks I am not much fun right now.

I am OK, as I knew I would be, no matter what happened. But I’d prefer to be engaged, vibrant and fun.

 

 

sheets (# 40)

I am in bed, not quite ready to sleep, enjoying the subtle touch of the sheets against my legs, reading words that maintain a steady march across the page. I am not squinting to still their wobbling. I listen to the purr of the fan and feel its breeze move across my hair. I am fully aware. My senses are fine and sharp, expansive. My consciousness is unmuffled by alcohol. It is not encased in a cottonwool cocoon that extends no more than a few inches beyond my body.

My mind is clear and calm. My mood is even. Soon I will venture into sleep peacefully and with intention. Sleep will not come suddenly tonight, thudding like a stone that ripples outward, obliterating the last few memories of the day. Tomorrow it will be my pleasure to rise at 5:30 a.m. for yoga with firm feet and sweat running clear and pure.

changing the things I cannot accept (# 38)

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Over the past week, I was in another city for a work conference. Between alcohol freedom and social anxiety, I was not particularly up for the numerous cocktail hours and dinners on offer, so I would poke my head in for as longer as I could stand it (between 15-45 minutes) and bail as soon I as felt awkward. Then, I would go out walking. I fell in love with this city and between running and walking, I put about 30 miles (!) on my shoes over the course of four days.

During my rambles, I saw this quote emblazoned on a wall. It hit home. Although the quote has been embraced by social activists and is generally presented in that context, I find it interesting that it uses and flips the language of the serenity prayer.

I can think of many situations where it is indeed best to accept things that can’t be changed, such as having a teenage daughter. Serenity is essential, in that case. That said, I stopped drinking because I passionately wanted to change many things I cannot accept. Choosing not to drink strikes me as the simplest, clearest way to start addressing the facts and feelings that have become unacceptable to me.

I cannot accept:

  1. Feeling trapped by my choices instead of free.
  2. Not reaching my potential or trying to reach it.
  3. Not being present in my own life, with the people I love.
  4. Living with an incessant hamster wheel of thoughts in my brain about when, where and why to drink.
  5. Looking fried, frazzled, beat down, and worn out.
  6. Neglecting the activities that give me pleasure: running, cooking, dancing tango, reading.
  7. Neglecting the activities that must get done: folding clothes, tidying up, running errands.
  8. Never finding time to write or be creative.
  9. Feeling like crap for big chunks of a day.
  10. Sometimes wondering if you can smell the fact I drank a lot of something last night.
  11. Not doing my best to live a peaceful, meaningful life.
  12. Gaining weight while eating healthily.
  13. Counting the minutes until the workday ends so I can have a glass of wine.
  14. Having someone ask me if I remember last night and not remembering.
  15. Scrambling around in the morning, faking I’m fine but actually shaking.
  16. Suggesting we have “just one more” drink while knowing it’s never just one more.
  17. Feeling like my daily habits are harming me instead of supporting me.
  18. Feeling like being anxious is my natural state.
  19. Feeling like I can’t quite figure my shit out.
  20. Feeling insecure because I know deep down that by drinking I am choosing mediocre skating through life instead of full-on pursuing my dreams.
  21. Wondering if you secretly think I am an incorrigible lush.
  22. Wondering if the grass is greener on the sober side without bothering to see for myself.
  23. Feeling like a fraud knowing that I am not as “together” as I prefer to appear.
  24. Kicking myself for sliding into yet another phase of drinking too much, a predictable pattern that has recurred at various times in my life prompting the same questions, over and over again.
  25. Believing wine or whiskey is a fix for anything.
  26. Letting the impulsive roar of intoxication drown out the insistent whisper of intuition.
  27. Feeling like the bigger, more fulfilling life I desire will forever elude me because my brain is clogged.
  28. Doing the easy, immediate thing instead of the right thing.
  29. Trading my natural energy and exuberance for a buzz.
  30. Clinging to the mythology that alcohol is a necessary part of a creative life.

This list could get a lot longer. . . .

the girl (# 36)

I have an almost-16-year-old daughter. She smokes pot. More than I know, most likely. I wish she didn’t do this, but I don’t know how to stop it.

I wanted to stop drinking, in part, to set a good example and be more present and attentive. Also, I stopped driven by fear that some night I am going to get a call from my daughter to pick her up somewhere. I don’t want to risk being drunk when that happens. I want to be clear and steady.

Not too long ago, my daughter asked me if I had ever been drunk. “Yes,” I said. “I’ve never seen you drunk,” she responded.

While it’s true that I reserved my heaviest drinking for times when my daughter was not in my care, it’s completely untrue that she has never seen me drunk. Many times, I have consumed wine in a low-key but steady fashion throughout an evening. Sometimes she asked me what I was drinking (let’s say it was a gin and tonic or some such) or asked to try it. No, I would tell her. It has alcohol in it. So it’s a little funny to me that she never picked up on differences between buzzed mom and regular mom.

Although she might not have noticed it, I know that my drinking affected her on some level. It had to have. It made me more rushed, more irritable, and less present during key years she needed me. In the initial years after my divorce she was around 10 to 12. I was frazzled from my job and single life in general. Some nights, I was desperate for her and her younger sister to go to bed so I could enjoy a drink and a smoke.

I am sad to say that I was rather selfish in those years. Very preoccupied with work and my romantic life. I didn’t really want to pause to connect with my oldest daughter. I resisted depth. I think I was afraid of opening up an emotional can of worms that I was ill equipped to handle. So I rushed through our time together, taking care of the business of our reconfigured family life in a basic way but also a rather detached way.

Ah, there is so much more to explore here but I will have to do it slowly and carefully. This is difficult. I have a lot of guilt about how thing are turning out with her. It’s hard to separate what I perceive as fall-out from my parental failings from what I also know to be true: She’s a teenager, for crying out loud, and some rebellion and experimentation are inevitably going to be part of the deal.

My biggest fear for my daughter stems from my long-standing observation that she has never seemed to be passionate or excited about anything. She has never seemed motivated. Not by sports, not by school and not by the many other activities she has tried and rather swiftly abandoned. She has been adrift for years, from what I can see, and I am afraid that smoking pot and doing various other immediately gratifying things will fill up all the empty spaces inside her. Once those habits are established I am afraid it will be that much harder for her to find satisfaction and success in activities that take effort, persistence and practice.

I just don’t know what to do for her at this point. I am addressing and rectifying my own issues as best I can right now, but I am afraid that is going to be too little, too late to help her. I’m worried.