a perfect sober weekend (# 85)

This is a bit of an odd weekend as my kids are with their dad AND my husband is out of town. On the one hand, that’s too bad because it’s beautiful here and there is a fun local music festival going on. It would be fun to be enjoying this with my husband. On the other hand, I have throughly loved every minute of flying solo, and I have accomplished much , even while indulging myself in many activities I like to do.

It has been especially good, because I know it will be a sprint to the end of the year. This might be my last chance to deeply relax. So, let’s recap . . . and catch a glimpse of me in my natural habitat under the influence of nothing stronger than my own whims and interests. . .

Friday Left work at 4:45 p.m. to meet two of my best friends for drinks. I am far enough along in alcohol freedom that it doesn’t bother me when I am with people who are drinking. In fact, I realize that I actually have more fun, feel more present, and am able to leave invigorated and ready to switch gears instead of itching for more drinks. I had an NA Becks and some iced tea and soaked up late afternoon sun on the patio, instead soaking in several margaritas. After the drinks, I headed over to an outdoor tango event. This summer I have not done a lot of tango. I’ve been focusing on yoga instead and thinking about what role I want to give tango in my life, given that it will be a smaller role than it was when I was single. But last night was a great opportunity to dip my toes back in that water. Except for the fact that we were tangoing with mosquitoes, as much as we were with each other. I was home by 9 p.m., where I talked to my husband on the phone, web surfed and read.

Saturday  Woke EARLY naturally. (It was 5:00 a.m.) Instead of cursing my inability to fall back to sleep, I felt excited to have a couple of  bonus hours in the full day ahead of me. I read some more and worked on a photo downloading project necessitated by having had to get a new phone last week. Got laundry going, picked up the kitchen, had breakfast, and started watching a documentary. And that was all before 7:45 a.m. when I headed to the yoga studio for a 45-minute meditation followed by a 75-minute flow class. Home again, where I finished the documentary before heading out to shop. I had to get some groceries, as well as few things, including clothes hangers, at Target. Last weekend, I embarked on a massive three-closet overhaul but ran out of hangers before I could properly finish the job.

Came home. En route I discovered a podcast called “Dr. Death” and immediately got hooked. The story involves a multiple messed-up back surgeries by one messed-up doctor in Texas. As a former medical malpractice defense attorney, I find this topic fascinating–it’s about more than just one bad egg, it’s about the failure of the medical establishment to stop a surgeon like this in his tracks before he harms many patients.

After finishing the closets, I talked to a high school friend on the phone, then headed out for a 2.25 mile run around 6:30 p.m. More photo stuff, some light cooking (vanilla-cardamom-pear compote to eat with yogurt and tomato-mozzarella salad) a phone chat with my husband, and sound asleep by 10:30 p.m.

It was a quiet day, with very little social interaction, but it was peaceful and productive.

Sunday  Woke at 5:00 a.m. naturally, again. More futzing around with photos on my computer. Mostly deleting hundreds of bad selfies, I am embarrassed to say. I biked over to coffee shop a little after 8:00 a.m. to meet a friend from grad school (almost 20 years ago!) who was in town for an event. He and I caught up for about an hour, and then I went to a yoga barre class before biking to yet another yoga studio for ecstatic dance from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Home again for lunch and great deal of laundry folding and another appointment with Dr. Death. Thankfully, all the clothes had places after the closet job. Cleaned up the bathroom and scrubbed the slightly nasty kitchen stove top. Showered and walked over to yet a different coffee shop where I did a little research related to our new soon-to-be store and wrote this blog post. Soon, I will walk home, and then bike to yoga flow, followed by meditation/yin. I will be home by 8:30 p.m. to get ready for the work week and unwind before bed. Tomorrow morning I will be fresh as a daisy and back on the yoga mat at 6:00, before work.

Phew! I am taking really good care of myself this weekend (and taking care of my family too, by doing all this house stuff, even though no one is around). This is marvelous and made possible primarily by the complete and total absence of alcohol from any of these proceedings. I felt centered and able to make good decisions from hour to hour, in which I balanced my personal desires for entertainment, friendship and movement with my needs to get certain specific projects done. There was time for everything I wanted to do, and then some.

I have gone into all this exhaustive detail about my activities because I am really pleased with myself. I want to bottle this feeling! I LOVE the difference between this kid-free weekend and kid-free weekends of the not-to-distant past. Typically I would feel a bit hungover or sub-par on one of the days. I would still squeeze a lot in, because that’s my style, but I would let house stuff slip, for sure. I would not feel such surges of energy nor would I feel true peace.

Also, when I was between marriages I HATED spending any time alone. I would either be with my boyfriend-du-jour (or going on dates), planning my schedule around tango, exercising, or generally finding someplace to be. I would go to bars alone, I would go dancing alone, if I had to, just to be around people and combat my overwhelming fear that life and love would pass me by if I did not get out there and stay out there. I had no ability to sit still and just BE WITH MYSELF . . . and all my feelings.

For a while I had a certain boyfriend who had a terrible habit of canceling plans with me whenever he was freaking out about his own shit. It was a true push-pull dynamic between us, deeply unhealthy. When he pulled the last-minute bail move, as he often did on a Sunday afternoon, I would freak out — mostly because I was utterly unprepared to spend any unstructured time alone. Looking back, it was pretty pathetic. If I had to spend unplanned alone time, I did not embrace the opportunity to get other stuff done. Instead I would mope and obsess and stress and generally let everything go all to hell.

Life is so different now. I feel happy and secure with my partner, my husband. We spend a lot of time together, but when he is away I embrace having time for myself. I keep busy, but I don’t spend all that energy I used to expend putting myself in the path of strangers (i.e., men), adventure/experiences, and, many, many times, alcohol. I was always seeking to escape myself and my situation and propel myself into something new, no matter how meaningless and un-nourishing it was.

I am grateful for my perfect sober weekend and for this sweet life I am creating. Better late than never.

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quiet here at least (# 54)

It has been a peaceful week, mostly. I have stopped perseverating about the job I didn’t get. After talking to husband, therapist, and a friend, I have made a mental shift and decided to focus a little more on making my current (boring) job more interesting. Upon reflection, I can admit that I am a person who is always running off in search of a new challenge and not so good at sticking around, playing a long game, and growing in place. I think it would be good for me to try a different strategy, while I am in this new alcohol free stage of life. So I will take some time to see what develops and make no sudden moves.

I am not eager to be out there applying for more jobs right now. I am feeling bruised and confused. Not sure what I really want from my work life, not sure if I am being proactive or reactive in my search. I need to let everything settle. I will embark on a new job search if/when more clarity about my objectives emerges.

I would like to make more money, but for now I am glad I have a job that is flexible and peaceful. It’s stressful dealing with my teenage daughter. I am having to talk to her dad a lot, and it sometimes eats into work time.

My husband is away on a work trip. Tonight, which is the night before his event starts, two of the people he works with got really drunk. My husband was already up in the hotel room watching Anthony Bourdain episodes and thinking about getting a good night’s sleep when the two guys were brought back to the room flanked by a complement of hotel security. One had a giant bruise on the back of his balding head. My husband had to spend the rest of the evening babysitting them. The one without the bruise attempted to return to the bar, and my husband had to coax him back to the room. These are not young men. They are around 60, a decade older than my husband. They will have to work a long day tomorrow, suffering mightily, I have no doubt.

My own drinking exploits did not sink to that level, at least not recently. I am relieved that my husband has not been in the position of taking care of me in a state like that. However, he has had to shush me from talking loudly a couple of times when walking home through our quiet neighborhood at night. In recent years my drinking was more of a soul-sucking personal preoccupation than a menace to society.

But tonight, I have been reflecting on what an awful position to be in it is, when an unruly drunk (or two!) is holding you hostage. It’s so very unfair to check your sanity  at the door of the bar and leave others to pick up the pieces. I remember that kind of shit happening among my friends when we were in our teens and early twenties. I was guilty of this as well. In one early drinking episode, age 18, camping out one night, I ate nothing but blueberries all day and swigged a bunch of vodka at night. Puked everywhere, and my friends had listen to me, plaintively insisting like a broken record that they make sure to turn my head to one side before leaving me to pass out because “I didn’t want to die like Jimi Hendrix.”

One friend of mine was always getting into this state, and it got tiresome. No one in our group wanted to deal with it anymore. People were tolerant of rare occasions of extreme drunkenness, but reached a limit. With this particular guy, several friends had a little intervention. I don’t remember if it really solved anything about his drinking at the time, but the event did show that people will stop coddling incapacitated people once they are feeling taken advantage of on a regular basis. Easier for friends to draw the line than for relatives or lovers, though.

So I empathize with my husband for having to deal with this tonight, but I am happy he can soon return home to someone he can count on to be responsible for herself, no matter how much alcohol free fun she is having.

on flaking (# 18)

As I reflect on the last couple of years and examine why and how I began drinking more and thinking about drinking more, I observe a gradual erosion in my habits and values.

For most of my life I have prided myself on showing up, on time and prepared, no matter what. For example, when I was in my early twenties I went to graduate school in Ireland. The program was attended by a roughly even mix of Irish, British and American students. Plus one Canadian who served as a very earnest and cheerful foil for our sarcastic black-humored bunch. The program was viewed as kind of a blow-off by some, especially the other Americans. A perfect reason to live in Dublin for a year and drink a lot in the name of soaking up literary culture. These people skipped a lot of classes, but could be counted on to appear at the pub every night.

While I too appeared at the pub every night, I never missed a single class and I always did all the reading. I was very proud of myself. One time I slid into in my seat after drinking Jameson for most of the night with an Irish guy of long and complicated acquaintance (a story for another time . . . ). My classmate E whispered, not without admiration, “Jaysus, what have ye done? Ye reek of the distillery.”

Gold star for me. The girl who shows up no matter how much she reeks.

Yes, if I committed to show up somewhere, I would. Without fail. It really annoyed me when other people would bail on plans at the last minute. One time about five years ago, my best friend and I had tickets to go see a play. It was going to be a bit of a process—the place was an hour’s drive away. Several hours before we were going to leave, my friend called and said she thought she was coming down with something and it would be best if she stayed home. I offered to do the driving, but that did not sway her. I was FURIOUS. I am pretty conflict averse, but I was so pissed off and disappointed that I am ashamed to admit that I pretty much hung up on her. No, “Hope you feel better. See you soon.” Nope. I was pissy and childish. Only after I scrambled and landed a replacement theatergoer could I take a deep breath, consider her feelings, and call her back to apologize.

At some point, I talked over my hideous response to this situation with my therapist. I was expressing that it was it was very important to me to show up and that if the shoe had been on the other foot, I would not have bailed on my friend. My therapist got me to continue flipping this around: What if I was truly sick? Would it be right to go? Would my friend appreciate hanging out with me, when I was possibly unpleasant company and possibly contagious?

So, yeah, I saw that my friend made the right choice for her, which was the most important thing in this situation; and maybe, maybe, it actually was the right choice for me, too, even if it felt like a disappointment and inconvenience.

My therapist prodded me to consider that showing up for the sake of showing up is not always a virtue. I was not entirely convinced, but I began to see that sometimes it might be ok to give myself permission not show up for things, just as my friend had given herself permission to stay home and rest instead of going to a play.

But a balance must be struck. Giving oneself permission is slippery, especially when alcohol is involved.

In recent years, I look back and see a sharp trend of me “giving myself permission not to show up” especially for social events, tango events, or workouts, when really I was just preferring to use the time to drink at home or torecover from drinking too much. In the past, if I RSVP’ed, say, to a Facebook event, I would be there. Bells on. More recently, my RSVP meant “I might be there but most likely not.” I could easily justify such behavior in the context of Facebook. People regularly RSVP to things they are merely interested in—there is no real obligation to show up and no intention to attend.  The etiquette of RSVP’ing has relaxed considerably in my lifetime, in many settings. We generally don’t expect a whole from each other anymore.

But deep down, I felt terrible when I would flake on things, no matter how inconsequential the flaking was. Acting like a flake ran counter to my values and my internal sense of myself as a person of my word. In fact, by drinking and flaking, I was becoming as pissed off with myself as I had been with my sick friend a few years ago.

Now that I am not drinking, I am trying to strike the right balance between giving myself permission to do what feels right in the moment (as long as that does not include drinking) and keeping my commitments. I am still finding way back to my favorite activities. I am faithfully showing up for exercise, in multiple forms, every day. It’s harder with social events and tango. Some days, I just don’t feel up to socializing, and then I give myself permission to sit an event out. I am getting better at only agreeing to do things when I am sure I can follow through.

I don’t want to be a flake anymore. It’s an ill-fitting suit for me. But showing up reeking is not the solution either. Going forward, I will be there and be square.

good fences (# 11)

A few posts ago I mentioned having to protect boundaries on several fronts, which was causing some stress. I am happy to report that on one front, at least, the situation resolved. Peacefully and completely. Standing up for my boundaries worked.

While the situation was temporarily stressful, I have saved myself weeks of additional trouble. In a nutshell, I have been involved in a group for about 5 years. The group runs events twice weekly and has very little structure. Events are run by a rotating band of volunteer facilitators.  Basically our group had required only a leader/treasurer responsible for the schedule of one set of weekly events and a coordinator to maintain the annual schedule for the other set of weekly events. That second person was me.

I fell into the role a year ago when the former leader (who had filled both roles) left town. The person who volunteered to be the new leader said she would be leader, as long as someone else handled the scheduling for one day per week. Reluctantly, I agreed to do that, but no more than that. While my assigned task was not burdensome, the group dynamics gradually got overwhelming. The new leader wanted to expand the group and do some other things, which created friction with some of the volunteer facilitators.

At first I tried participating in the process, offering specific perspectives I had due to my professional background. It became clear that the new leader was very impulsive. She tended to solicit ideas from others as if seeking consensus, but then she would make sudden unilateral decisions. I started feeling dread in the pit of my stomach about how the process was going. I knew I had the skills and knowledge to help guide the group forward, but I just plain did not want to do it. I became involved in the group in the first place because it offered a healing practice. I was afraid of losing touch with my original purpose for participating.

I decided that, no matter what, I no longer wanted to play any kind of  leadership or advisory role and I wanted OUT of those responsibilities before I got sucked even deeper in. I told the other facilitators that I was stepping back from organizing the schedule or advising on anything. I knew I had to step back completely by taking myself out of the communication loop entirely, but I didn’t want to burn any bridges. I still wanted to be a member of the group and a facilitator, without coordinating anything.

I was anxious about my decision, worried that things would get hairy, that events would get canceled in the short term, and that people would be disappointed. But I reminded myself that I had previously stepped up to fill a void. I had to trust that if a new void opened up in my absence, others would rise up and fill it. I just had to be firm and clear about my intention not to continue at my previous level of participation and then follow through with corresponding action.

Sure enough, when I stuck to my guns and didn’t participate in further organizational discussions or meetings, other people did step up. Someone took my former role, and some other organizational questions have also been resolved for the time being.

I feel an immense sense of relief and gratitude. Plus, I am happy that I did not play the martyr and force myself to stay involved until I got unhappy, frustrated and pissed off enough to lash out at someone. I did not make the mistake of thinking that I was the ONLY PERSON who could do my task properly. I kept my cool, told my inner control freak to sit down and shut up, got myself out of the equation, and let the other people with a stake in the outcome take ownership.

Right now, it is so important for me to keep my focus on cultivating peace and health. Part of taking care of myself is making sure that my plate of responsibilities is manageable and that my discretionary activities (outside of work and family life) bring me joy, not frustration and dread. I feel great about how this situation played out. Good fences. Good lesson.

among friends (# 7)

Yesterday my husband and I went to my friend’s birthday party. Over her life, my friend has drawn together an interesting circle of people. Lovers past and present, girlfriends, housemates past and present, neighborhood people. I fall in the former housemate category: I lived in her house for six months about 7 years ago, when I first separated from my former husband.

My friend has casual parties a few times a year that bring the various parts of her circle together. These parties are filled with booze and banter. As are most parties, it’s true, but there is something different about my friend’s parties. Her people are more free. Free to drink a lot or not at all. Free to be social or sit in a corner doing a puzzle. Free to be raunchy. The average age of the guests is about 48, but this statement is does not tell you much because the guests are outliers and have youthful spirits as compared with people their age.

I am a person who is very introverted. It takes a bit for me to warm up. Once warm, I will become very, very verbal, clever, and lively. Warming up has historically involved several drinks. It’s hard for me to think of a party held by this friend where I did not get some degree of drunk.

Until last night. I went, stayed sober, and had about as much fun as I have ever had. I bantered and joked with the best of the them. I played a ridiculous game that involved bending over to pick up a paper bag with your teeth while standing on one leg and not allowing either hand to touch the ground. Being sober didn’t help my game. My husband, who was drinking beer, won. Nobody remarked on the fact I was not drinking. It was not an issue.

I even held my husband’s cup in my hand for several minutes and did not choose to sip.

The main difference I noticed was that my shy self was less anxious and more calm. I found it easier to listen to and connect with people, most of whom were acquaintances but not confidants. I was still funny, but maybe less silly. I was relieved that I wasn’t running a subterranean dialogue with myself about how much I could drink and not ruin the next day. Walking home through the humid, buggy night with my husband, I felt calm and happy, holding my experience of the night in vivid focus.