Talking to strangers (plus a bonus Q)

Plenty of advice I’ve received on socialising in early sobriety has been simply ‘don’t go’. I took that advice as much as I could in my first couple of months, but have been trying to re-introduce a bit of socialising back into my life recently for fear of turning into a hermit. As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts, it really sucks the energy out of me and I haven’t had the best time, so perhaps that’s a sign I’m destined for hermithood. Or maybe I’m just trying to do too much too fast.

This weekend we have a couple staying with us from the UK. They’re friends of my partner’s and I haven’t met them before. I feel terrible about it, but I’ve been putting myself first over the last couple of nights and staying in while they go out for dinner and drinks each night. I realise how crazy it is to feel so much guilt simply for doing what’s best for me, but I can’t help but feel bad for not ‘making an effort’ and ‘being a good host’.

I think a huge part of it is because I assume they’ll just think I’m rude, which is frustrating, but I just don’t feel comfortable communicating my situation with strangers – “Hello, nice to meet you. I’m going to be avoiding you all weekend because I’m in early sobriety and having a tough time of it of late and all your holiday boozing around me will fray my nerves to bits. Sorry about that. Here’s your room, let me know if you need fresh towels”. If  I had, say, the flu, that would be a different story entirely “Hello, nice to meet you. I’m going to be avoiding you all weekend because I’ve got a horrific cold and a pounding headache. Sorry about that. Here’s your room, let me know if you need fresh towels”.

To be honest I even feel uncomfortable talking to close friends about sobriety some of the time. Today as I skyped a friend I watched her eyes glaze over after she asked how my sobriety was going. I’m so conscious that it’s not a fun topic of conversation for them that I’ll change the subject to save them the pain of having to listen to me whinge on about it for more than 30 seconds. Which is why it is so lovely to have all you fine folk to whinge away to 😉 It really does make a profound difference to know that there are other people out there that get it. Obviously there’s a lot of variation between everyone’s sober journeys, but I think we all get each other on some level or another and being propped up by a fellow sober blogger when you’re feeling fragile is a helluva lot more powerful than by a glazy eyed friend! 🙂

While I do think there is a massive support network to be found through blogging, I do wonder whether I need to extend my support networks in other ways. Ken asked whether I had looked into SMART recovery groups, which unfortunately it doesn’t look like we have here in NZ, so what I’d love to know from other sober bloggers is…

What other support networks are out there that you’ve used? And why were they right for you?

Edit: I’d also be interested to hear if blogging has been your only support network too! And whether you think you need more or that’s enough in itself.

Thanks! xx

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Sparkle, where are you?

I’ve heard so many women describe their new sober lives as “sparkly” since I’ve been on this sober road and it has always confused me. Am I the only one that doesn’t get it? Because when I think of the sparkle in life, it comes in liquid form and its name is wine. Even on days like today when my mood is bright and I’m feeling sure and secure in my decision to remove booze from my life, I still think of alcohol as adding that extra bit of joy, that sparkly sheen to an otherwise dull end of the day. I mean, that is why normal drinkers drink right? Because it winds you down quick, it makes you giggly and happy and relaxed. Well, the first drink does at least.

It’s been more than three months since my last drink so I could well be getting nostalgic about my drinking days and letting rose tinted glasses cloud my judgement but I don’t think so… :/ In my crashing on take-off post, I had managed a few weeks of sobriety, so I was becoming a lot more self aware. I wrote that post as a reminder to myself of what happens if you buy into the romantic notion of “having a couple of sparkly glasses of bubbly”. My day quickly became decidedly unsparkly, and had a filthy hangover to ruin my Saturday the following day. But even though the night turned to shit, I still wrote that “a little bubble of pure joy bubbled up inside me – lovely” when talking about that first glass.

And that is what I mean when I say I don’t get how life is “sparkly” when you take the alcohol away. Sure, you’re removing the horrifying unsparkly side effects of drinking when you remove booze from your life – that’s kinda the point – but you’re also removing all the sparkle and joy that the first glass of wine brings you, so it just leaves life a bit dull.

I loved the emotional rollercoaster wine would take me on each night. It both numbed my emotions and heightened them. I’d be crying at docos on telly one minute and in fits of laughter at my own ‘witty’ texts to friends the next. Wine numbed out guilt and anxiety, but wreaked havoc with other emotions and I loved that the first glass could bring me happiness immediately and would do so without fail every single time.

Of course, I couldn’t stop after one. I wanted to maintain those happy first glass feelings, so I’d have another five glasses, sinking deeper and deeper into a slurry drunken mess enjoying the rollercoaster. I remained oblivious as my reactions to everything and everyone around me would get more ridiculous as the night wore on. I was beating my body up every single day (rinsing bottle after bottle through my poor liver), pouring money down my throat, wasting weekends in a darkened room nursing a hangover and just generally wasting away my life being drunk.

At some point, and I’m talking years ago, I began to pay attention to the fact that there were negative side effects to drinking. That’s when things got scary because it began to dawn on me that I was going to continue drinking despite knowing it was bad for me. So of course I washed the worry away with a big old glug of wine (and a few tequila shots for good measure). Even though I could quash the fear by ignoring it, the fact that I wasn’t in control chipped away at my self-respect. It got really scary when I finally put effort into stopping, but I couldn’t, so I just kept going…and going.

Until last year when to my amazement I decided to give quitting a proper serious go and no-one is more shocked than me that I’m still going. But that’s the thing, I don’t feel like I’m ‘going strong‘, I’m just ‘going’, just stringing a bunch of days being sober together, which like I said right from the beginning is not how I wanted to live my life. I don’t feel like my life is ‘sparkly’. It’s certainly better in a lot of ways – I’m spending money more wisely, my health has surely improved, I began to regain self-respect I wasn’t aware I’d lost. There are definitely benefits, but they are all a bit dull, and it still feels like there’s always going to be a trade-off. I don’t get to use alcohol to lower my inhibitions in awkward social settings and I don’t get to have a sure-fire, fast-acting way to wind down at the end of a hard day.

Obviously stopping drinking was the right thing to do. It was the grown-up, responsible choice to make because when you weigh up the pros and cons of drinking, the cons far outweigh the pros. But the benefits of quitting drinking haven’t added ‘sparkle to my life’. On the contrary, my life has got a hell of a lot more dull since giving up the wine and I’m not sure where I’m meant to find the sparkle in life now that I can’t find it at the bottom of a wine glass.

 

 

More thoughts on sober socialising…

Aaaand I’m back into an easy phase of sobriety. It’s such a relief to have easy spells after a period of feeling down in the dumps about it all. In saying that, over the past week I’ve dipped my toe into socialising at boozy events a few more times and it’s left me feeling a bit beat up. My cousin was visiting from the UK so I felt the need to make an effort and arrange some outings while he was here.

A whole lot of family came down to Wellington to catch up over dinner and we went out for Mexican. My family aren’t raging party animals, but they can put a fair few drinks away, so there were margaritas and coronas flowing around the table. My family have actually been amazingly good with the non-drinking. They’ve asked a few questions, but nothing too nosey and have mainly just ignored the fact (other than offering me orange juice when all the girls were having afternoon mimosas the other day). To be honest, I always work it up much more in my own head and no-one really cares one bit. It didn’t really bother me that I wasn’t drinking the night of the Mexican dinner. The bartender made me some delicious gingerbread lime thing and it was all fine. Afterwards we went to a craft beer bar and sat on the rooftop terrace. Everyone had sangria except me and my aunty who opted to drink gingerbeer with me because she didn’t want to cop a hangover the next day.

I didn’t feel like an outsider and it was easy enough not to drink, but as the night wore on I got really really tired as everyone got merrier. I drove half of them there, so I didn’t want to cut the night short seeing as everyone was there to see my cousin. Socialising sober just got more and more grating as the night went on and my nerves felt frayed by the end. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to dance the night away without alcohol in my system. I also felt a bit boring. It was a real effort to keep conversation flowing like the others were. It wasn’t a bad night, but it was a little dull and I felt raw and tired.

A couple of nights later there was a BBQ. I brought along my alcohol free wine and tried to fit in with everyone sitting on the deck bathed in the evening sunset. It was the perfect setting for a few wines and I was jealous of the drinkers because I couldn’t really relax. I was conscious of the fake grapey taste of my wine and just felt like a bit of a fraud. I can’t wait until that changes and I don’t think twice about what’s in my glass. I worry that these feelings will never change and I’ll always feel like I’m living some kind of sub-par life at these types of gatherings. The food was really good and there were lots of laughs around the table, but again, I got tired much earlier than everyone else. We sat for what felt like hours while some of them had a night cap of whiskey and I was practically falling asleep before we could leave (again, I was driving people home, so had to wait for them).

We also had a day out at the cricket, which was surprisingly fun. I had some pangs of jealousy when I smelt the beer being drunk around me. Not because I was jealous of the drunken revelry, but it just smelt refreshing while we sat there in the hot sun. I was never a beer drinker though, I liked the taste, but could barely finish one drink. At least I wasn’t falling asleep after the cricket. Maybe I need to stick to day time socialising and flag attempting to fit in at evening gatherings…

Once my cousin had left I just felt like I needed this weekend to recoup and nurse my frayed nerves. Today I spent the day at the beach for a friend’s birthday (I only went because it wasn’t an alcohol centric event!). I pretty much lay on my beach towel and read my book for a few hours, which was well called for after feeling battered and bruised by this week’s sober socialising. There were a few people I didn’t know there and I noticed that it felt weird making conversation with strangers without alcohol in my system. I actually can’t remember the last time I would have talked to random people at a social event without a drink in my hand.

Eastbourne
My view for the afternoon

I’m halfway through the socialising episode of ‘home’ podcast and it sounds like Holly and Laura’s social lives changed drastically after they’d been sober a while, so I wonder whether mine will too. I wonder whether it’ll be a natural progression or whether it’s something I need to take steps to change. There’s so much that I can’t see changing, like the fact my family have a drink for every occasion – I can’t just pick a new family, so I’m always going to be around these type of events. And work do’s are always entirely alcohol centric too. Perhaps it’s just a matter of introducing new types of social events into my life 🙂

Exercise for Beginners

Yesterday was a public holiday and I found myself with cancelled plans, sitting alone in my lounge feeling blue and bored and lonely. The sun was beating down outside and most kiwis would have been at the beach, but I was feeling mopey and didn’t feel up to interacting with strangers, so I didn’t really want to leave the house. I can get a bit agoraphobic when I’m down, which is a vicious cycle because sitting around doing nothing just adds fuel to the mopey fire.

Drunk me would have just fixed this problem with plans to get sloshed during the evening, but now that I’ve decided to remove that option I need to find other ways to rebalance the happy scales. The screamingly obvious solution to this problem is exercise, but I’ve been putting more effort into avoiding exercise than actually doing it lately. I think that comes down to a combination of fear of how horrible exercise feels because I’m seriously unfit, and not feeling up to facing the world.

But yesterday I couldn’t really dodge the exercise any longer. Bored and alone, I was thinking how sad and little my life had been when it revolved around alcohol and I realised that not a whole lot has changed since I removed the booze. My greatest achievement since cutting out alcohol is that I now remove my make-up each night. I was thinking my myself how fucking ridiculous it was that I was sitting indoors while everyone else went on living their lives outside in the sunshine, so I hauled my arse off the couch and went for a walk up Mount Vic., which is a massive hill behind my house.

It certainly wasn’t the highlight of my weekend. I puffed my way up and down paths all over the hill for two hours, my face was red and pouring with sweat in the heat. My iPod died (I think it drowned in a sweat bath because I’d shoved it down my bra), my knickers got sucked up my bum and rubbed my bikini line raw, and my nose ran. It wasn’t an attractive sight.

I kind of expected it to be liberating. I thought I’d be able to push myself hard and work out all the anger and sadness through exercise, but those feelings didn’t really disappear. (Maybe I have to upgrade to running.) I had a little cry about how lonely I was feeling while sat on a bench at the top. Not lonely in the sense that my life is devoid of human contact, but lonely in the sense that no-one in my life understands exactly what it feels like to have a drinking problem. Of course there’s all you wonderful people out there in the blogosphere, but it’s not the same as having a real-life connection with someone that just gets it. I thought about going along to an AA meeting just to connect with other humans, but the thought of it ironically made my mind jump straight to having a drink for dutch courage because I’d be so nervous to go along, so that idea was quickly scrapped.

The exercise did make me feel a little better. There were definitely endorphins and a sense of accomplishment, but I guess I was expecting a bit of a miracle cure. Once I got home I did a little 20 minute yoga for beginners routine in front of the telly to give that a go too, which was ok. I was interrupted by my boyfriend getting in from a 90km bike ride (way to put my hill walk to shame), so it wasn’t exactly relaxing, but I liked the stretchiness of it. I got a little dizzy from the upside down parts, so I don’t think I’ll ever get to the expert ‘flip yourself on your head’ level, but I’ll still keep at it. I’ve got a long way to go.

PAWS & Sugar

I haven’t blogged much recently because there’s not a hell of a lot to report on. Sober life is up and down, but generally below average. All I’m really focussing on is clocking up the sober days and getting some sober time under my belt so my brain can do some healing/get some re-wiring time in.

I’ve read up a bit on PAWS, which explains the mood swings lately, but I’m not sure it explains the bat-shit crazy spikes in anger that come out of nowhere. My poor partner cops the brunt of it and I know I should feel bad for taking it out on him, but I don’t really feel guilty about it (am I a terrible person?). Probably because he’s not the one coping with a major life upheaval right now. And besides, if you eat the last of my tub of ice-cream you deserve to be stabbed. With a machete.

I’ve been trying to keep on learning about addiction in general and working my way through a few podcasts on the commute to work each day this week. It’s pretty interesting stuff. I’m waiting on a copy of Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind from a friend of mine that’s quitting drinking for health reasons. After hearing her interviews on Home podcast and HAMS podcast, I’m really keen to get reading. I also listened to the Bubble Hour‘s podcast on PAWS, which mentioned the importance of nutrition in relation to managing PAWS symptoms.

Which brings me to my crazy sugar intake recently (see machete/ice-cream point above). Before I quit drinking, I didn’t have a sweet tooth AT ALL. Since I’ve quit drinking, I’ve grown a whole new set of sweet teeth! I really ramped up my intake around Christmas time and it hasn’t really petered out by itself. I read somewhere that if you get to month 4 and you’re still guzzling the candy it’s time to address that problem. So I’m trying to be mindful of my sugar intake, but it’s tricky when you’ve managed to squirrel away stocks of chocolate everywhere from the fridge, pantry, spare pantry, desk drawers at work, bedside drawers, handbag, car… the list goes on. Yeah, I can’t even remember a time when I skipped dessert and went straight for the cheese course.

The good news is, I’m not piling on the pounds (it helps that I’m not pouring all that calorific wine down my throat), but I’m also not losing any either. I really ideally need to replace my unhealthy relationship with sugar with a healthy new relationship with exercise. Easier said than done.