Counselling

Still here, still sober. Halfway through month eleven now. I haven’t posted in a while because any “self-reflection” energy I’ve had has been going into counselling.

When I signed up for counselling I explained that I wanted to talk about my drinking problem and mentioned that I might need to speak to an addiction counsellor specifically. But the counsellor I was matched with doesn’t have any background in dealing with addiction whatsoever so she basically just listens and can’t make any comment when I ask questions because she doesn’t know the answer. She’s really lovely, but it’s a bit frustrating seeing as I wanted some actual academic answers to stuff.

Instead we’ve been getting into the social anxiety/shyness issues I have, and talking about my “overactive inner critic”. I know I have quite a few traits that are typical of people with drinking problems – an all-or-nothing personality, a streak of perfectionism and an out of proportion fear of failure – so it’s good to dig into that stuff a bit. It was nice to hear that she reckons it’s all very fixable stuff, but after a few sessions I was none the wiser as to how I am meant to fix this stuff. “Getting conscious” of being self-critical was the first step, but I don’t really know what’s meant to happen after that…

After the first four sessions I decided not to continue because it seemed really expensive for what I was getting out of it, but she suggested a group counselling option, which my work would cover the cost of. So far I’ve been to one session and it was about as bad as you could expect a group counselling session to be. Here are a bunch of reasons it sucks:

  1. Sitting in a room full of strangers talking about all the embarrassing aspects of your personality, explaining that I could barely breathe due to anxiety and just feeling extremely vulnerable. Pure hell.
  2. As people in the room share their issues, the counsellors who are running the session try to involve other people by saying things like “Bob, how do you feel about what John has shared?” And poor Bob has to tell John that he empathises with him because he doesn’t get on with his in-laws (or whatever the issue is). It couldn’t be any clearer that Bob doesn’t feel any way in particular about John’s life problems and it’s equally clear that John feels incredibly awkward about forcing an opinion out Bob. Poor Bob, poor John, poor me.
  3. No one knows I don’t drink. My counsellor didn’t think I should bring it up because it’s a ‘side issue’. People keep mentioning how difficult the sessions are and joking that we all need to go to the pub. I predict that by session three everyone will be hitting the pub afterwards. That’ll be a fun one to navigate.
  4. The sessions run for two and a half hours. They feel like they go on for six and a half.
  5. I’ve already cried in front of a room of people. Dead embarrassing, but I may as well get used to it because my face leaks tears the entire duration of every counselling session I’ve been to. Now that I’m doing group counselling, it means I get to cry in front of 15 strangers instead of just one.
  6. I wasn’t told that the sessions would also include “psycho-drama”. Apparently this is where you get up in front of the group and act out your issues and then explore ways to deal with the issue by acting out different solutions and seeing how they make you feel. Acting. In front of people. Need I say more?
  7. There are EIGHT weekly sessions plus a weekend workshop. This hell isn’t going to end anytime soon.
  8. I can’t just stop going because my work have paid and the counsellors will surely tell my work that I’ve stopped showing up and I’ll get in trouble for wasting a lot of money.

I know this list makes it sound like I’m not really trying to be open to what group counselling has to offer. I did go in with a really open mind for the first session and after finding the experience seriously un-enjoyable I think I’ve made up my mind that it’s just going to be torture from here on in.

In drinking news, absolutely no desire or cravings to drink except a lot of anxiety in social settings when I’m around other people drinking, which I’m mainly avoiding at the moment. Still completely undecided about whether I want to attempt moderating at some stage, but I think having it there as an option makes me feel a lot more chilled out and happy to not be drinking today/this week/this month. I really wanted to discuss this stuff with a counsellor who knows what they’re talking about, but as I mentioned she hasn’t really been able to help me out there, so I might have to keep shopping around.

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Four good things

Month eight has been a cracking month so far!

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks because I haven’t felt the need. It’s a bit like the training wheels have fallen off and I just don’t need that support that I used to. Sober Mummy wrote about sober props recently and I agree – it’s a good measure of how well you’re doing when you notice the props falling away.

I thought it was about time to do up a list of things I’m grateful for right now, so here’s four good things…

1.) Trip to Queenstown

I’ve had crap holidays and good holidays sober, and this was a good one. The weekend pretty much centred around food. (I think that’s the key to a good sober holiday!)

This photo was taken on our last morning there. We had an early flight so I got up early and went to the bakery for breakfast at dawn. There wasn’t a soul around. I love that time of the morning when it feels like the world is all yours. If only I didn’t love sleep so much, I could enjoy my hangover free mornings more!

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2.) The alcohol shaped hole is filling in

One of my biggest fears when I decided to cut out the booze was that I was in a lose-lose situation. I thought my life was going to be miserable while drinking and miserable without. I could see that the drinking was causing a little path of destruction through my life, so I wanted to remove it, but I didn’t want it to leave a gaping painful hole behind. I didn’t want to drink and I didn’t want to stop. Basically I didn’t want my addiction.

The first six months were definitely patched with misery. I tried really hard not to feel like I was missing out, or feel like I was denying myself something I wanted, but sometimes you just can’t change how you feel no matter how much mind power you use! What I really needed was mind power + time. I just had a marinate in shitty feelings for a while until they sorted themselves out and I began to feel better.

These days (for the most part) I have what I wished for. I live my life with booze removed and no gaping hole. I’ve read a lot of advice that says you have to find something to fill that gaping hole. Often it’s running, or yoga or AA meetings, but for me I’m not too sure what it is… I think I’m just getting on with life and the lack of boozing is becoming less of a presence.

3.) Sober treats

I’ve found a new pit to pour money into that isn’t the booze aisle of the supermarket!

A couple of weeks ago I spent my Friday night at the Bobbi Brown counter. The women there are super down to earth and genuinely keen to make sure you’re happy. While my friends had a few pre-dinner drinks, I went off to get my make-up done, before meeting up with them later for dinner.

Skipping drinks was a genius idea and I’d make it a weekly ritual if it wouldn’t bankrupt me. Perched on my chair, sipping my sparkling water and being pampered, I felt like I was getting a much better deal than my boozy mates. Dinner later on was less alcohol-centric, so I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. I’d definitely recommend doing this to stamp out any lingering feelings of FOMO. The counter will do your skincare/make-up for a set cost of around $100, but they’ll shave $100 off the cost of any product you buy.

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4.) This quote from Brené Brown

I don’t usually go in for this quotey shit – it’s all a bit lala when I’m all for practical advice. But this quote resonated with me for some reason:

“You can choose courage or comfort, but you cannot have both”

It was shared on Laura McKowen’s facebook page and I guess I was in a reflective mood when I read it. I think it really sums up sobriety (especially early sobriety). Sobriety has been extremely uncomfortable at times (to the point where I felt like I would 100% absolutely die if I didn’t drink), but I just had to recognise that my body/mind was simply intensely uncomfortable without the comfort of alcohol. It takes a lot of courage to sit with the discomfort and have faith that it becomes much more comfortable the more practice you get.

Brene Brown

Six Good Things

I like to think that I’m a ‘glass half full’ kinda gal most of the time. I’m a big believer in the power of positive attitude and I try to find a silver lining to any shitty situation. But I’d be lying if I said that sobriety has been a walk in the park so far – sometimes you just can’t force happiness and sometimes you’ve just got to have a big fat whinge.

Lately though, my brain chemicals seem to be falling into line and I’ve been feeling better, feeling steadier. I don’t want to jinx anything, but it feels like optimism is tentatively creeping back into my life. It’s becoming easier to spot the positives, so here’s six good things from me:

  1. I’ve finally started telling people “I don’t drink”. None of this “I’m trying to be healthier” nonsense anymore. People ask “why?” and I tell them the truth (in varying degrees of detail). It just fell out of my mouth one day and i haven’t looked back since. To be clear, I’m not knocking people that choose to be vague, it certainly helped me to be vague to begin with, but these days I’m all for being straight up.
  2. I’m fascinated when I come across alcoholic characters in books or telly. I find myself rooting for them, they’re on my team. I loved how Trixie from Call the Midwife found an outlet in her aerobics classes in London’s East End during the 1950s, similar to how so many of us find yoga to be a huge help these days. And I found myself getting way too emotionally invested in Catherine’s sister Clare’s character from BBC’s Happy Valley.
  3. Coffee. Need I say more? This is an addiction to be dealt with another day.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
  4. Sober treats! I’ve been able to save more now that I’m not demolishing $100 worth of wine a week. Sometimes though, you’ve got to scrap the savings in favour of treating yo’self.Recently I bought this perfume. It’s a unisex scent that smells clean and powdery. I’ve heard it described as smelling like velvet, or the pages of a book. It smells different on everyone’s skin and I love it!

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  5. Ok, I think this one’s the best of the six. There’s been a big push at my work lately to promote diversity. I guess it’s the latest ‘thing’ in HR circles. There’s been all the expected stuff – trying to get a better male/female balance in top positions, making sure racism, homophobia and sexism are stamped out etc.But at our company’s latest fortnightly meeting a woman from the diversity working group stood up to talk about non-drinkers in the company. Everyone gets wine gifted to them on their birthday, and she explained that you could add yourself to a non-drinkers list and you’d get a gift card instead. I’m already on this list, but I thought it was cool that they are becoming more aware of non-drinkers’ needs, given the extreme boozing culture at my work (and in NZ in general).

    I’m also helping out with organising our mid-year work-do and we were given direction from the big boss to make sure it was less alcohol-centric than years before. It seems like the message is filtering through the company. Great news for me, maybe a bit of a bummer for the drinkers though.

  6. And finally, how good is it when you come across non-alcoholic drinks menus as good as these:Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

    This one’s from the Black Sparrow bar in Wellington. The apple snap was amazing and I’ll be trying to recreate at home. I’ll share if I’m successful!

The List: Where to from here?

Now that I’ve managed to string a bunch of sober weeks together, I have to say my momentum is slowing down. That’s not to say I’m anywhere near contemplating drinking again, but I am worried I’m not doing enough (aside from refraining from drinking).

It’s really important to me that I reach a point where I’m not thinking about sobriety sixty-four-thousand times a day. I want to reach a stage where I don’t crave wine with food, I don’t feel left out when others are drinking, a point where a simple “no thanks, I don’t drink” trips off the tongue and I don’t think twice about the fact that I live without alcohol in my life. I want my sober status to eventually be comfortable (perhaps even bring happiness) and for it to become normal to me. That’s the ultimate goal and from what I’ve read it’s entirely possible. The last thing I’d want is for my progress to come to a standstill and to be left wallowing in discomfort (because I’d say discomfort is an accurate description of where I’m at currently).

The problem is, I’m not sure how I make that leap from where I’m at now to where I want to get to. I’ve read that it’s important to keep on moving, keep making progress, keep making changes, keep trying new things and those actions (plus a looooong string of sober days) will eventually land me where I want to be. So I’ve put together a loose list of action points for 2016:

  • Bust some illusions – I still have terrible habits of romanticising wine. A common trend I’ve noticed among long term ex-drinkers is that they did a lot of work on busting the illusion that alcohol adds anything to their lives, which I imagine contributes greatly to cutting down on fomo. Books to read include: Allan Carr, Jason Vale, Annie Grace.
  • Fix my broken self – This is a biggy and I have no idea where to start. There must be some underlying reason that I chose to drink – to numb the pain of life? – how dramatic! As I’ve read many times, you can’t just take the coping mechanism away and not do any work on the real root cause of the problem. But I’m a bit stuck as to what the cause of the problem is… I may need professional help on this one. That and Brené Brown.
  • Learn to relax – luckily I haven’t had any big dramas blow up in my face so far, but it’s only a matter of time until life throws a curve ball, so I need to start building new (healthy) coping mechanisms. People rave about yoga, so why not start there? I may as well throw in some meditation and go the whole hippy-hog.
  • Fill my time – The amount of time I spent quaffing wine in front of the telly was endless. Yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve ended up with hours of free time after quitting drinking. Most nights are still spent in front of the telly, but with a glass of sugary soda in hand instead. I’ve always been a bit of a ‘hobbyless’ person (always dreading the question “sooo what are your hobbies?”… “errr, I’m a wine connoisseur?”), so I want to find some constructive and productive uses for my time. So far, I have coloured some pages of an adult colouring book… Hobby suggestions welcome.
  • Get healthy – The vast quantities of sugar I’ve been subjecting my body to (see soda point above) cannot be healthy. I’ve also been noticing a bit of a blue feeling creeping up over the last few days of the Christmas break. Probably just a bit of cabin fever seeing as it was raining and I’ve been pretty unproductive. Normally I’d blast these blue feelings with a dose of alcohol, but I need to find new ways to fix my mood. The blaringly obvious solution is exercise. Bleh. I might start with something small like buying a fitbit and getting 10,000 steps in a day. Let’s not go crazy here.

Now I just need to drag my lazy arse into gear and start making this list a reality 🙂

The List: Taking Stock

Now that I’ve washed up on the other side of a taxing festive season and the rush and busyness of Christmas has died away, I’ve been plonked into 2016 with no grand plans, no immediate obstacles, just a vast expanse of sober time stretching out ahead of me and a bit of a sense of what now? I read some advice recently that said when you’re feeling at a bit of a loose end and a bit directionless, it’s a good time to write down what you’ve achieved so far and what your future goals are.

I’ve never been one to set resolutions at New Years – I think I’ve always been too much of a realist and knew I’d never stick to them, so didn’t bother. But the start of a fresh year seems to time perfectly with where I’m at and my need to take stock of what I’ve achieved so far and have a think about what I need to do next. (Plus, I have an obsession with list writing, so any excuse!)

Here’s what I consider my achievements so far:

  • I stopped drinking! (Obviously had to be number one.) I actually managed to stop the daily cycle – drinking to feel good/to help me sleep/to take away anxiety, waking up feeling guilty and ashamed, promising myself I wouldn’t drink again that night, doing a half-arsed job of getting myself ready for work, feeling sick, eating crap, feeling miserable. Then, the afternoon spent feeling better, the internal argument cranking to life again ‘wine with dinner?’ – I still can’t believe that I pulled myself out of that cycle and gave myself enough distance to get any kind of grip or perspective on the situation.
  • I won battles. The first few weeks were spent still so tightly wound up in the grip of alcohol. This was a very wobbly time. There were points where I even decided I was going to drink again. But there was still a tiny little voice inside me, saying “win this battle, win this battle, win this battle.” The voice was so little, I can hardly believe I listened, but I’m grateful I did.
  • I worked through cravings. Meh, cravings are easy to deal with in comparison to doubt. But they are still a pain in the backside.
  • I resisted peer pressure. Surprisingly minimal amounts, but I’ve still dealt with a wee bit of it.
  • I started telling people that I’ve stopped drinking. I count this as an achievement because it’s been awkward as hell (so I want some credit for it haha), but I haven’t really managed to do a good job of it. I find myself wanting to compensate for their awkwardness when I tell them. I haven’t got my lines down-pat (I wish I’d worked more on exactly what I planned to say like all the advice told me to!)

    NYE Cheese & Mocktails
    NY Eve : avoided human interaction in favour of cheese & mocktails
  • I got through testing times. I stayed sober through big work parties, boozy dinners, Christmas and New Years. All achieved through a combination of planning, support (thanks to everyone that has given me advice and propped me up), dogged determination, avoidance, and a fuck load of sugar and cheese.
  • I maintained optimism. I’m not really seeing any of the expected positive side effects (weight loss, glowing skin, better sleep, more free time), but I don’t really care because there have been unexpected positive side effects instead. Mainly, the restoration of some self respect. But I’m also less anxious, my nails are better (random), I don’t have to worry about drunk driving and I can buy sober treats.

I did not expect that list to be so long, so I might draw a line under this post and have a good think about where to from here for 2016. After writing this list of achievements, I think the first point on my next one will be ‘don’t get too cocky!’ 🙂

 

The List: The Sequel

Currently I’m loving this headspace I’m in. I feel steady and certain that I’m making the right choice for myself, but I’m also quite fearful of the sense of doubt returning and rocking the boat.

For the first few weeks after clearing the booze out of my life, questions raged away in my mind – the main one being “was I really that bad? Plenty of people drink wine with dinner every night”. And it is difficult, knowing that I never reached that classic ‘rock bottom’ losing my job, house, kids, living in the gutter. I don’t think I would have ever got to that point realistically, but I certainly wasn’t heading in a positive direction!

Last night I was thinking about what sets me apart from those people that have a healthy relationship with booze and I started making a list of things I did to appease the alcohol fanatic living inside of me. This list is in no way exhaustive (I had to cut it off before I died of shame), and I certainly had phases where my drinking was worse than other times, but it gives me a list to refer back to when I ask myself that question – ‘was I really that bad?’

  1. Most recently: drank during the morning, on my own and in secret. This was a huge red flag for me because this was something I’d always used to distinguish myself from ‘real alcoholics’. What’s worse was that it was vodka (hate the stuff) and the last of a flat bottle of coke (hate the stuff), which tasted terrible because the ratio of vodka to coke was too high, so I put icecream in it to disguise the taste. I sat there in my PJs, watching Saturday morning telly, drinking a kids drink spiked with vodka and all because I was feeling very blue and very bored and I knew the booze would be a quick fix. Oh, the shame.
  2. Got shitty last Christmas because my mum had told me she’d massively over-catered on booze, but then we ran out. I was mainly shitty at myself for not having a plan B and bringing extra. Present booze hag got mad at past booze hag for not looking after future booze hag.
  3. Pre-loaded with a couple of wines before many an event because I knew it would take too long (i.e. 10 minutes or more) for the booze to start flowing once I arrived.
  4. Bought an extra packet of baking powder. One for baking and the other because I knew I’d need it to get inevitable red wine stains out of the carpet.
  5. Got rip-roaring drunk the night before many of my uni exams because I ‘needed to calm my nerves and make sure I got a good night’s sleep the night before‘. One day I had a morning exam and an afternoon one. I was still drunk in the morning exam and spent the lunch break between them vomiting in the toilets. What the fuck was I thinking!?!?
  6. Drunk my flatmate’s wine while she was away because I’d run out. Then realised it was really fucking expensive wine when buying her a replacement bottle the next day. Actually, I’ve had to buy lots of replacement bottles for flatmates over the years.
  7. House-sat for my parents, drank their gin and then had to replace the outlandishly expensive bottle before they got back. Why does everyone have such expensive taste!?
  8. Always offered to put together the G&Ts at family events so I could make sure mine had more gin in it.
  9. Attempted ‘Dry July’ and told everyone I’d done it, but really I caved a few days before the end and drank a bottle of wine in my bedroom. My flatmates and boyfriend at the time were none the wiser.
  10. Late one night decided I needed something to eat because I was too drunk, but didn’t want to wake the house, so took a loaf of bread and serrated knife into my bedroom and used my bed as a chopping board. I woke up to find that I’d sliced through the bedsheets and woolrest.

This type of stuff happened over several years and wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I did go through phases where my drinking was far more insatiable than other times, but that is still some decidedly freakish behaviour! Especially for someone who thinks ‘was I really that bad? I only had wine with dinner’!!!

Argh this post is so cringey! I’m going to run off and hide under my covers and die of guilt and shame now.

The List

Lately I’ve been coming around to the conclusion that I need to remove alcohol
from my life. Lots of the blogs and sobriety sites I’ve been reading have
suggested writing yourself a list of your reasons to stop drinking – the idea
being that you can look back on it when the going gets tough and your
willpower’s waning.

So here are my reasons for stopping:

1.) The daily tug of war goes away. The decision has been made already and you
don’t have to face the tiring internal ‘battle of wills’ as you wind your way
through the supermarket towards the booze section.

2.) The never-ending vicious circle of guilt goes away. Waking up every morning feeling yucky and guilty and sincerely thinking ‘today I won’t drink’, only for the hangover to fade and the cravings to take over.

3.) No more hangovers. The aches, the tiredness, the retching in the shower while trying to get ready for work. Spending entire mornings craving water, junkfood, sleep, while everyone else carries on, making progress, achieving goals.

4.) Vanity reason #1 No more dry skin and chapped lips, i.e. more lipstick options.

5.) Vanity reason #2 I’ll remember to take off my makeup and clean my teeth every evening. (That one may come under basic hygiene rather than vanity.)

6.) Vanity reason #3 The rapid process of aging before your time will come to a halt. I’ll still age, but gracefully as opposed to rapidly.

7.) More money to spend on face creams and handbags.

8.) I won’t embarass myself by saying horrible things I don’t mean while pissed. Even if I’m dull while out socially, at least I won’t be a rude loudmouth drunk.

9.) Alcoholism is progressive. If I don’t stop now, it’s only going to be harder down the track. I am lucky I only have to get through dinner without wine. If I don’t stop while I’m young I’ll end up a 40 year old that can’t get through my cornflakes without vodka.

10.) I would have liked to achieve more over the past 5 years than I have. When the focus of every day is wine o’clock, it doesn’t leave much room for progress in other areas of your life.

11.) Vanity reason #4 weight loss! I will hopefully begin to look less roly poly after removing 600+ calories from my daily intake.

12.) I love a bit of competition, so there will be satisfaction in succeeding over something that controls me.