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!

    Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

  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!

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Multichoice

My partner is away for work for the next couple of days and this is the first time I’ve had the house to myself in the past six months. I had completely forgotten that he was going away and was only reminded a couple of days ago.

Can anyone guess the first thought that went through my head when I found out this news? There’s a virtual chocolate fish up for grabs if you can guess. Was my first thought:

a) House to myself? How boring, I’ll invite friends over for dinner.

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b) Great, I’ll be able to cook whatever I like, watch whatever I want on telly and have a bath.

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c) Ooo goodo, I’ll be able to pour a couple of bottles of wine down my throat in the privacy of my own home and no-one will be any the wiser.

 

Sigh. The wino living in the back room of my brain is alive and kicking.

Maybe the porkies aren’t porkies

Back in my fledgling days of getting sober I remember asking the Living Sober community whether the arguments going on inside my head would ever shut up, or whether people just learnt to live with them over time. All the long-term ex-drinkers agreed that the internal back and forth dialogue would definitely fade away over time, hopefully before the 200 day mark. While that seemed like a ridiculously long way away, it reassured me that I was heading in the right direction.

I was beginning to think these ladies had spun me a yarn because I’m into my sixth month and the internal arguments seem to have been ramping up lately, not dying down. But then, this week, absolute peace. Pure blissful peace. That’s not to say that things have been 100% peachy. I’ve still been feeling stressed by work, I’m still grumpy when the toilet seat gets left up and I still have an unquashable sugar addiction. But all of these things have felt far more manageable and far less life-ruining than the week before. There’s no arguing or bargaining going on in my head. The need to drink is there, but it’s just a faint itch and extremely easy to use logical thought to put an end to.

I can’t put my finger on what’s caused the lift in my mood. Probably not my crappy diet – skipping meals and eating crap (plus the aforementioned thriving sugar habit). It possibly has something to do with getting to know my needs a bit better lately and putting less stress on myself to conform to other people’s expectations. Last weekend I skipped a birthday at a bar in favour of a low key night at the movies with my sister. My introverted self sang with joy.

I know well enough that this doesn’t mean sobriety’s ‘clicked’ for me and I’ll dance off into the sunset to live happily ever after. If past patterns are anything to go by, this peacefulness will be gone again soon enough, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Hopefully one day these patches of calm and ease will begin to string together until they form one big patch (a bit like how I hope all my freckles will one day join together to create a tan!).

I’m also extremely lucky that I have a very chilled out life at the moment. I don’t have kids to look after and I can generally leave the stresses of my job behind at the end of a day. That does make me worry that a bunch of stressful events might just blindside me someday and I won’t be prepped to deal with the pressure, so I’ll reach for the bottle. But I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I’m  feel like I’m finally starting to settle into this sober life. For so long I really struggled to believe that it was possible to be happy sober. I secretly thought that everyone was telling porkies when they said that “things will get better”, but now I’m beginning to feel like sober happiness is more realistic than I believed.

Picante Pineapple

This mocktail is the perfect accompaniment to any Mexican inspired fiesta.

This came from a recipe from Living Sober’s Drink of the Week section. I like my flavours big and bold though, so I’ve dialled up the chili and it packs a bit more of a punch.

For a couple of drinks, you’ll need:

  • 500mLs pineapple juice
  • 1 medium jalapeno
  • Juice of 1 lime

Slice up the jalapeno and give it a good bash in a mortar and pestle (or with a rolling pin), before adding to a cocktail shaker.

Add the pineapple and lime juice, and a handful or two of ice.

Shake until icy cold and strain into glasses. Make sure you strain out any chili seeds.

Garnish with jalapeno and lime slices.

Fresh, spicy, icy, firey goodness. Perfect with a big bowl of guac!

Every Cloud

Re-reading my post about my shitty weekend has made me determined to salvage something from the wreckage. There’s always (alwaysalwaysalways) a positive to be found in any mess.

I’m gutted that I allowed myself to get to the point where I was prepared to drink (there should be a minimum of 16 obstacles between me and a glass of wine at all times!), but there’s not much sense in dwelling on the negatives or hating myself for it. I just need to learn from it and put more effort into strategies to eject myself from that spiral of panicky thoughts that led me to that point. I need to be able to recognise that my thoughts are heading south and put a stop to them before I reach the point of no return.

So I guess my first positive to be found is that I didn’t actually reach the point of ‘no return’. I didn’t get to the ‘fuck-it point and just order a glass of wine. On the surface I thought that was because I couldn’t bear being on the end of disapproving tutting from my boyfriend, but thinking back to a month or two ago (if I’d been in the same headspace I was in on the weekend) a bit of disapproving tutting wouldn’t have stood between me and a glass of pinot grigio!  I hope that means that I’m subconsciously becoming stronger in my sobriety.

I’m also gutted I didn’t make more of our time away, but I have my whole life to master sober travelling. In the meantime I need to get a better grasp of triggery situations. We went for a couple of evening walks, but next time I think I’ll just skip evening plans altogether – evenings weren’t a fun time on that holiday. Next time I need to have more morning plans – brunch will be mandatory every day. Evenings can be spent missing the sunset in favour of reading indoors (at least until sober holidaying comes more naturally).

Waiheke

Until we meet again holiday sunsets!

Waiheke sunset

Speaking of reading, if you like a good thriller, check out ‘The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair’. I have Annie Grace’s The Naked Mind on my reading pile, but quite frankly that’ll have to wait because finding out who the killer is in this book is more important than my sobriety right now! 🙂

Harry Quebert Affair

The other positive, that I failed to see at the time, is that this weekend was so abysmally shitty because it was in stark contrast with my day to day life. It’s helped me to realise that these horrible yucky panicky feelings don’t exist in my day to day life anymore. It’s probably because I’ve had a tonne of practice spending weeknights being sober and productive, and it’s going to take a bit longer to clock up a lot of practice sober holidaying… I guess the weekend just put things in perspective a bit and has shown me how far I’ve come since the horrors of my first month sober.

Day to day sober life sucks significantly less these days. Holidays I will need to work on 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

First sober weekend away

Urgh. Overall I had a horrible time. The words “I’m living in hell right now” went through my brain several times over the weekend. I didn’t plan properly, I didn’t put enough effort into having a good attitude, I let woe-is-me thoughts get the better of me, and I tried to get drunk on non-alcoholic drinks (…sigh).

Our first night in Auckland we were supposed to go to the Noel Gallagher concert, but it was cancelled (to my relief – I don’t even know who he is…). But I’d psyched myself up for an evening in a concert venue and was focused on having a good attitude for the night, so I was a bit thrown when our plans changed. That’s something I loathe about myself – my lack of resilience. This weekend really made me realise how much of a frustratingly sensitive bloody introvert I am. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than travelling, but all the crowds and transport stress really get to me.

I was already on edge from the travel when we arrived, but it got worse when we started trawling the waterfront for somewhere to have dinner. Music was blaring and everyone was celebrating the long weekend with drinks everywhere I looked. I felt completely overwhelmed to the point where I was on the verge of crying. I told my partner that I couldn’t cope with the party atmosphere, so it took us forever to find a place I could handle being in. He was good about it, but I could tell it pissed him off. I felt like shit because it was his birthday and all I could focus on was making sure I was comfortable.

We ended up at a Thai place with soft lighting and low music and he had wine and it was fine, but I just felt like I was acting like a little old lady, when I’m mid-twenties and should have been down on the waterfront having a good time with all the other people in their mid-twenties. I realise how stupid that is. I was in an environment where I felt most comfortable and yet I wanted to be in the environment that I needed alcohol to cope with. FOMO is a ridiculous, yet powerful force.

On Friday we went across to Waiheke Island and I made some attempt (not enough of one) to go in with an open mind and a good attitude. I tried to visualise all the relaxing I’d spend the weekend doing. The pace of life on the Island was great. It was really chilled out and super friendly. But my good attitude was pretty weak and crumbled more and more as the weekend went on.

My mood got lower and lower and my stress levels increased over the next couple of days. I felt like I should be doing more. We’d come all that way and all I wanted to do was lie on the bed and read my book. Going out was stressful. The restaurants were full of people having a good time with lunchtime beers and I was still stuck in my mindset that holidaying should involve lunchtime drinking. The more on edge I became, the worse I felt because I was ruining our weekend being a stresshead over nothing.

I came very close to a ‘fuck-it’ moment in the restaurant. I was on the verge of tears over absolutely nothing. The food the whole weekend was absolute shite. Greasy and heavy and stupidly overpriced. I was completely unpleasant to be around and felt like I was ruining the weekend. I kept thinking to myself “I should just order a glass of wine”. I thought about the edge it would take off and how much better company I would be if I could just chill out a bit. By this point my mind was in overdrive, I was completely overwhelmed by the situation and totally prepared to drink. But in the end I just couldn’t face the disapproval I’d cop from my boyfriend. If I’d been away on a work trip or around people that didn’t know me so well I most definitely would have caved.

Instead I tried to get drunk on the sly. I knew bitters was 40% alcohol, so I ordered a lemon, lime and bitters, planning to continue drinking them in the hopes that if I drank enough it would take the edge off. They were full of ice and freezing cold leaving me with a headache, and by the end of my second glass I’d had enough. It dawned on me that wine was generally around 13% and I would need at least half a glass of that to feel any relief, so a few drops of bitters was not going to do the trick.

That dinner really was a living hell. My desperation to drink was battling away with my better judgement like it was week one all over again. On the outside I just appeared as grumpy and sensitive, but on the inside I was thinking “this is what it feels like to go crazy – I’m actually going mad”. We left and I tried to talk to my partner about it a bit. Tried to apologise for my mood and he said that my moodiness was nothing compared to the nightmare I was when I was drinking, with mood swings going all over the place. That made me feel completely alone because there was just no way he could understand the battle raging away inside me. As far as the outside world is concerned I’m a better person sober, but internally it sometimes feels like all I’ve done is turned all that crazy madness inward where it’s intensified tenfold and I’m the only one that can see it or live with it.

It was a relief to get home. I got into PJs in the middle of the afternoon, got into bed and read my book, and just hid from the world. Maybe I’m destined to become a hermit.

Stressed out

Today is a bad day. My stress levels are through the roof and my fuse is alarmingly short. I don’t know whether it’s hormonal or financial stress or sobriety stress, but it’s turned me into a horrific bitch over the last couple of days and I’m taking it out on everyone around me.

Everything my boyfriend does is filling me with rage. Even the way he breathes is making me want to pick up something very heavy and expensive and hurl it across the room. The fantasies of putting my fist through some plasterboard are just fueling my anger even more and I’ve worked myself into an absolute state. I’ve tried calming myself down by scrubbing the whole house clean this morning, which, given my state of mind, just led to a whole lot of resentment that ‘I’m the only one that ever cleans around here’.

This afternoon we attempted to start making plans for going away next weekend (which was pretty ill-advised considering my anger seething below the surface). It ended up with me slamming my laptop shut and storming off to the bathroom to cry. Every travel page I looked at was peppered with recommendations of vineyards on the island. Our Airbnb accommodation pictures show glasses full of wine in lots of the shots and loads of the reviews of the place take the time to mention how conveniently close the local liquor store is. I must be more worried about this weekend than I realised because all these references to wine were really pushing my buttons.

I tried instead to strain my brain to picture all the things I’d be able to do sober. Early morning sunrises on the beach etc, but it all just feels so fake. I’m not a health nut that bounces out of bed at 5am to go running on the beach. (I’m the type of person who has seriously considered whether it’s worth having children because they’ll put an end to sleeping in.) I tried picturing mid-morning brunches and lazing around reading my book, which I think is a lot more likely, but the images all seemed so dull without wine.

I think I just really need to go and get the weekend over and done with and do my best to have fun, so that I can prove to myself it’s possible to have a good time with or without the wine. I’m not looking forward to it though, it just seems like an unnecessary expense that I can’t afford. God only knows how I used to afford to buy up to 10 bottles of wine a week when I was drinking. I have no idea where the money came from because these days money worries seem to be on my mind a lot.

When I was drinking every night there was no time to sit around and fret over whether I was saving enough for my retirement. I guess now that I’m not numbing out the realities of life, there is a lot more time to stress over stuff. Like the fact that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to afford to buy a house AND have kids AND travel. When I was drinking I guess I just assumed all this would fall magically into place. But now I’m beginning to realise that it’s never going to be a reality. And then of course the self hate talk starts up and I berate myself for doing a useless Geography degree that’s never going to get me anywhere and so on and so on.

Sometimes I get so tense over this stuff that I feel like a rubber band stretched to breaking point. And without wine these days there’s nowhere to escape to, so I just have to live in my head with all the stress going round and round and round until it erupts in a fit of rage at some poor soul that just happened to be in the line of fire. And on that note, I need to get to the supermarket for dinner stuff. I’m sure getting stuck behind idiots in the supermarket isles will work wonders for my rage issues 🙂

Holiday Hurdles

I’ve been going through a nice easy patch lately, which was a welcome relief after having such a noisy brain for a while.

When I go through these easy patches I tend to neglect my blog reading/podcast listening because everything is just so easy I don’t feel the need for these supports. It’s probably really dangerous to let go of these supports for days at a time, but it kinda feels good in a way. It’s hard work thinking about being sober all day long, so when I go through these phases that are a milder version of my pink cloud days it’s a relief to just bask in the ease of having no desire to drink.

In saying that, I do have some sober challenges heading my way because we’ve got two weekends away coming up. One to Waiheke Island, a.k.a New Zealand’s ‘island of wine’… great. Literally nothing to do there, but visit vineyards and hang out at the beach. And one to Queenstown, which is NZ’s adventure tourism capital. Little voices have been whispering away to me that perhaps drinking on holiday is just something ‘I’ll have to do’. My last trip in October to Italy/U.K./U.S. put an end to several weeks’ sobriety and I drank because I was worried about ruining the trip by being uptight and sober and was worried I would regret all the fun I was missing out on. In hindsight I don’t regret drinking on that trip at all because I had a really good time, but I also don’t know whether I would have had just as much fun sober as drunk because I didn’t bother to try.

This upcoming few days away I’m going to treat like a test run. I’ll give sober holidaying a crack and see whether I regret being sober the whole time. It’s getting really easy to remain sober in my day to day life, but it’s the big celebratory type events I really struggle with because I have feelings of FOMO when everyone around me seems to be having a grand old time while I sit there feeling raw and dull. I dream of the day that I can get through the whole day without the fact that I’m sober crossing my mind once.

I’m about to start reading Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind, which will hopefully help to bust some beliefs I’ve built up around alcohol (for e.g. that I need it to enjoy a holiday). I can’t help but feel as though this illusion busting stuff is just a matter of brainwashing yourself to feel better about the fact you’re missing out though!

Schadenfreude & Mudita

There’s a very peculiar side effect of sobriety that I’ve been noticing lately. It’s caught me unawares a few times now and I have to say it’s pretty unnerving stuff. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but lately I’ve been feeling happiness for others.

I’ve always been more of a schadenfreude kinda gal myself. I mean I was happy when others were happy, but only to a certain extent. Tall poppy syndrome was rife. As soon as those around me got too successful, too happy, or too much good fortune would land in their lap, the green eyed monster would come out to play. Put simply, I was a hater.

schadenfreude

I’d heard of schadenfreude on one of those ‘lists of words with no English equivalent’, but this morning (when I realised I was, yet again, feeling genuine happiness for another human being – WTF?), I had to go hunting for a word to describe the feeling. The only one that seemed to come close was ‘mudita’.

Mudita

These days when I hear of friends achievements my congratulations are genuine. I can see all the hard work they put into getting there and I’m proud of them instead of resentful. This morning I found out that my cousin had bought his first house, and my first reaction was pure unchecked excitement for him. Six months ago my reaction would have been far uglier.

I don’t really know whether it is a side effect of sobriety… maybe I just grew up a bit, but the timing seems to coincide with sobriety, so I’ll go with that. Perhaps it’s because I now feel like I’m on par with everyone else around me. Now I’ve taken the booze away, I have the same chance as everybody else to achieve those goals, so there’s no reason to feel resentment, only inspiration. Whatever the cause, I have to say it feels a lot more healthy not to go around every day begrudging others their happiness. And if that’s a side effect of sobriety then it’s a pretty remarkable one.

More on talking to strangers

In my last post I mentioned how we had guests staying that are friends of my partner’s. I was too chicken to broach the subject of my odd behaviour (aka non-drinking) because they were total strangers. I expected to cause mass discomfort all round if I explained that the reason I hadn’t been joining them on nights out all weekend was because I was freshly sober.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about at all. On Sunday afternoon I came home during the day to find that my boyfriend’s friend’s fiancé had stayed in while the boys went out (drinking again). We got past the polite chit chat point (is there anything worse than small talk? It’s a special kind of torture) and once we were talking more comfortably and honestly I mentioned that I was a non-drinker, and to my surprise it didn’t bring the conversation to a screeching halt. It wasn’t awkward in the slightest! In fact, she told me that her mum had always had a drinking problem and that she was worried about her fiancé’s drinking too. Apparently he’d got up that morning at 5am to watch the football and had drunk a six pack during the game!!! I had noticed that he drank a lot, but just thought that was because he was on holiday. Isn’t it amazing how many closet drinking problems there are all around us? Actually, maybe it’s not so surprising… no-one ever knew about my drinking other than my partner and close confidants.

 

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Last night was their last night staying with us so they took us out for a curry. Even though I’d warmed up to them quite a bit by then (I’m basically an icy bitch when I meet new people because I’m just so cripplingly shy), I still had a bit of social anxiety. That pressure to sit around a table for a couple of hours and keep the conversation flowing is not a challenge I relish. I longed for a couple of glasses of wine to calm my nerves (ha, a couple… we all know it would have turned into a bottle). But I’d listened to a podcast that day – the ‘relapse’ one on Home podcast – and they’d mentioned something about your brain rebuilding stronger pathways when you’re feeling a lot of discomfort, i.e. the more uncomfortable you are resisting the booze, the more progress you’re making retraining your brain. I may have totally misunderstood that part, but whatever, it had stuck with me, and imagining that I was making a lot of progress and building new brain connections by not drinking really helped.

It wasn’t a great night if I’m honest. My sense of awkwardness did fade, but still lingered for most of the evening. Conversation was an effort and probably would have been aided by a bit of booze. But I tried to think ‘big picture’ all evening. Maybe if I retrain my brain enough I’ll get to the point where I don’t feel the need for booze as a social crutch. I don’t think I’ll ever be a stunning conversationalist, but let’s be honest, I probably wasn’t one when I was drinking either – I probably just felt like one on the inside, while everyone on the outside saw a sloppy, loud mouthed drunk.