“Roy G Biv,” I told her, selecting the crayons out of the vast array of options.
“Roy G Biv?! What?!” she asked.
“The colors of the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet,” I rattled off the words, much to her amazement. It’s so easy impressing a 4 year old with your vast knowledge of the world.
I think of that conversation often when I see rainbows. Living in Hawaii, they were a daily occurrence. I love them as much as I love butterflies. I always seem to notice one when I really need it.
I opened the front door and this is what greeted me as long deployment days were looming in the not so distant future. He hadn’t left yet, but the daunting reality of his departure was sinking in as it always does.
It was in-your-face bright. “Look around. Notice me,” it screamed at full volume.
This was also when I was contemplating not drinking anymore.
I was recently asked why I thought I had to stop drinking. I had a hard time coming up with a definitive answer. It was either barrage the asker with a million reasons and thoughts about the subject, or simply say, “When I have one, I can very easily have twenty. I tend toward the ‘all or nothing’ personality type,” and leave it at that.
While the simple answer is accurate, there’s so much more to uncover with this whole process. This thing. This not drinking thing. This watching others not have a problem stopping at one thing. This noticing advertising and drinking culture everywhere thing.
Marketing is so damn effective. I’m kind of mad that I bought into it for so long, honestly. It’s not really funny anymore to me. It’s just kind of, sad. It’s a lie we all think is normal. And clever. And cute. It’s not.
Before you tell me I’m a killjoy and to just go off and be my sober self, I think it’s important to note a couple things.
1. Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of cancer. Seriously. How can I be a person who actively seeks out and promotes a healthy life, yet still consumes alcohol? It’s not smart, safe or logical.
2. Heavy drinking is on the rise for women. Why do you think that is? We all are very thirsty all of a sudden? No. It’s money, baby. Marketing dollars hard at work promoting this garbage. We are so much more susceptible to marketing than we realize. (I will edit to add; there are also other reasons drinking is on the rise for women. Direct marketing is just a piece of the issue. Over the last 50 years, more and more women earn their own money and are not dependent on a husband’s income. With earned income comes choice. Cultural norms have shifted around drinking. Increased stress in work and home life (for both men and women) was cited as an additional reason.)
I don’t want to have a life I need to escape from. If life is so busy, so hard, so awful that I have to drink just to numb out, is that really living? Do I want my kids overhearing me say, “GOSH. These kids are driving me to drink!” Like they are so burdensome that I simply must escape. Realizing this hit me hard. I love my kids. Like I really dig them as people. They are funny and creative and loud and wonderfully brilliant humans. Why do I want to escape from that on a regular basis? (Yes, raising kids is a hard job, yes, there are days we need parental time outs – but this is not what I’m talking about here.) I want to remember little things and big things. I don’t want blurred out hazy outlines and shadows cast over my memories of them growing up.
A bottom doesn’t necessarily mean I have to lose my marriage, my family, my house, live in my car and sleep on a park bench with a bottle in my hand. The image of the drunk who loses everything isn’t everyone. A bottom can simply be someone saying, “Enough.” This is enough of the bargaining, negotiating and justification. Enough of the “Will I drink today?” “Just one” “Today will be my day not to drink” mess of thoughts that ricochet around my brain. It’s enough of monitoring what other people are drinking and at what rate so as not to stand out. It’s enough looking at the clock to see if in fact it is 5 o’clock and rationalizing that I don’t have a problem if I slide that start time to 4:30. It is enough comparing my drinking to someone else’s. “At least it’s not that bad….” It. is. enough.
Alcohol is ethanol. Why don’t we treat it like any other drug? I’m not advocating a return to prohibition era, but when looked at for the substance that it is, alcohol is a poison. Be aware. Know what it is that you are consuming, just like any other food or drink. Let’s be honest instead of normalizing it. The human body sees alcohol as poison, and actively works to get it out.
That rainbow was the beginning of the end of my drinking career. It was the beginning of the noticing. The seeing with clear eyes, both physically and figuratively. The rain had fallen, but there were hints of some vibrant color in the not-so-distant future. Sometimes the universe whispers.
Other times it sends a huge rainbow to my front door.
I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to write about lately. Much of that comes from just being too busy, tired, in the midst of deployment, blah, whatever – to put forth the energy to make coherent sentences. I often identify with Solomon in Ecclesiastes…”there is nothing new under the sun” Ecc. 1:4-11 when it comes to writing, but just when I think ‘why should I bother, it’s all been written before anyway’ – I’m quickly reminded that I don’t write necessarily for others. If someone benefits from my experiences, that’s wonderful. I’m grateful to be a conduit of a message needed, but I don’t write for anyone but myself. It’s a release, a creativity, a hobby, a sorting of my thoughts, and a clarity-giver. Sometimes I just don’t know how I feel until it escapes my fingertips, flying across the keyboard faster than my mind can form the paragraph. While we’ve been getting through the blah days and the good days, walking the dogs, I’ve been reading and thinking. My niece wrote this post about her wellness journey, and all that it entails and it got my mind churning again. I’m also celebrating a milestone.
I have been sober for 6 months.
The thought of a glass of wine sometimes sounds so good. The delicious swirl flicking across my tongue, the warm flush as the alcohol enters my system. I daydream about it sometimes. Not often, but when I do, it’s vivid. I have become hyper-aware of both the overt and subtle marketing of alcohol to women. Across social media, you can easily see either a movie featuring a female lead drinking, or a funny meme with ‘mommy juice’ as the topic, and even fitness-themed posts such as beer-yoga and lifting the barbell, with a convenient bottle taped securely, one rep = one swig. Isn’t fitness grand?! A wry smile crosses my face, but I really don’t find them funny. I find them to be… normalizing. Normalizing behavior that really isn’t healthy, but I admit the marketing strategy is effective. Smoking was mainstream and normal once, too. They were and are marketing geniuses.
At the beginning of this sobriety path, I started taking selfies and little mini-check in videos. Not as a vanity measure, but as some evidence of the beginning of change, where my head was at on a given day, and/or any physical changes due to the change over to a whole-food plant based way of eating. Watching the initial video, I was startled at how puffy I was, and how tired I looked. In hindsight, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety, there too.
The last 6-7 months have encompassed many changes – giving up alcohol as well as switching to a whole-food plant based way of eating. I decided to stop coloring my hair almost a year ago, and actually wanted to go super short then – but couldn’t get my stylist on board. Embracing authenticity in many areas, it has been a season of shedding the superfluous – including hair that for as long as I can remember has almost had an identity of it’s own. No, I didn’t have a Brittney-style meltdown, but simply feeling the need for some outward expression of inward changes.
I probably won’t keep it short forever, but I love the idea of a fresh clean break. A starting over and a reboot. It’s freeing in a way I didn’t anticipate. As I picked up the kids from school sporting the new ‘do, I felt lighter, bolder, and honestly – pretty badass. I always thought women who go pixie or bald were so brave. I remember staring in awe as Demi Moore shaved her head in G.I. Jane. “If only I had the guts to do that,” I thought. “I could never….”
Turns out, I have the guts to do a lot of things I didn’t think I could.
I don’t miss the hair. I don’t miss the upkeep of highlights. I don’t miss meat. I don’t miss cheese or bacon, surprisingly. I don’t miss alcohol or the fuzzy way it blots out life. I don’t miss numbing out, because alcohol can’t mute the crap without muting the wonderful.
The crap is definitely worth wading through to get to the wonderful.
As of yesterday, I have survived 40 years on the planet.
I am not blah because I’m depressed about getting older. I’m just blah for no reason. My love is deployed and it sucks. We are in the last few days of summer before school starts. The kids are blah. It’s hot as hades here (110-115 degrees with the heat index!) Other than swimming or spending a load of money, there’s just not much to do. We’ve been to the library. We’ve been swimming. We are all just blah.
Usually for my birthday I do burpees. Birthday burpees to celebrate physical fitness, and the fact that I CAN do burpees. I can do 40 of them and that’s awesome, but I wasn’t feeling it this year. What I am feeling is a bit introspective. So here are my introspective/sober/blah/40 thoughts on turning 40.
I like getting older. And wiser. I wouldn’t go back to my 20s for anything. I want to be the woman who has long grey tresses and rocks them!
Authenticity is paramount. I’m tired of all things artificial. Hair dye, fake nails, pretending, small talk, covering up, stuffing down, fake friends, and phony niceness. I’m done with anything that is not real. It physically exhausts me.
I like the clarity of sobriety. I’m doing the work and it’s good. It’s hard. So damn hard to deal with myself. Liking clarity and enjoying the process are two very different things.
I LOVE that there are so many books in the world. I want to read any and everything I can get my hands on. I love to read everything – trashy fiction, poetry, autobiographies, cookbooks, self-help books, parenting how-to’s, and anything else that strikes me. Blogs, articles and news, too! The thing that bums me out is there is not enough time to read all the things!
Movies are a wonderful escape. I love movies and always have. Much like books, they provide a brief respite from the monotony of everyday life. I love the way I’m transported to faraway places and events through the medium of film. And I love watching my kids’ face light up while watching a movie or busting out in spontaneous laughter.
Deployments suck. They just do.
My dogs have my heart. We are so undeserving of their love, but I will continue to soak up all the grace they extend me daily.
Coffee is necessary. Adulting is hard. Coffee helps.
Will this matter 100 years from now? An old friend used to say this and it has stuck with me. “Will this (whatever the situation was/is) be important 100 years from now?” If not, perhaps it’s not as important as I’m making it out to be. In other words, don’t sweat the little stuff.
Exercise is still a passion….but…. I think I will always love movement and working out. It’s one of my tools to maintain sanity, as well as physical health, but it doesn’t hold the same spot anymore. I’ve always gone in spurts and waves, loving it, being consistent, then taking a break, then getting back at it. Overall it all evens out. I will never be a couch potato like I was before 2011, but I’m currently riding a wave until I feel as passionate about it as I have in the past. Sometimes you just need a break, and that’s okay.
Meatfree is for me! I have done the vegetarian thing off and on for years, but never gave up cheese and milk. I feel so much better without dairy and meat – I was shocked at just how much better I felt (less aches in the morning, fewer allergy symptoms, less sluggish, etc.) I will likely always loathe mock foods, but have no plans of going back to omnivore land.
Going against the norm is hard, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do. For sanity. Courage is required. Doubts and second guessing, yes, but ultimately you know when it’s time to disengage and self-preserve.
Perfectionism can suck it. Some days good enough is sufficient.
Therapy isn’t a dirty word. It’s not “airing dirty laundry in public”. It is a valuable tool to get out of one’s own head and see things from a different (outside) perspective. It provides not only a necessary and safe witness to unpacking baggage and pain, but the tools to move forward in a healthier way.
There is something about water. I have some of the most profound thoughts in the shower. The minute the tap is turned off? Yep! All gone with the water down the drain! I need to get one of those waterproof notepads for the shower…
Kindness counts. Just don’t be a jerk. Not that hard. Everyone has bad days, but don’t take it out on the other cars in traffic, on the barista, or anyone else.
You gotta be some kind of stupid to drink then get behind the wheel. Just don’t.
Be still. Sit in the uncomfortable. Feel the stuff. Breathe.
Holding grudges holds you. Being angry and mad and hanging on, replaying scenarios (real or imagined) is exactly like taking poison and waiting for the other person to fall. It keeps you bound up in the past.
Be creative. Do something, write, draw, make music – whatever – but express it. Even if no one ever sees it. There is value in creating.
I don’t feel like an adult. When someone calls me “ma’am”, I’m still looking over my shoulder thinking they must not be addressing me. People keep getting younger, but some how I don’t age….Ha!
Overwhelm and exhaustion are signs! Listen to them.
Being alone and being lonely are different. Being alone is okay. Sometimes it’s necessary.
Self care is more than taking a damn bath. Self care is so much more than a stupid pedicure or some other temporary something to do. The phrase has become cliche. Self care in action is taking time, getting enough sleep, eating well, making yourself a priority on the to do list and not a last resort. This doesn’t not make you selfish.
All the Brene Brown things. Seriously. Read her books. Truth, truth, truth.
Music is a must. All the music. The guilty pleasures, the tunes that make you think, the ones that make you cry….all of it.
It’s only #28? Do I have 40 thoughts?
Change is the only constant. Better to embrace it than to fight it. Change will always win.
Self-improvement is a worthy endeavor. Even when it’s not successful. Even when it takes try after try after try.
Sing. Even if you don’t sound good. Sing anyway.
This too shall pass. Kind of tied to #9. Ride the wave. The intensity will likely fade over time.
Few things feel as good as clean, crisp, sheets. Life is too short for pilly, cheap sheets to sleep on.
Travel. It opens minds and hearts in ways you can’t imagine until you experience it.
Home is where you make it. Home doesn’t necessarily mean where you grew up. Home is where you choose.
Service. Serve others in some way. Both the giver and the receiver are blessed, but the giver is more than you might think.
A good mug makes the contents taste better. I don’t know why, but a good, thick happy mug makes me smile from the inside.
Little things matter. If something matters to you, it matters. It’s valid.
The older I get, the less I know. There is so much I am unsure of, lots of grey area. I am wary of people who are certain they have it all nailed down.
Grace, Hope, and Love. Without these, we have nothing.
The first time I had a drink, I was 4 or maybe 5 years old. My older step-sisters, in high school at the time, were having a party. I don't remember much about that night, other than I felt amazing being with all those big people. I was making them laugh! They let me play their ping pong ball game with them, and even let me cheat and win! I don't remember having an opinion about what I was drinking, or even what it tasted like. I drank it though. I liked the attention. I have a vague recollection of not feeling good, but specifics are not clear. I do recall dark brown fuzzy carpet.
Dragging me by my arm, I was told to go to bed and pretend to be asleep, as people rushed around shushing each other and scrambling to pick up. Hindsight and retelling of family stories years later filled in the gaps that were confusing for me as a child. They were home, and evidently earlier than anticipated.
To this day I do not know where my parents were that night. Or the time I woke up one early morning to a sea of sleeping bags and blankets, covering so many bodies splayed out all over our rec room floor. It was a different time, the eighties. The thought process was "at least they are partying at home instead of out driving around. They are doing it safely".
I will be 40 in 10 days. I have drank alcohol up until 65 days ago. I didn't drink in my early teens, but by 18 had a boyfriend with legal friends. For over 20 years I have ….
been an alcoholic? An on and off binge drinker? Both? Does it really matter?
When I look back at my history, on paper yes. If I was reading this about someone else, it would leave no doubt. Of course she's an alcoholic. But because it's me, it's somehow normal….
It's not that bad…I didn't wake up and have a bottle of vodka for breakfast. (Although I've had Kahlua in my morning coffee on a couple of occasions with friends.) I didn't hide bottles. I never drank before work. I did strategize calorie consumption with alcohol, as in skipping meals to get tipsy quicker, skip meals to compensate for anticipated alcohol consumption. Switched from sugar- and calorie-dense cocktails to straight liquor over the years. Granted, the worst of the bottom occurred in my twenties. I didn't drink while pregnant. After the kids were born, I drank, but responsibly. I didn't drink alone.
Until I did.
I've had horrendous hangovers, but never withdrawal symptoms.
I think that's the thing. That alcoholic term is so loaded. (Pun not really intended, but I'm leaving it there.) Alcoholics are physically addicted, right?
I don't think it matters.
I don't care what the definition is. Alcohol does not work for me. It doesn't make me feel good, it doesn't improve my life. It never feels as good as that elusive just-tipsy-but-not-drunk feeling does for that brief moment. Chasing that ever-closing window of buzzed perfection always led way past excess. When having 1 leads to 10, it's not good regardless of whatever the definition says. I love the way Jim states it at Fit Recovery, "I didn't want to drink, I wanted drunk."
I am done wrestling with am I or not. Doesn't really matter in the end, does it?
I have not had a drink in nearly 2 months. In 5 days I will have earned my 2 month chip. In that time I have also switched to a plant-based diet.
I would like to say that these 2 decisions are miraculously making me into the fabulous version of myself that I always knew I could be, much like an after picture where life is now wonderful and amazing and the problems of daily life do not exist.
What I'm noticing is an awareness of the pervasiveness of drinking culture. Mommy play groups, social media, cute videos depicting funny women discussing parenting over glasses of wine, college life, radio ads, military groups, music, books, etc. It's everywhere. It seems normal. But is it?
I notice personally, that my skin is clear-ish. My clothes are loose. Life is going by, just as it always has. My head is clearer. I feel better. Burying feelings under a heavy blanket of alcohol is no longer an option. I'm reading more and am noticing more, but it's still me. I think that's the thing is that you still have to deal with yourself. I am not reaching and pining for something to drink, as I imagined I would. I don't wake up tired and cranky most of the time. I go to bed without regret, usually just tired and ready for the day to be over.
The 'one day at a time' mantra is ringing true just as much for sobriety as it is for deployment. Play a game with the kids, be present. Prepare a meal. Read. Write. Be with the dogs. Clean the house.