Hey y’all! (That was in my best southern drawl — reread it with a twang if you’ve got a moment.)
I realized today that I am 25 days in, one-quarter of the way through my 100 day sobriety self-challenge. It seemed like a good time to check in, as I’m sure you’ve all been just dying to know how my life is going sans-substance. (That time I was using my best sarcastic voice, reread at your will.)
So, how is it going?
To be honest — damn well. It’s been a lot easier than I expected. But, don’t worry, that does’t mean it’s all been pretty. (I wouldn’t skimp you on the good stuff!) It just hasn’t been the life-halting soul-crushing struggle I was expecting.
I’ll admit, the first week was… interesting.
I didn’t get the cravings I had anticipated. At no time was I like, “If I don’t get a glass of wine RIGHT NOW, so help me god!” or “I need to smoke something or I’m gonna cut a bitch.” (Apparently a side-effect of my sobriety is the resurgence of my dramatic side. Bear with me.)
Instead, it was more like having a newfound hyperawareness of my associations with substances and my knee-jerk reactions to life.
For example, the first day I was sitting on the porch at school, waving goodbye to my students, and I noticed a picture pop into my head — me, on my couch, glass of wine in hand (bottle at the ready, let’s be honest), flipping through some mindless television. It looked like heaven. (Have I mentioned I teach middle school?)
No sooner had it popped in than a little mocking voice popped it back out: “Nope! You’re sober Roxy now. Get used to it!” (Jeeze, what a bitch. Who invited her?)
But it was interesting to note that simply being in a certain place at a certain time doing a certain thing which was routine to my day had created an immediate association. I realized that I had had that picture pop into my head for years, but I’d never really been aware of it. Instead, I had just fulfilled it.
The next day I had a similar moment, except it didn’t wait until the end of the day. We were walking back from gym after a particularly difficult day (Have I mentioned I teach middle school?) and I caught myself thinking, “God, I cannot wait to get home and have a glass of wine.” Cue the little menacing voice reminding me that wine was no longer an option.
This time I talked back.
“But I NEED it!” I thought-shouted. “I’m emotionally exhausted. This day was too much!”
“Tough shit,” the voice replied, unsympathetically.
And I knew it was right. It was only day 2, way too early for a flop like that. So I started looking for alternative solutions. What could I do instead? What was I really looking for?
After some thinking, I realized that what I was really craving was a change in my perceptual experience. I wanted to get out of the stressed mode I was in and do something to feel different. So I asked myself what else could do that, and after the list of banned items ran out, the word “running” came into my mind.
Now I was afraid I was straight-up losing it.
You may not know this about me, but I am Not. A. Runner. I admire runners, I envy runners, I have even in the past tried to be a runner, but it just ain’t for me. No way, no how.
So when my less-menacing-now-more-angelic voice suggested running, I was a little taken aback. But thinking about it more, I realized it wasn’t that far off. It would give me an outlet for my stress, make my body feel different (perhaps death-like, but still different), and give me a nice endorphin boost at the end. Ok, so maybe I would run.
I didn’t run.
By the time I got home, the sparkle of that idea had faded and I had gone from emotionally exhausted to just plain exhausted.
But the mental process of going from “I need a glass of wine” to “I need to go for a run” was an interesting exercise in noticing patterns and attempting to shift them. It was a marked step in my path along sobriety.
The intruding associations between my daily life and drinking actually stopped after just a few days. I was surprised at how fast that happened. And, to be honest, it wasn’t very hard. I was expecting to have to fight myself tooth-and-nail each night, but the fight just wasn’t there. I had found a source of resolve, and I was determined to make that little voice proud.
Flash forward about two weeks. I had had an incredibly long, tiring, frustrating, emotionally draining day at work. (Have I mentioned I teach middle school?) I came home and made myself a frozen pizza. (At least it’s not wine.) Then I got an email from a parent out of left-field asking very pointed, somewhat accusatory questions about the very thing that had made my day so long and exhausting.
You know that white-girl thing where they “just can’t even?”
I so just couldn’t even.
Bobby was totally enthralled in some sports game and in no place to listen to me rant. So, remembering the advice of a friend, I walked into my room and screamed bloody murder into a pillow. It was not a pleasant moment. My dog was a little terrified. But I was pretty sure that should have done the trick.
I walked back to the living room to rejoin Bobby on the couch. Within ten minutes, more drama had unfolded (the details of which I will spare you), and I ended up sobbing uncontrollably in the fetal position on our bed, crying things like, “I’m doing my b-e-e-e-e-e-est.”
When I finally regained control of myself, I decided to just take a shower and go to sleep.
I cried in the shower.
I cried when I got out of the shower.
I cried when I looked at my phone and saw a really nice comment on my Facebook post.
My god, was I pregnant?! What the hell was wrong with me?
No, friend, I was not pregnant. I was simply working through my feelings as they came like a balanced human being for the first time in years. (Ok, I might have had some backlogged feelings in there, too.)
And you know what?
And after it passed, I felt brand new. I felt like my emotional slate had been wiped clean and I had been reset. It was a refreshing, peaceful, freeing feeling. And I realized the crazy screaming and crying had worked. It had been worth it. I made it through to the other side still standing (well, laying), and I actually felt better as a result.
Over the past week or so, I’ve had several more moments like that. They’ve made me realize that while I genuinely thought I had been processing my feelings before, I had really only been numbing them or stuffing them. Somehow they had taken on these bigger-than-life qualities that I felt were unsafe to truly express. But in reality, they were just feelings. Uncomfortable, messy, painful even, but short-lived.
A very smart lady who has been helping me look at my food associations (because while I’m unzipping my brain, why not do the whole shebang?) reminded me that sometimes we think we are feeling our emotions, but we’re really only allowing ourselves to go part of the way. We think, “I’m going to feel this, but only 10% or 50% or even 90%, because if I go full in I may never get out.” But by doing that we keep that portion of the uncomfortable feeling in reserve, inside of us, and it builds up. And eventually we’re mad or unhappy or anxious or stressed, and we don’t even have a reason that we can pinpoint. It has just become part of our everyday, part of our “normal.” (Shout out to Courtney Pool, the bomb-dot-com of food coaches.)
I’m still working on that. Heck, it’s only day 25. But I’m excited to think that by the end of this, I could be in a much healthier place, and in even more ways than I had expected.
Habits are habits are habits. Even things we do that we don’t think of as habits, are. This particular habit is one I legitimately wasn’t sure I could live without, and it turns out to be one I don’t even miss.
PS: I also dropped 15 lbs. Can you say bonus?
PPS: If you want to know more about Courtney’s work, check her out at www.courtneypool.com. She rocks.