Day 1,779: You’ll See

For several years I’ve been in this life phase called “friends keep adding me to secret menopause Facebook groups where women gather to share information, vent, and validate the living shit out of each other.” I hate it. Sure, at first I was game. I’d jump in and introduce myself and start reading posts and then within, say, ten minutes I’d be gripped with a sense of impending doom like you would not believe. Sometimes it verged on panic–racing mind, shaking hands, tight throat. And honestly, panic seemed like a reasonable reaction to the fact that I’d just learned my goddamn life was about to end. 

Not right away, of course! No, first there would be perimenopause: five to ten years of sweat attacks, chronic insomnia, depression, rage, massive weight gain, equally massive beauty loss, brain fog, lethargy, purposelessness, and an end to all interest in sex. All at onceThen my life would end, and when it ended I would emerge into a peaceful earthly afterlife where I would be sexless, powerless, and completely invisible…but wise. A level of wisdom that would make up for the complete destruction of everything else. And I would be able to share this wisdom with, I guess, my fellow invisibles, and we would all wear invisible red hats and feel smug that we didn’t actually die.

I mean, Jesus, I feel my chest tightening up just typing this.

I was 46 when I was ushered into the secret Facebook society of doom-followed-by-sexless-wisdom. Things had already started to change. I couldn’t rely on my body as a 30-day kitchen timer anymore. I’d had a hot flash here and there. I had grown a single wiry chin hair that came back every time I plucked it. It was easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. In other words, I was almost certainly already in that long tunnel of horrors known as perimenopause, and I knew it. It just didn’t seem like that big a deal, I guess. After all, I was also writing, and working at an interesting job, and running, and lifting weights, and starting to have the best sex of my life. I certainly didn’t feel unattractive–yeah, I guess my 30-year-old body was skinnier (and by “I guess” I mean it was definitely skinnier), but I hated my 30-year-old body, hated taking up any space at all, and I didn’t use it for much back then. It could barely get through half a Tae Bo class, let alone a half-marathon. Maybe I didn’t have the ‘glow of youth’ anymore, but I finally had a real sense of style, and anyway, I’d spent most of my glowing years red-eyed from crying over some boy.

Basically I felt just, you know, fine. But then I’d get sucked into these menopause pages, each woman’s story more awful than the last, like some sick form of Jenga, and come away convinced that maybe I just hadn’t been hit by the freight train yet. After all, how could feel okay when so many other women were in full-on crisis? How could feel vital and sexy when literally hundreds of other women were sure they were losing their minds? Once or twice I hesitantly ventured that maybe for some of us, the process was fairly mild. “Just wait!” I was told.

Once I admitted that I didn’t feel at all invisible–that I felt vocal, powerful, beautiful. “Just wait,” someone said. “It’s coming for you, too. You’ll see.” (This is verbatim, and can I just say, what the fuck, lady.)

That’s about when I decided that the secret menopause groups weren’t right for me. Emphasis on for me. They were clearly a source of valuable information and community for many women who were suffering awful symptoms and weren’t getting straight talk from their doctors. But for me, they risked drowning out my actual lived experience. My inner voice wasn’t strong enough to withstand a chorus telling me this was really hard, that I would be suffering. Sometimes the chorus–which was often focused on how to gut out the symptoms with no medical relief, the same way some people approach childbirth or depression– seemed to say that I should be suffering, or else I was doing menopause wrong, being a woman wrong (yet again). I closed my browser windows and resumed living my pretty good life as a person who maybe just didn’t fit the mold.

After maybe eighteen months on shore leave, I dipped a toe back into the waters recently when I interviewed a woman my age who has written extensively on perimenopause. On the page, she’s so frank and blunt and funny in describing her issues and how she’s addressed them (for instance, did you guys know that in addition to attracting moisture to the skin on your face, hyaluronic acid will also un-dry your vagina? I know!!! It sounded crazy to me too, but apparently it works!) that I wasn’t sure what to expect in person. But when I found her in the cafe based on her description–corner table, blue dress–my first thought was “Why didn’t she just say to look for the hottest fucking babe in the room?” She was gorgeous. She was sexy. She was wide awake on the planet. And as we chatted for an hour about feminism and power and sex and hormones, I kept having trouble squaring the brilliant, funny, devastating babe across the table with her writing about feeling crazy and ugly and unfuckable. It was only later, walking back to my car in Pioneer Square, that I thought well, that’s her lived experience, and maybe it doesn’t show on the outside, but that doesn’t make it any less real. (I also chalk some of the gap up to the fact that she took action on the things that were bothering her–there is real help out there, people.)

So what does this have to do with sobriety? Well, because for the two or three years before I quit drinking, I read a lot about sobriety, and though the  details varied some, the prevailing collective narrative was something like this:

  1. It’s going to be an absolute nightmare for a while. It will take everything you have just to hang on. Life will become unrecognizable.
  2. But then eventually everything will be fine!
  3. But seriously, it’s gonna be so fucking hard for a while.
  4. Oh, and your addiction will be lying in wait for you every moment of the rest of your life. Just sharpening its claws and waiting for you to drop your guard.
  5. But you should totally get sober anyway because it’s great!
  6. Just don’t feel like it’s too great or Pennywise the Addiction will suck you back into the sewer.

This prevailing narrative made me…a little anxious. A little in need of just one more drink. Thank god I finally found a gentler, more optimistic voice, one that didn’t sugarcoat early sobriety, but also didn’t make it sound so militaristic, so unrelentingly brutal (so…male). That gentle voice gave me the courage to try being sober for a hundred days. And when I did, I found that it was hard. I did have some skin-of-my-teeth moments. Life did change in uncomfortable ways.

But all that hard stuff? It still happened within the context of my personality and temperament and life circumstances. I wasn’t ripped out of my core self. And when I remembered to pay attention to my own lived experience, and not just what I was “supposed” to be feeling, I realized that even the hard parts weren’t half the nightmare I’d expected. Don’t get me wrong–talking to other sober people was and is a huge part of my recovery, and early on I often spent two hours a day just reading sober blogs. But I was somehow able to take comfort in the commonalities I found with my new sober buddies, and still leave room for our differences.

Also–and this is important–I didn’t try to talk myself into thinking it was harder than it really was. I didn’t assume that feeling good meant I was doing it wrong or right. I just thought it meant that for whatever reason, I was having an easier time of it than some of my new friends. (And maybe a harder time of it than others.) I felt lucky, but not smug.

I’m 48 now. Next time a nurse says “And when was the date of your last period?” I’ll say “Sometime in the last four to six-ish months, maybe? I mean, do you really expect me to know?” I’m thinking about just having that chin hair zapped. A few times a year my entire body continues to heat up from the inside–I can actually feel it moving outward toward my skin–and then I sweat like a motherfucker for a few minutes. Because it doesn’t really disrupt my life, I find it fascinating. (If you’re around me when it happens, I’ll probably narrate it for you because it’s just so weird.) I run and lift and eat like a fairly intelligent person and still my belly is, you know, even less awesome than it was at 40, when I was already nothing to brag about. I have a book coming out. People ask me to talk because they want to know what I have to say. I feel a little sad that I probably can’t have a baby anymore, and then I remember that I don’t actually want to have a baby, at all, that all I really want to do is name other people’s babies for them. No, that what I really want is for all options to stay open forever, and I guess that’s just too bad for me.

I feel sexy and beautiful most of the time–in my living, feeling, full-of-curiosity totality, not as a snapshot or an isolated body part. I move through the world like someone who feels beautiful and mostly the world is a good sport and plays along. And then a little bit of the time I feel like the plainest, most invisible woman on earth, and I’d chalk it up to menopause except that I have been paying attention so I remember I’ve been cycling through those two states all my life. In both states I continue to have jaw-dropping sex that my younger self–even my 46-year-old self, let alone the 36-year-old one–couldn’t have anticipated. My drinking self certainly had no idea.

And then there’s that: I’m sober, and I think about my sobriety every day and I look after it, but I don’t live like a fanged monster is waiting to grab me back when I left my guard down, because living like that I exactly how I won’t stay sober.

How won’t stay sober. It might be different for you. If you want to find out, don’t let anyone scare you and don’t let anyone make you think it’s trivial, either. Because beyond the core stuff that seems to apply to most of us–community helps, having if-then plans help, putting recovery first helps– they don’t know! No one really knows what your sobriety will be like but you. It’s like that menopause lady said: “You’ll see.” Except in this case, the rest of us don’t know what you’ll see. You’ll have to come back and tell us.

28 thoughts on “Day 1,779: You’ll See

  1. I’m 47 and have perimenopausal symptoms, but like you it’s pretty much just a slightly amplified version of the stuff I’ve been dealing with my entire life. No hot flashes yet, but I’ve had weight gain galore. I got tired of grieving my lost youth, which I did for a few years after turning 40. I stopped coloring my hair too. Buddhism has helped me let go of a lot of anxiety. I think if you can make it to 55 life gets better for women.

  2. I love this post and found it so relatable. I am 49 and periods are jumping around a bit and occasionally I feel a bit hot and occasionally my memory goes a bit weird. I’m in week 37 of not drinking and finding it to be very doable and a much more positive experience than I expected. I also didn’t have children and sometimes I get sad too but then remember I don’t really want them in my life. Other people’s narratives are all too easy to get sucked into and I have felt I should try and emphasise certain parts of my experiences to match just so I can join in but actually, I am feeling more content that I ever have done and I am in a loving happy relationship, with a job I love and hopefully lots more healthy years ahead. Your line about wanting all options to remain open forever absolutely hits the nail on the head – any sadness I feel is about that really and that isn’t happening for anyone. There are challenges at all times of life – dating dodgy men, low self esteem, lack of permanent employment, all featured when I was younger. Those give way to different challenges – weight gain, loss of fertility, effects of gravity and loss of collagen as we get older. But we have a choice – we can focus on the negatives or on all the emerging positives and all too often the colective narratibve does the former. Thanks for being a voice for the positives!

  3. I made it to 55! And guess what? I’m a whiner by nature, but out of all the horrendous symptoms listed for menopause, I’ve only had hot flashes. If anything, I feel more grounded, more mature, less volatile, and I’m enjoying the respect older people automatically get without having earned it.

    Some of this is due to my two years of sobriety. (Late bloomer.) I had lots of sobriety earlier, just not continuous. But after the first four months or so, that also got much easier. I’m not on the edge of drinking, ever. I have transcended it, if there is such a thing. I was sure sobriety meant white-knuckling it for the rest of my life, but it turned out not to be the case DESPITE what I’d heard other people say. My lived experience is so much better than what was predicted for me.

    I belong to no Facebook menopause group, nor will I ever. I turned down the chance to go see “Menopause: The Musical.” I’m just going to float along here, sublimely in denial, for as long as I can. 😀

    1. I do wonder if sobriety makes this era of life easier, *especially* if it’s relatively recent sobriety. I mean, it’s like sailing into menopause with a fresh reminder that we can weather big changes and do hard things. It’s hard to feel too disempowered when you’re in the process of transforming your own life!

      1. Exactly! I’m right at the cusp of empowerment, so everything else seems easy. Sobriety is less of a habit and more of a continuous adventure at this point. And I felt so much worse while drinking that I have relatively low standards for feeling good. 😀

  4. I love the way you draw the parallels between sobriety experiences and the menopause. Everything really is like everything (as Belle says). There is something for me that I’ve learned through sobriety about being mindful and open to change. I know wonderful women who have really been destabilised by their menopause symptoms, myself included. Anxiety and depression hit very hard but for me the answer was to try something different, same as my sober tool box, I added stuff in. Oh and started HRT, I used to be strongly anti the idea but eventually I gave up what wasn’t working and tried an experiment with the hormones, just like giving up alcohol and trying the 100 day challenge, I didn’t like the idea but tried it out. Never looked back.
    Looking forward to your book release, thank you for your writing x

  5. I’m 44 and staying away from secret Facebook groups, definitely ones about perimenopause. But actually I’m going to my dr today to talk about a good number of symptoms that are no doubt directly related. (Always though being invisible sounded so cool.) I admire and respect that you stay open and do things your own way.

    1. Oh, if I have bothersome symptoms I’ll *definitely* be seeking help for them. Why suffer needlessly? I hope yours get better!

      1. Thank you. It’s hard to ask for help and I always wait too long. I’m curious who the woman expert you mentioned is or if you can recommend a good book or source on peri menopause.

  6. This was so perfectly timed! I am on day 10, and 8 of those 10 days have actually been really good which, when I think about it, isn’t so different from my norm. I know it’s early days, but I also know my personality, and I am usually pretty happy so the thought of being miserable and sober was a disconnect. I actually tried to search “normal sober blog” yesterday because I was getting tired of reading about the doom and gloom that is apparently my new life. The problem with FB groups, blogs, etc., is that they are self-selecting – only those who are deeply affected are vocal, which tends to skew the curve. I can’t thank you enough for your writing, I have returned to your blog many times over the past few weeks as I geared up for this new adventure. And thank you for being such a moderating (and motivating) force, your kind of sobriety is one that I aspire to emulate.

    1. Happy day 10!!! I was just talking with a sober friend at lunch about this, because we both started feeling better pretty fast after we got sober. It was hard, yeah—any big change can be—but it also felt fundamentally *right* in a way that made the tough moments feel worth it. Re blogs, have you looked at the blogroll on Tired of Thinking about Drinking? Back when I did my hundred days I found some good ones there from people who were either nicely and happily settled into sobriety, or also doing 100 days and treating it like an experiment. Both angles really helped me from sliding into too much doom & gloom, and even made it kind of fun. I still check in on people from my ‘graduating class.’

      1. Thanks, I will check out the blogroll. One of my acquaintances says about drinking that he didn’t “quit”, he “finished”. I think that’s where I am too … alcohol got me through some really awful years while I worked on myself (therapy, meditation, yoga, trying to find every possible solution under the sun that would magic me into a moderate drinker, and of course the obligatory half marathon) and now I’m thinking of us as the couple who woke up one day and realized they had gone through too much sh*t together to even try to make their relationship work. Keep writing please, yours is a voice that needs to be heard.

  7. Can we talk more about the jaw-dropping sex? I’m 48, 19 months sober and almost 20 years married. I’m *just* starting to play with my desires and what I want sexually. I’d love to hear more of your experience! Xo

  8. Well, I’m (clears throat here) 66. It’s not that bad. Invisible Facebook pages my ass. I had a few night sweats, some nasty mood swings, but they were certainly exaggerated by the booze. Alcohol makes everything worse, so anxiety was higher. It’s ok to complain, but getting together to say who has it worse, not my idea of fun. I got through it, I wanted HRT, but that was when doctors were afraid to prescribe. I would recommend you try it ladies, it’s ok to take now and I hear it’s wonderful. I’m now, sober, post menopausal, healthy, happy, still having sex and sucking every drop out of life. We are strong in every way,capable of everything and anything, our bodies have been changing since birth. Have a good attitude with good modes of support and you’ll get through it, it’s like getting sober. Kick some ass.

  9. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been dealing with a different but relatable situation, and your point about others’ very-painful-and-negative experiences simply not matching -and threatening to drown out! – your own lived experience pretty much perfectly explains how I’ve been feeling. It’s so helpful to think about it this way! Thanks again for writing this.

  10. well thanks for the shout-out and happy day 1785 to you today 🙂 (you’re penpal #128!). i’m 51, over 2 years fully menopausal, and it’s really great. i have hot flashes and take a fish oil thingy (it’s french!). i have more even moods, sleep better, and feel lovely. i’ve lost my waist but that may have happened awhile back … and to be fair, i prayed for menopause every month since age 12, so to me the relief is huge. Ready to have you on the podcast again 🙂 send me a message! hugs from me, xo.

  11. Love the brutal, crystal clear honesty of this blog. I, too, cannot stand for other women telling me how I am or will feel. Perimenopause…if I had to hear that word out of my mother’s mouth one more time I don’t know what I’d do! “Dawn, when you get older it’s terrible. You’ll see. No one notices you anymore. Your eyes sink into your skull and no matter what you do they never look the same.” Such a sad narrative, but it didn’t have to be mine!

  12. I also read blog after blog when I was about 6 months alcohol free. I couldn’t relate to any of them either until I stumbled across Belle.

    Thank you for the image of the fanged monster to visualize the fear of slipping back to drinking. I have this fear for no real reason, I need to kick that monster out from under my bed. He’s a figment if my imagination. And I can let him go.

  13. I also read blog after blog when I was about 6 months alcohol free. I couldn’t relate to any of them either until I stumbled across Belle.

    Thank you for the image of the fanged monster to visualize the fear of slipping back to drinking. I have this fear for no real reason, I need to kick that monster out from under my bed. He’s a figment if my imagination. And I can let him go.

  14. Thank you!! A nicely written reminder that “the things that make me different are the things that make me me.” A.A. Milne.

  15. At nearly 52 I’ve just entered the long tunnel of horrors as a perimenopause woman; luckily I haven’t been herded into a Facebook group of like-minded women yet, but give it time! I’m actually in denial – it’s not happening to me – can’t be, I’m too young aren’t I?

  16. I just discovered you. Very grateful for your work. I hear myself in you. Can you share who is the writer is who writes extensively about perimenopause?

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