Day 831: Let Me Direct Your Attention Over Here…

Hey sober party people, non-party people, and people who just want to put in a quick appearance at the party so they get credit for showing up and then make a beeline for the car–

I’ve published an essay on Medium about the loneliness of early sobriety, the importance of people who get it, and how going to my first AA meeting nearly gave me a heart attack. Some of it was inspired by blog entries I wrote here, but with significant expansion and reshaping–in other words, having read the blog entries does not excuse you from checking out the essay. Nope.

Here it is. I hope you’ll let me know what you think! XO, Kristi

Day 730: Two Years Today

Written on day 730 but not posted till day 740 cause, well, a girl gets busy.

I put aside the classy, glamorous, life-and-ambition-and-joy-sucking white wine two years ago today. Crazy, right? I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about my drinking days as I used to, but with this date approaching I have been thinking of what those early days of sobriety were like–all that I didn’t, couldn’t know because I’d never been there before. If Today Me could have given Sober Newbie Me a glimpse into the future, here are some of the things I would have told myself:

  • You think right now that being sober is a condition you’ll learn to tolerate–that you’ll make your peace with it as a safer but also somehow lesser way to live. But you’re going to end up loving it. Seriously. It will turn out that clarity is your ideal and happiest state of mind.
  • You will be a distance runner who has completed two half-marathons. (No, I’m not fucking with you, even though that’s kind of fun.) Unfortunately, you’ll still have a tendency to overdo things and override your own signals, and you’ll run those two half-marathons in the space of, uh, three weeks and get IT band syndrome and have to go to physical therapy. ‘Moderate’ is just not how you’re wired, babe. But at least you can see this now, and you’re getting smarter about working with your own innate qualities rather than against them.
  • Your lifelong issues with depression and anxiety will be reduced by, what, 50%? It’s hard to measure. But the difference will be dramatic. You know how they say alcohol is a depressant? Turns out that’s not just a figure of speech. It’s, like, science. Who knew? Well, scientists and doctors knew. And now you do, too.
  • You will choose your work carefully and thoughtfully, because you will have learned that the environment you spend your days in needs to be one that works for you as much as you work for it. You’ll spend less time thinking about which boxes you need to check to climb the ladder and more time considering what you actually like to do and are great at. Not exactly rocket science, but still, it’ll be new to you. And it will serve you well.
  • You’ll still be hyper-aware of how booze-soaked the world seems to be. People line up to buy cocktails at the fancy movie theater at 2 p.m. Anyone posting on Facebook about a bad day will be advised to drink wine ASAP. Even running events will brag in their marketing materials about ‘wine gardens’ and margaritas, because what better way to end a 13-mile race than with mid-morning tequila? And greeting cards aimed at women–don’t even get yourself started on that topic. You were never someone who personally enjoyed daylight drinking, but it didn’t seem strange to you that others might. Now you will sometimes look around a sunny plane or restaurant and think how much it’s going to suck for people to be dehydrated and sluggish by mid-afternoon.
  • Per the above–you’ll still be on the judge-y side. You didn’t want to become one of those people who thinks everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, and mostly you haven’t become that person, but you will sometimes dwell on how much time and effort people put into absenting themselves from their own lives. Argh, see that? Judge-y again, and smug to boot. Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean you don’t still suck sometimes.
  • You’ll also be shocked, shocked to realize that lots and lots of other people don’t drink, or only drink a little. They were there all along, but you never noticed them because you were off being all ring-a-ding-ding with the party people like a total fucking Holly Golightly jackass. Now? At parties, now you will make a beeline for the light drinkers and sober people because they are the only people guaranteed not to ask you the same question three times in a row.
  • You’ll be a little lonely sometimes. All your old forms of socializing tended to involve drinks, because that’s how your corner of the world operates. You’ll still be figuring out other ways to see people, to make friends, to feel like part of your old group. It’s not easy, though. You’re an introvert, and on top of that you did some natural isolating when you first got sober. Now you’re slowly digging out. But you may never dig out completely, because being a little dug in is your happy place.
  • Sober vacations are AMAZING. They basically contain twice as much time as drinking vacations.
  • Your husband will quit drinking too, and given your long and illustrious (and yes, often glamorous, often lots of fun) history of drinking together across decades and countries and continents, sometimes the two of you will be like ‘Who ARE we?’ and laugh. You’ve been lucky to do so much evolving in parallel over the years.
  • When you see a police car behind you, you’ll almost wish you’d get pulled over because if the cop is like ‘Ma’am, have you been drinking?’ you’ll be able to respond smugly and self-righteously, which come to think of it probably will not work out well for you at all. Never mind.
  • You will have bad days. Some fairly unpleasant things will happen. You know what your reflexive reaction will be? No, not ‘I wish I could drink.’ You’ll find yourself thinking ‘Thank God I’m sober.’ That’s right–when faced with pain, you’ll be glad to be facing it head on. Because being sober means you can be smart and thoughtful about making a bad situation better.
  • You’ll know that thoughts aren’t the same thing as reality, and that thoughts change and pass if you give them a chance.
  • When you read op-eds about how the internet is making us more isolated and less civil, you’ll smile because you know the internet is also where people who are getting sober, or who just want to get sober, connect in generous and rich and beautiful ways. The internet sort of saved your life.
  • None of your fears about sober life will have come true. Not a single one.
  • You’ll no longer think of yourself as damaged or broken. Because you’ll know now that you never were damaged or broken. No matter what anyone else told you. And no matter what you told yourself. You just needed to get alcohol out of your life to be able to see that.
  • Best for last: you’ll be writing again. A lot. And it’s fun in a way it never was before, back when you were a wunderkind. It’s also really hard, and kind of boring sometimes, and scary in any number of ways. But you keep showing up and doing the work. And you know what else? The work is still good. Really good, actually. This, above all else, will be the miracle of your sobriety. The thing you never expected to have again.

That’s what I would tell my Sober Newbie self. And to you out there, who may be struggling or wondering if it’s worth it: I don’t know exactly what your own list will look like at two years or six months or one month. But I can promise you that you will have one, and that the good stuff on it will far outweigh the bad. Look, you’ve upended a LOT about your life–don’t underestimate that. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for it. In very early sobriety, you’re a badass for just staying sober. Other doors and windows will start to open over time, once you’ve had the time and space to start figuring out what you want to do with this life you’ve reclaimed for yourself. But it takes a while–even at two years I suspect I’m just cracking the surface. So for now, just keep doing whatever you have to do to stay sober, knowing you have such good things ahead of you. And someday, when you write your own list to Sober Newbie You, send me a link. Because I will want to read it. 🙂

Day 298: Waterboggan

My 44th birthday is in a few days. I was meditating the other day–I hate to meditate, but I still do it, just like I hate to empty the dishwasher but I do that too–and suddenly thought, “I don’t know how to have a sober birthday.”

It’s not that my birthdays were exactly maniacal blowouts, or not since college, anyway, but there was always a favorite restaurant with Manhattans to start and a shared bottle of great wine plus ‘just one more glass’ (to be followed by more at home, naturally). We threw a party for my 40th and in defiance of the standard ‘no gifts, just you,’ two friends each showed up with a mixed case of Viogniers and Marsannes because they knew how much it would thrill me–and it did. So many beautiful bottles of pale yellow wine in their cardboard silos–a girl could almost feel safe with that much wine in her house.

Typing the word “Marsanne” just now felt like a little bad-boyfriend thorn in my heart

On the actual night of my 40th I was out of town for a work retreat and near the end of the surprise party they gave me, someone ordered a round of tequila shots for the whole group. I remember discreetly setting mine aside and feeling smug about it–so smart to avoid the half-ounce of demon liquor that would magically tip my perfectly benign eight glasses of Chardonnay into a hangover. (Even the next morning as I pried my aching, mascara-smeared self out of bed I was congratulating myself for not making it worse.)

So, yeah. Not a lot of experience on the sober-birthday front around here.

I finished the rest of my meditation time, which was not a delight, and went downstairs to the kitchen, where my husband was making dinner and watching True Detective for the hundredth time. “The idea of my first sober birthday has really caught me up short,” I told him. “It’s been decades since I had a birthday with no booze. I think my 16th was probably the last time. I don’t know how to do it anymore.”

My husband stopped chopping fennel and leaned his elbows on the counter. “Well, what did you do for your 16th?”

“My mom dropped me and a bunch of other girls off at Waterboggan and we spent the whole day riding water slides.”

My husband thought about that. “Well,” he said finally, “we could probably find a water slide somewhere in Washington state?”

Day 298.

Day 295: Fixing things you had no idea were broken

I said the above to a friend at lunch today. He’s not someone I know super well, but our paths have crossed here and there over the years and I’ve always found him to be an unusually (for the alpha-male tech company I work for) thoughtful and kind person. His wife died quite suddenly in her early 50s in January and this was the first conversation we’d had since. We talked about her (of course), and about him and his initial thoughts of moving halfway across the world to get away from reminders of her and eventual decision to stay put, at least for now. And when it came time for me to give my own update, it felt very natural and safe to say that I was coming up on 10 months of sobriety–I somehow knew he would take it in stride with a calm curiosity, which he did. “One of my oldest friends quit drinking about a year and a half ago,” he said, “and he told me it’s fixed things in his life that he had no idea were broken.” That’s exactly what it’s been like for me, I told him. Exactly like that. 

Day 295.

Day 240: I’m Still Here

Whew! It’s been a while since I posted and I’d like to get back to doing so more frequently. Being sober is more and more just my default setting and I don’t always feel like I have something new and revelatory to say about it–or when I do, I don’t always have the quiet time or the focus to articulate it. Maybe I’ll let things develop organically for a while–make shorter posts, and about whatever’s on my mind, whether sobriety-related or not. Probably I’m overthinking things, as I have been known to do, oh, most of the time.

Anyway, here is what’s gone on since my last post in mid-January:

  • I got the swine flu. (And look, I know it sounds pretty awesome, but I would advise you not to run out and get it yourself. It’s really not that great, and you don’t get any special pig-related powers, even temporarily.)
  • I traveled cross-country to visit my parents and have The Talk about their finances/estate/end-of-life medical directives (my parents are only 69 but my mother has been quite ill and it seemed like the smart thing to do, and went really well).
  • I decided the ever-swirling chaos and ongoing leadership crises in my organization at work just could not drag down another year of my life and that promises of this year being better, while sincerely meant, weren’t based on anything I could really count on.  So I identified a cool new role in a very different part of my company–actually, it didn’t exist, so I invented and pitched it–interviewed for it (with swine flu, which contrary to popular belief does not make you any smarter), landed it, and will shortly transition to it. I’m leaving a really wonderful group of people and that’s a heartbreak, but the job itself had become a heartbreak too. I really need a change and I’m glad I could arrange one thoughtfully.
  • I received a slew of very angry emails from my sister, who suffers from a personality disorder and was unhappy with my polite rebuff of an offer to ‘get close again.’ The decision I made a couple of years ago to cut ties was absolutely the right thing to do for my own health and safety–and this latest episode just confirmed it–but that doesn’t make it easy. There’s always that voice in my head saying that only horrible people cut off contact with their own siblings, no matter what hell those siblings have visited upon them. Would I revisit that decision someday? Yes, I would. Situations change and so should our responses to them. But I’m very, very gun-shy at this point, especially now that addiction issues are apparently in play along with the BPD. My parents are in a fair amount of turmoil with her, and I’ve decided the most moral middle ground I can occupy is to support them however I can while keeping far away from any direct involvement. That in itself is a fine line to walk, and risky given the super-porous boundaries between my mother and my sister. But it’s where I’ve landed for now.

So the point is, a lot of shit has gone down of late, and it’s exactly the stuff that would have sent me diving into a bottle of wine at this time last year. (Not that I ever needed much of an excuse.) Even just visiting my parents *without* illness or awkward conversations would’ve been enough to set me off. And yeah, there were moments where doing it all sober seemed extra tiring. But more often, I had these spontaneous moments of gratitude that I was sober. That I could be thoughtful, measured, lucid in my actions and words. That I could pace myself and know when I needed rest (even if I couldn’t always take it right that moment). It sounds crazy, but I actually felt happy to be facing all that stress without alcohol in the way, like I had a much better chance of coming through unscathed that way. And I just LOVE that I felt that way.

I did realize, though, that celebrations are still a challenge–landing the new job, getting out of the old one. In the past, that would have meant a great dinner out with a great bottle of wine (and Manhattans, and so on). But event-level restaurants still feel a bit weird to me at Day 240, and I haven’t come up with a substitute that doesn’t feel contrived or not-me. And yet there are times something beyond quiet satisfaction is called for–I just don’t know what it is. Something to keep percolating on, I guess.

Day 197: “At Least I’m Sober.”

“At least I’m sober.” I find myself thinking that so often lately–and in a natural way, not a forced-gratitude one. For instance, I’ve got the flu right now (don’t be like me and forget, people–go get your flu shots!) and feel pretty wiped out. But in the midst of a self-pity moment today I thought ‘well, at least I’m sober and won’t drink on top of being sick and feel even worse tomorrow.’ And last weekend, feeling wobbly and vulnerable after bad sleep and nightmares (and, it turned out, the first symptoms of flu): ‘well, at least I’m sober and don’t have a hangover and guilt about the hangover to deal with too. It was just a bad night’s sleep.’

And what’s really amazing is that this is starting to happen in situations where 200 days ago the idea of sobriety would have seemed like a massive challenge at best, if not a flat-out negative. A few examples:

  • My sister, who for the sake of my own wellness I am not in contact with, emailed for the first time in over a year, suggesting that we should be ‘close’ again. ‘At least I’m sober and I know that even though I’m feeling anxious and angry, I won’t write something dramatic that I’ll later regret saying to her.’
  • My husband and I are flying east tomorrow to visit my parents, with whom I have an ambivalent relationship, because my mother’s health has taken a serious nose dive and my father wants to make sure I’m well-briefed on all details of their estate and end-of-life wishes. Fun! “Well, at least I’m sober and will be able to process things in my own time versus drowning all my feelings in alcohol.” (My God, who said that? Was it me?)
  • Jitters over upcoming interviews for a role in my company that I think I really want: “Well, even if I’m nervous at least I’m sober and don’t have to worry about drinking too much the night before and going through a whole day of interviews hung over and feeling ashamed.”

It’s just astonishing to me that sobriety has begun to seem not just like a healthier path through difficult situations, but a happier one, too. Who would have thought? Fantastic.

Day 189: I Won’t Drink Sparkling Cider and You Can’t Make Me

I just cannot bring myself to drink it. That is all. I have some kind of utterly irrational yet bone-deep hostility toward the notion of sparkling cider as a substitute for champagne/sparkling wine. (I actually find it odd overall that fizzy drinks are regarded as ‘festive,’ as if modern humans experienced the miracle of carbonation only on special occasions–I enjoy bubbly liquids as much as the next person, I guess, and I know this because they are WIDELY AVAILABLE.)

Maybe it’s the image I’ve held for so long of cider as the limp nonalcoholic substitute for champagne, the way there was always some kid in grade school whose mother would send carob cookies for class parties. Maybe it’s untested conviction (contempt prior to investigation, anyone?) that it will taste insipidly sweet and just remind me of what I can’t have anymore. Or maybe I’m just being stubborn and missing out on something fantastic. (Both have been known to happen…) All I know is I don’t want any, dammit.

Here is something I do like, though, adapted from Bon Appetit to take advantage of Meyer lemons being in season on the West Coast. Bon Appetit calls it a Meyer Lemon and Sage Presse. Goody for them, but I find the word ‘Presse’ profoundly irritating and refuse to employ it. We shall refer to it as a soda, or even just a ‘thing.’

Here is how you make the thing:

Put 1/4 cup of fresh sage leaves, 1/2 cup simple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 quartered Meyer lemons (regular lemons are fine too) in a pitcher and then just go right ahead and muddle the fuck out of them. (The mixing instructions are the ‘adapted’ part.) You now have a wonderful lemony-sage syrup on your hands, you champ! From there you can either add a 12 oz. can of club soda to the pitcher and mix it all together, or (my preference) keep the syrup separate and mix on a per-drink basis, playing around with the ratio of syrup to soda. I find that a ratio of 1 to 4/5 is just perfect–it’s incredibly refreshing and makes you go ‘ooh, interesting flavor!’ without being at all overbearing. Plus it has bubbles, so you know, it’s wildly festive.

Happy slightly crabby but happily sober New Year, friends. 🙂