Panic

Long time, no write. I’ve been busy, keeping my head down and getting shit done. Or at least trying to. All was well until about a week ago, when my work started drying up.

Ebbs and flows are facts of life in the freelancing game. If I’ve got a bit of money saved up, I’m fine with it. Sometimes I take that as my cue to work on some fiction or just take more naps. But right now, I can do neither of those things because I’m panicking about some upcoming bills.

I’m trying to stay in the moment and not think the worst. I’m trying not to look at God as an evil puppetmaster who gives us enough encouragement to keep us trying hard but never allows us to rise to the next level. I’m trying not to compare myself to other people my age who seem to have it all figured out and constantly yammer on about their perfect spouses and tropical vacations while I’m scraping together coins to buy milk for my kids.

I’m trying to be patient and know–really know deep in my soul–that I am on the cusp of great things and just need a wait a bit longer.

Now I’m off to do a nice Sunday morning meditation/prayer and get my head straight. But before that, a little music from one of the greatest bands ever to grace the planet:

By the way, today marks five weeks without a drink.

Aches and Pains

The last few days have been a mixture of good and bad.

Physically, I’m drained. I didn’t have any acute withdrawal symptoms when I stopped drinking, but I had a feeling something would creep up eventually. The alcohol in my system is long gone, but I stopped eating junky, processed foods at the same time I quit the booze. I’m not sure if it’s a delayed reaction or what, but I feel as if I’m physically purging all manner of toxins. What they are, I don’t know. After years of throwing caution to the wind when it came to eating and drinking, my liver became so overloaded with the finest craft beers and the worst of the Taco Bell value menu that God only knows what it’s trying to cough up now. I’m vaguely headachy and my whole body hurts, including one hell of a gnarly muscle spasm in my left shoulder blade. It didn’t help matters that I caught the cold my daughter had earlier this week. I’m drinking water like mad, taking my vitamins, and eating lots of green stuff. Prayer and meditation help too. My favorite mantra: All of the cells in my body are healthy and functional. If I keep saying it, one day it will be true.

Emotionally, I’m all over the place. I’m still a bit foggy in the brain, so work has been a challenge. Still, I somehow managed to push through and meet my earnings goal for the week. I also had a few run-ins with my daughter, who is a 25-year-old rock star in a 10-year-old’s body. Instead of overreacting to her pushing the limits (and later drinking a beer because I deserved it, dammit), I stopped and breathed. Then I hugged her tight and told her that no matter how hateful she was to me, I’d always love her. Then I did some more breathing, and I wrote down some rambling thoughts that I had to get out of my head because it was just too full. My head’s a mess, actually. It feels like it’s housing a bunch of Kindergartners in bumper cars. I’m cruising along with a thought and bam, it collides with another thought and either squeals with glee or starts in on the ugly cry because it sustained a nasty case of whiplash. Hell, my head’s so messed up I’m not even sure if that’s a good metaphor. I know jack about how the brain works, but I’ve read things about forming new neural pathways when you make major behavioral changes. I’ll chalk it up to that and just hope that one day I’ve got a nice Buddhist monk doing a walking meditation inside my head instead of a bunch of aggressive underage drivers.

The good news: I signed my first official publishing contract this week. It may seem silly, but the handful of times I’ve been published, nothing so formal ever occurred. It was more like, “Hey, we like your story. We’ll post it to our website next Thursday.” This time, the literary journal is a step up from the others, and I was delivered a fancy contract containing lots of legalese. There’s even a token payment. I’m so stoked. It’s more real this time, and I feel as if I earned the hell out of it by being diligent and present and not taking anything for granted.

Other good news is that my at-home anemia test, in which I pull down my lower eyelid and see if the inside is a sickly white or a nice, healthy pink, revealed that my iron levels are getting better.

And the best news of all: I made it through another week sober.

Visible Rewards

I haven’t had a drink in a little over a week. After suffering the initial effects of fatigue, body aches, and shitty emotions coming to the surface, I figured it would take a while for me to feel better. I knew that it might take months to reverse the anemia and vitamin deficiencies, and I was prepared for that. I knew that I may not feel energetic enough to work on my novel right away, or even do anything but the bare minimum when it came to my copywriting work. I knew that the big, life-changing rewards would come later, but I had no idea I’d see a few little ones pop up so soon.

Yesterday, I was in a funk and felt drained, so I took a late afternoon nap. When I awoke, I checked my email. I was shocked to see a message from one of my clients telling me I had earned a bonus for the quality of my previous month’s work. My surprise stemmed from the fact that I felt as if I phoned in my work last month while hung over, and I had actually been wondering if they might let me go because I didn’t even complete the minimum number of tasks they require each month. I was blown away that I was rewarded for my work instead. The only way I can explain it is that something bigger is at play.

Two hours later, I received another surprising email. This one was from a publisher to whom I submitted a short story a couple of weeks ago. He loves my story and wants to run it in his next issue. I was floored and nearly wept. Why is this significant? I’ve had fiction published before, but my last piece ran about four years ago. In that four-year span, I lost my confidence and stopped trying, thinking I may never regain the momentum I once had. I wrote this recent story on the cusp of quitting drinking, determined to get myself back in the groove of writing fiction regularly and submitting my stories for publication. I agonized over this little 800-word piece of flash fiction, revising it for days until I couldn’t look at the thing anymore, wondering if I should even bother. Apparently, the universe thinks I should. This means everything to me.

I truly believe that those two little bits of good news were nods from the universe, confirming that I’m on the right path. It’s as if God were saying, “I’ve got this. You take care of yourself and put in the work, and good things will come to you. I’ll make sure of it.”

I’m not saying everything will be sunshine and rainbows if I stop self-destructing, but I know that nothing will ever be as good as it can be unless I do.

Firsts

Day 7. I’ve gone through a lot of firsts in the last week.

I had my first sober birthday since I was pregnant 11 years ago. Aside from the usual mom stuff of school runs and helping with homework, I treated myself with gentle care that day. I ate lunch with a friend, took a nap, read a book, and had a hot bath with lavender essential oil. I ended my day with a nightcap of red raspberry leaf and nettle leaf tea to help build up my iron stores.

I had my first sober weekend in ages. I can’t tell you the last time I made it through a weekend without drinking on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (or all of the above) because I “deserved” it after a hard week. Instead of drinking, I nourished my body with good food and water.

I had my first altercation with a rude stranger without running home and drinking to numb the rage I felt. It happened just a few hours ago, and I’m struggling to stop going over the episode in head, thinking of things I should have said, wishing my voice didn’t shake when I defended myself. This is when I allow those uncomfortable feelings to move through me rather than drowning them with alcohol. This is when I call someone who won’t get me worked up even more, but someone who will calm me down and help me see the bigger picture and the reason I attracted this scenario into my life. Everything happens for a reason to help us learn and grow. Every asshole in your life is playing a part to help in your evolution. You can hate those people, or you can thank them for actively mirroring the ways in which you abuse yourself. Essentially, assholes are a reminder that you need to stop being an asshole to yourself. This is when I acknowledge the lesson and joyfully let those bad feelings go.

I’ve got many other firsts coming up. A music festival that’s sure to be teeming with sweaty people enjoying the hell out of their cold beers. My first family gathering without a drink. First party. First time I have to turn down a friend’s invite to a beer-tasting event. First concert.

Challenging? Yes. But I’m also looking forward to the first time I wake up feeling clear-headed and energetic. I’m looking forward to my first normal lab tests. I’m looking forward to having the motivation to finish my first novel. The thought of these firsts keeps me going.

My Rock Bottom

I had my last drink on Sunday, March 30, 2014. I was pissed off that day at a friend who was hanging out with some mutual acquaintances. Nobody thought to invite me—or even worse, my monkey mind convinced me that they did think about it and dismissed the idea with laughter—and my feelings were hurt. Normally, I’m a reclusive sort of gal and don’t go out much anyway. I like my own company. Plus, being alone allowed me to drink as much as I wanted without anyone counting my trips back to the wine bottle or tallying up my pile of beer bottles in the recycling bin at the end of the night.

It was a cool spring day, and I had the windows open. As I sat at my desk and tried to work on a writing assignment, I could hear the drunken cackles of these neighborhood friends, hanging out in someone’s back yard. I thought it sounded trashy, unbecoming, especially with the sounds of Foghat and Skynyrd playing in the background. Even if I were invited, I may have stayed for one drink, but I would have begged off because I needed to get back home to my kids (ages 10 and 12). I don’t even really like hanging out with these people, whose ideologies revolve around guns and Harleys, but it was the principle of the thing. In my mind, they were being just plain rude, and I was determined to ruminate over it until my blood boiled.

I immediately visited all the bad places in my mind, which of course outnumber the good places when you drink too much. I’m boring. I talk too much. I don’t talk enough. I’m not funny. I don’t fit in with any group and never have. I don’t have any true friends in this world. If I ever get invited to anything, it’s always out of obligation. I’m an afterthought, sometimes a non-entity. Everyone hates me.

Some people become happy when they drink. Some get mellow and numb. Others get angry and mean. I’ve done all of these in equal amounts, but that night, I was hurt when I uncorked that bottle of wine and full of rage three generous glasses later. This all happened beneath the surface, by the way. On the outside, I calmly snuggled with the kids on the couch for some TV time and got them off to bed at  a decent hour. But I wasn’t fully there. I never was when I was drinking.

I finally drifted off around 12:30, fevered and drained of my life force from all that thinking. And I literally had a fever. For months, I had developed a low-grade fever on and off in the evenings. I don’t have health insurance, so I can’t just run off to my doc to get these things checked out. I woke up the next morning, feeling rough, and got the kids off to school. Then I went home and crashed. My head was foggy. My limbs felt too heavy to lift. I was depressed and angry at myself for getting so worked up over nothing the night before. I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest hurt. 

Then that annoying voice inside my head said, “Stop drinking and everything will get better.”

Whose voice was it? My higher self? God? My dead mother? Doesn’t matter. I’ve been hearing that voice for a while now, though, and I never believed what it told me. How could everything get better? I don’t even drink that much, I told myself. Drinking actually makes me more relaxed, funnier, more charming. I’d be a total bore in social situations without it, right? No one will invite me anywhere if I’m just going to sit there being my boring, shy self with a glass of water in my hand. Then the previous day’s events came flooding back: I wasn’t invited to the party anyway. Why did I even care about these people with whom I share very little common ground? They actually made me feel quite uncomfortable at times. Why would I want to spend my time with people that I have to anesthetize myself to be around? Was I that desperate?

Yes, I was. On many levels. Desperate to be included. Desperate to be seen as funny and smart and sophisticated. Desperate to avoid feeling like a failure in life.

And I was physically ill, too. It turns out I am severely anemic and deficient in folic acid, B12, and magnesium. Alcohol was slowly depleting my body of what it needed to function, probably for over a year now, and I just recently reached a critical mass of sorts. The fevers, shortness of breath, persistent eyelid twitching, fatigue, and at least a dozen other complaints came on all at once.

I knew I’d have to quit once and for all if I wanted to live. By that, I don’t mean just get my physical health back in check, but I mean truly thrive and reach a place of peace and contentment. To be happy with myself. To have the energy to work toward my goals with consistency.

Rock bottoms are different for everyone. We’ve all heard the more dramatic stories of waking up in the gutter, but hitting bottom can also be subtle and sneak up on you. One day you may wake up in your comfortable bed, finally listen to that voice, and say, Enough.

Monkey Mind

In Buddhism, “monkey mind” refers to the inability to stay in the moment. Thoughts jump from the past (“I feel so guilty about that thing I did that no one else even cares about or remembers”) to the future (“I’m going to make up the worst possible thing that could happen to me and be afraid of that for no good reason”) and around and back again. It’s as if a bunch of drunken monkeys are inside your head, hopping to and fro on your personal timeline but never stopping in the present and shutting the hell up for five minutes.

I turned 43 this week. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I made some profound discoveries when I purposely turned off my monkey mind. My first discovery was that I needed to purposely turn off my damn monkey mind more often. My second discovery was that I was severely depressed. Third: My physical health was in a precarious state. Fourth: My excessive drinking wasn’t doing me any favors when it came to numbers one through three.

I’ve been depressed off and on my whole life. I’ve had a problem with alcohol for more than 15 years. Both of these issues have prevented me from doing my best, getting ahead financially, and giving everything I have to achieve my dreams. I was simply too numb, too stuck in the past, too worried about the future, to put in the necessary work. This blog is about the work. It starts with getting my mind and body righted and replenishing my energy stores so that I can function like a normal human being.

I once read somewhere that the age when your drinking becomes problematic is the age at which your development is stunted. I guess that makes me about 27 years old. I’m still a young adult, taking those first steps toward becoming what I want to be when I grow up. As a writer, I know that documenting the journey will help me. I hope it helps others who are going through the same difficulties.