recovery alcoholism women

Just One Drink

I announced my move to the new site, The Truth Of Being Us, a couple of weeks ago. However, given how many of you still follow me in this space, I will overlap a few posts between the sites for a period of time. Last week, I shared the experience below. Please also remember, I would love to share any of your experiences on the new site. It can be something you’ve already written or something completely new. The important thing is that it can be raw, imperfect and anything recovery related that you want it to be. Our stories connect us and support others, I would love for you to be a part of that.


Just One Drink – From The Truth of Being Us – 9/8/18

Sitting in the back of an Uber watching the Boston skyline pass me by, I’m considering how easy it would be to have just one drink once I made it to the airport. A cool glass of white wine would take the edge off the discomfort I’ve been feeling for two days. It would ease the pain I’m carrying after a stress-induced muscle spasm set up residence in my back and neck. That one drink would open the door to relaxation and allow me to stop caring about the heavy work load and lack of sleep I’m up against.

It would be so simple. I’ll slide into an airport bar in a city where no one knows me. Move in quickly, finish my one glass and move on without anyone being any wiser. I don’t have to tell a soul. It could be my little secret. What harm would just one drink do anyway? It will make me feel better long enough to get through the flight and back to the comfort of home. Sleep on my own pillow and a soak in my bathtub are a few hours away. If one glass of wine can bridge the gap to that place, then it might be worth it.

Stepping onto the curb and making my way through the airport check-in, I can see that glass touching my lips. The one drink that will make everything more bearable. I am going to go for it. Yes. I’ll have that one drink. It’s only going to be the one. I’m attending She Recovers in a week. Do I feel guilty? A little – but forget about that. It’s not like there is some law that requires an announcement that I cheated. Do we call it cheating? No, I think we call it relapse. Oh, come on. Is it a relapse if it’s only one? For crying out loud, it’s only one drink, I can live with that. Will I have to change my sobriety date? I don’t want to start over. Not if I keep my mouth shut. That probably isn’t a very good thought to have, but I can’t even lift my bag to my shoulder. One drink will fix that.

Collecting my bag at the end of the security line, I can see it. A bar to my left and an open stool in between those people laughing and sipping on their cocktails. I can be one of them, anonymous and happy at the airport bar. Yes, that is was I need right now. It’s been so long that just one drink will probably kick in fast and maybe even a little hard, if I’m lucky. I remember the feel of that buzz in my body, but there must be another bar closer to the gate.

There it is. The bar at the end of the corridor and my gate right behind it. This is it. This is the one. I’ll venture in and back out so fast that I might not have to even consider what I’ve done. I’ll have my drink and perch myself in a chair to enjoy the ride until boarding. This is my chance. I can be like everyone else and have a drink at an airport bar. I know this will be temporary, but that’s all I need right now. Just a moment to make me feel better. Am I going to regret this afterwards? I can pretend like it never happened, can’t I? Just one drink. A quick fix until I make it home. It’ll be like taking an aspirin. Won’t it?

Stopping first into the store next to the bar makes the most sense. I need water for the flight and don’t want to run out of time. Water first, then my one drink. That giant bag of Sour Patch Kids looks awfully enticing. I’ll take those, too. I’ll take those all the way to my seat at the gate. Legs, please keep walking.

This was me on Wednesday and all the ridiculous chatter that was going on in my head over the span of about 20 minutes. This is the kind of internal dialogue that people in recovery battle. Yes, I am nearly 7 months sober and here I was, wanting a drink in such a strong way that I considered going against everything I believed in to get it. I wanted to be like everyone else and have my one drink because it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. The reality is, it happens to be a very big deal for me. It likely wouldn’t have been just one drink. I know where this path leads and it isn’t one that I want to ever find myself on again. Fortunately, this scenario doesn’t happen often at this stage in my sobriety, but it does still happen. It may continue to happen for the rest of my life, but if I’m lucky, I’ll continue to choose sugar when it does.

Thank you to the makers of Sour Patch Kids for supporting my recovery


With Trauma, We Numb

What a strange Saturday it was. Some of you who follow me on social media may have seen a piece of what I was struggling with, but allow me to shine the light on what was happening behind the scenes. I was at the tail end of a vacation week, which I had entered fully anticipating that there could be some moments where I think about drinking. Given how infrequently I considered it these days, I thought the worst was over.

This wasn’t my first vacation, I spent a week traveling in Arizona back when I was barely one month sober, but this was the first one that involved a good deal of down time. A few quiet days in the mountains would start out the week, followed by time spent at home. The urge first struck me as we unpacked our car at the mountain house. While I lingered over our supplies on the kitchen counter, I told my husband that I wanted nothing more in that moment than to crack open a beer and sit on the porch. Inside my head I was having the thought that maybe I actually could do just that. I was on vacation. I was away from everyone else and it wouldn’t be a big deal, right? We talked a bit about how natural this would have been in the past. With so much free time staring me down, there would have been zero hesitation to fill all that space with alcohol in my former life. This time I had to hesitate, and I was able to quickly connect the dots about why I couldn’t have that beer and decidedly didn’t want to spend my vacation in a numb state. I settled for a fizzy water and a cigar on the porch instead. It turned out perfect. There were a handful of moments like this one during the week, even after returning home, but fortunately they were all brief. I was able to squelch the urges with other distractions or tools from my sobriety kit. In general, things went pretty well, until Saturday.

I woke up to a seemingly normal day, but within a couple of hours I was carrying a thick, heavy sense of dread and sadness inside my gut. I tried to figure out what it was and why I was feeling so down on myself. The predominant notion that kept popping into my head was how ugly I felt. Downright ugly and unattractive. It wasn’t a body thing, it was just an overall sense of ugliness. That is the only way I can describe it and even that doesn’t do it justice. I was at a complete loss as to where this awfulness was coming from. There was no trigger to pinpoint, this was an out of the blue, mucky mess of a feeling. With this came the severe urge to drink right behind it. I consciously knew the reason I wanted to drink was to chase away whatever this feeling was. While my awareness of the situation and behavior may have been spot on, my heart wasn’t fully on board, so the battle carried on. I immediately turned to my tools and went off to my woman-cave for some yoga. Yoga usually does the trick, but it didn’t cut it this time. I then gave a go at meditation, taking some time to breathe and sit with what was happening for a while. Unfortunately, the hefty feeling was relentless.

I played a delicate game all day of trying to understand what this feeling was and where it was coming from, but without giving it too much weight so that I didn’t feed into it. That was nearly an impossible task. I applied every tool that I’ve learned in therapy and kept coming up short. When I finally tried to open up and explain to my husband what was going on, I could barely form sentences. My mind was scrambled and my mouth was following suit. I had to walk away from him with tears forming in my eyes when I couldn’t clearly define what was happening. It was then that I recognized this muddled sensation as a sign of trauma. I had experienced it before when something triggered me or during difficult therapy work. The problem here was that there was no identifying where it came from. This was just the feeling suddenly upon me without any memory or incident to connect it to. It was stuck and I was frustrated.

As the hours went on, every time I would pass the cabinet where there is whiskey, I would pause and consider how a few drinks would take the edge off. If my husband was out of sight, I thought about how I had the chance to grab a quick swig from a bottle. There was this internal dialogue going on about how the alcohol would make it all better, followed immediately by all the reasons why that was the worst idea ever. The frustration wasn’t just about the awful feelings that were sitting in me, but the fact that I was four and a half months sober and this craving was so strong. The hold that alcohol had on me released its grip so much in recent months that it was scary to feel its powerful squeeze tightening around me again. It was maddening.

Late that afternoon, after trying everything else, I turned to social media. I put out a tweet to #recoveryposse and connected with some of the women on a private Facebook group I belong to. Just one simple statement about my struggle and messages came back my way to show support and let me know that this does still happen sometimes, even years into recovery. While I knew this logically when I sent that message, I’m not sure I fully knew it in my heart, and to have those reminders meant so much. Hearing a few words from others who have been there, sometimes even in just one sentence, made all the difference.

After finally experiencing some relief with the feelings and cravings moving on that evening, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened. I’ve also spent some time talking through it with my therapist. It’s entirely possible that my brain was trying to work something out. In addition to that day’s events, I had some terrible and vivid dreams that night about my ex-husband. It’s equally possible that I had experienced a trigger earlier that day that I may not have been aware of, but that my brain picked up on and sent me spinning. It could have been as simple as a phrase, sound or smell that started it all. There is this thing that happens with trauma and your brain that I find fascinating. It can separate the feeling from the incident or memory and your neural pathways hold onto that pattern. Part of the work (and it’s hard work) is to connect those paths together in order to move through the trauma and reach release. It’s more retraining of the brain as a part of the healing process. Until this particular day went down, where I was stuck with only the feeling without the memory to apply it to, I didn’t fully comprehend this idea that we’ve been talking about in therapy for so long. Suddenly it all made sense. It continues to amaze me how many breakthroughs come from difficult moments.

It’s no secret that trauma drives so many of us to numb. It took me some time to recognize that some of what I have been through in life was defined as trauma, as I typically equated this to soldiers in war or car accident victims. It took even more time for me to see that I was numbing it. I wanted to take those same, familiar steps on Saturday and I knew that alcohol would make me feel better in those moments of anguish. If you are reading this and ever find yourself in a similar situation, please let this be a reminder that numbing is only temporary. It does get better. I was miserable for most of that day, but by the evening things were drastically different and when I woke up on Sunday I was so grateful that I didn’t put the bottle to my lips. If I had, the vicious cycle would have started all over again and the feelings would only be worse.

It’s a process, sometimes a long and arduous one, but worth every difficult moment. From those difficulties we can grow, and we will thrive.


mid life sober women

Four Months In The Light

As I just hit four months of sobriety, I realized that I haven’t done a check-in lately on what life without alcohol is currently like. Over the span of four months, I’ve had a vacation, outings with drinking friends, entertaining in my home, I attended a wedding and experienced my annual company meeting/party, all while remaining alcohol-free. Moments have sometimes been overwhelming, enlightening, freeing, stressful or a combination of all of those, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s a little look at where things are today.

The days and hours have grown so much easier than they were in the early weeks of sobriety, easier than even just one month ago. The obsession over alcohol that I never thought I would escape has visibly loosened its grip. I no longer come home after a long day of work and worry about how I’m going to avoid drinking. It’s not even a thought in my head, which catches me by surprise when I stop to consider this while in the midst of more productive tasks. The relief of no longer having the immediate inclination to reach for the bottle is as soothing as aloe on a fresh sunburn. Then there is the physical piece, which has me feeling so much better. While replacing the wine with sugar is still playing a small role, I’m finally trying to take that down a notch (disregard the half-gallon of mint chocolate chip I just put in the freezer). In general, I pay more attention to what I’m putting into my body now. Morning smoothies and long walks have become my new obsession.

I was constantly living in a state of threat level orange.

Besides my diminishing drive for the drink, the number of times I notice people talking about alcohol has also lessened. While I wouldn’t say the amount has actually changed, it seems that the way that I process hearing about it has altered. Every excruciating moment that the topic would come up during the first couple of months left me cringing. Even though I much preferred having a discussion about my sobriety as opposed to dancing around it, it was my awareness of the subject that was on high alert, particularly before I came out in the open with my new lifestyle choice. Until that day, I was constantly living in a state of threat level orange. Now when the topic comes up I don’t pay it much attention; if the discussion carries, if warranted, I simply say “I don’t drink.” The surprised looks and stammering at that response haven’t changed much. People don’t usually ask about the reason, but sometimes they do and I’m happy to tell them. The awkwardness of that conversation has toned down as I’ve grown more comfortable with my story.

Now that the obsession has calmed, I’ve never been busier. I’m not talking about day-job busy, although there will always be that piece to balance, this is about all things related to creativity, sobriety and self-care. My head is clearer and with that, time seems to have expanded exponentially, as have my interests. Well, many of the interests were always there, I just didn’t have the drive to follow through with them. I blame that on the alcohol numb-out. It’s the gift that keeps on giving until you shut it down. These days, I’ve developed a bit of what I refer to as shiny object syndrome. It’s as though my brain has expanded and is absorbing all the things that alcohol didn’t allow the capacity for previously. With that, it can be a challenge to maintain focus, but at least it’s no longer a result of being in a booze-laden fog. What I have learned very recently is that I must slow down and set small goals for myself at the beginning of each week. If I don’t do this, I would have my hands in a thousand things without making much progress and with very little sleep. Both are essential for working towards what I consider my greater purpose.

It’s time to stop living like I’m always just standing on the edge looking in at what my life could be.

The bottom line is that what stopping drinking has opened for me is like an awakening. It’s part of a tremendous transition in my life. I had a major shift and completely changed my life when I was 30, and here in my early (almost mid) 40s I’ve been experiencing what Brené Brown refers to as the mid-life unraveling. It’s powerful. My creativity is coming alive, I’m exploring spirituality, expanding my knowledge at every turn, building a tribe and I’m slowly taking off the armor that I’ve been wrapped in for my entire life. It eventually grows tiring to live life the way you think others expect of you. For me, I didn’t recognize that this was what I’d been doing until these recent months. There are parts of me that have always existed but that I was afraid to explore or let shine because of what I thought others might think. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but it’s time to stop living like I’m always just standing on the edge looking in at what my life could be. My husband tells me I’ve gone crunchy granola, I say I’ve gone a little woo-woo, but I love every minute of it.

This light has always existed inside of me, but it never had the chance to shine until I took away the one thing that was dimming it. On the day that I quit, I told myself that alcohol was doing me a disservice, I had no idea at the time just how accurate that was.


she recovers la

Why I’m Attending She Recovers – LA

When I first heard of She Recovers, it was after reading Elizabeth Vargas’ book Between Breaths – A Memoir of Panic and Addiction. There was something that I always admired about Elizabeth over the years, I followed her journalism early on when Good Morning America used to accompany my morning routine and then followed her after she moved on to some of the evening news shows.  Last year, when I was reading everything I could get my hands on about women with alcohol problems, while still in denial of my own, I was surprised to see Elizabeth’s face on the cover of a book in that category. With my trusty glass of wine right next to me, I settled in and tore through her book in a few evenings. By this point I had read countless other stories, but something about this one made a connection for me. This was someone I had watched over the years and would have thought had a seemingly idyllic life, who was instead struggling with a tremendous battle with anxiety and alcohol. I suspected that others may have looked at me like one of those women who had it all together, too. Not on an Elizabeth Vargas national news anchor scale, mind you, but in my own, smaller circles. Maybe that is why her book resonated so deeply.

I sent Elizabeth a short note on Twitter after reading the book, letting her know how much I enjoyed it, to which she graciously responded. I then came across a reference on her account to an event where she had been a guest speaker, an event called She Recovers. I dug in a bit more and discovered that the conference took place in NYC in early 2017 and was geared towards women in recovery. Not just alcohol recovery, but recovery from any number of things. The speaker line-up was impressive. Besides Elizabeth Vargas, there was Gabby Bernstein, Marianne Williamson, and Glennon Doyle-Melton, just to name a few. There was yoga, workshops and other events put on over this weekend, and all attended by 500 women in recovery. Even in my state of denial, I was inspired just by knowing that something like this even existed. She Recovers was stuck in my head from that point on.

Fast forward to February of this year, the month when I finally came to terms with my own issues with alcohol and made the decision to enter full-fledged sobriety. Just one week after drawing that hard line, I was staring at the She Recovers website where the 2018 event in LA was announced. One week of being alcohol free and I signed up to attend in September. You might think this is a bit fast for someone so new in the recovery scene, but I had been exploring the world of recovery for well over a year at this point. Let’s also not forget that I was working through anxiety and all the issues stemming from being an adult child of an alcoholic for quite some time, it just so happens that my own alcohol use was the cherry on top of my recovery sundae.

It didn’t matter how new I was to this scene, I had a deep knowing that I needed to attend She Recovers LA. It has been giving me something to work towards and setting that commitment even saved me from drinking a time or two in these early stages of sobriety. When struck with moments of weakness (and there have been many), I remind myself of how it’s going to feel to sit among over 500 women who are either in my shoes or who have worn something similar. Since the day I registered, I’ve known that I had to stay true to the sobriety commitment that I made on February 20th not just out of respect for myself, but with respect for the women that I will meet in September.

As the speaker line up is slowly announced, I’m giddy over knowing that I’ll see one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, speak, not to mention an appearance by the fabulous and hilarious Amy Dresner. (Check out her book, My Fair Junkie, if you haven’t done so already.)  Of course, it’s scary to head off to a conference like this where I don’t know anyone, but it’s also pretty empowering for this introvert. I’m looking forward to just being in the same space as these lovely women for three days, to hear their stories and to share in their dreams. I can only imagine how divine it will feel to wear my sobriety proudly, to let loose and just be me with other women who get it. It comes down to connection and inspiration, both of which I have no doubt will be available in abundance on this weekend with She Recovers in LA in September.


alcoholism recovery urge

Sunday Blues

Yesterday was an odd Sunday for me. I woke up quite early already carrying the gloom of having to go to work on Monday, which is my least favorite way to start any day out. I haven’t had that feeling in quite some time and have had much success managing the stress at work, but for some reason the weight of it decided to hit hard this weekend. It was a such a beautiful day and the time spent with my husband was very nice, as always, but I could not shake the overwhelming dread of what was to come. Despite all of the tools at my disposal, the heaviness on my chest was determined to stick around. That heaviness turned into a strong, and I mean very strong desire to drink.

I was resting comfortably on the sofa with golf on TV late in the afternoon when my struggle to fight off the worries over work turned into a battle to get thoughts of alcohol out of my head. I fiercely tried to change my thoughts around by reminding myself about how badly I would feel afterward, but I still wanted to have that one glass of chardonnay or shot of whiskey. It didn’t matter what it was, I just needed to feel the warmth of it running down my throat. I reminded myself of all the work that I’ve been doing and how I want to change not only my future but want to help others with theirs, and how could I possibly do that if I had a drink? But that voice inside was persistent that it didn’t give a fuck about any of that. It didn’t care that I would have to take my 75 days of sobriety back down to 0 or about how anyone else might think of me. It didn’t want to consider any of the ramifications, it just wanted to lift a drink to my lips. My feelings were so overwhelming that I was nearly overcome with the desire for the old tool that I used to keep them at bay.

My husband could tell something was not right and asked if I was doing okay. I tried, but I couldn’t quite put what I was feeling into words, but I did end up confessing that I really wanted a drink in that moment. After a bit of talking through it, but still feeling the temptation, I decided to take myself out to the back yard to water my flowers and plant my bare feet in our cool grass. It was only for a few minutes, but that sensation has always been one of my favorites. Standing there in the grass, in the beauty of our yard at the home that I love made me feel grounded again. My anxiety didn’t totally disappear, but it relented enough that I was able to carry on with the rest of the evening without feeling like I was going to make a mad dash for a bottle.

I’m not new to this, I’ve talked about random urges to drink here before, but that doesn’t mean that these events don’t still surprise me, especially when the desire is so insatiable. I’m pretty self-aware these days and already have my suspicions about where all of this came from. It may have been part anxiety, part hormones, and part what I like to call the Sunday blues. No matter what the reasons, I am most importantly reminded of how precious my sobriety really is to me.  Even when things seem like they have been flowing much steadier and I can loosen my grip, I can still come up against a vicious tide that tries to sweep my feet out from under me. I do know that it won’t always be that way, but for now I will fight to keep myself grounded because it is so much better here in the calm.

76 days and counting…

child gun alcohol

Shiny Silver Boxes

I recall a day, back when I was ten years old, that my father came home holding a beautiful silver box in his hands. He sprung through the front door with a big smile on his face and told me to get my mother because he had something to show us. I thought for sure that this pretty box must be filled with something special, so I wasted no time running to call for mom in the backyard. When she came inside, dad positioned us both strategically in front of him in the kitchen while he held out the box and built the excitement up. “Are you ready to see what I have?” he said. My tiny voice let loose and proclaimed “yes!”, but my mother seemed skeptical. I was disappointed in her melancholy, for once dad was doing something nice for us. He moved his hand over the lid, slowly raising it to give us just a peek. I only saw a bit of blue velvet inside before he slammed the box shut and laughed. Mom was growing more irritated and I was growing more fascinated. If there was velvet then it must be something really good. Finally, he wrapped his fingers around the lid and pulled it all the way open. My excitement melted into a pile on the floor. There, nestled in the center of a blue velvet cushion sat something that I had never seen up close. This was the stuff of movies or TV, only bad guys and police were supposed to have this. Why on earth would dad think I would be happy to see a gun?

Mom started to cry and I stood stunned. He pulled it out of the box, waving it around to show it off, telling us about the great deal he just got. I somehow doubt he actually bought the thing, it was more likely part of a weird drug deal, but he couldn’t stop talking about it. My mother was upset and repeatedly asked him why he needed a gun in the house, which turned into a yelling match between the two. Needless to say, she didn’t win that argument. The gun stayed and that silver box went somewhere in dad’s den. Den is just a fancy term for the spare bedroom in the house that was off limits to anyone but him. It was his domain where he played music, did drugs, looked at pornographic magazines and did god knows what else. Now he had a gun to play with, too.

Even at age ten, I knew this was a terrible idea. When he wasn’t at work, dad was drunk and usually volatile, and these were the days when it was growing evident that he was doing something else, too. I remember a few times that he was obviously hallucinating. One night, he called me into the living room where I found him sitting up on the couch with his feet off the floor and in a panic. He was trying to fight off the giant rodents he saw crawling across the floor. He kept pointing and shouting “Did you see that? Oh my god! Did you see that?” When I kept denying it, he grew angry and wouldn’t let me leave the room until I “stopped lying” to him. I was frightened and thoroughly confused, but I finally gave in and admitted to seeing something. I even made a little game out of it by jumping around like I was running from the massive rodents that were in his head. So yeah, this man being in possession of a gun didn’t seem like such a brilliant idea. (For the record, every time I see The Princess Bride, I think of this moment. Good ol’ rodents of unusual size.)

One evening after the gun came into the home, dad thought he heard the doorbell being rang repeatedly and he was sure it was a neighborhood kid playing a prank. There was no doorbell, there was no sound at all, but he ran to the door over and over and grew more agitated each time. I remember my mom trying to calm him down and assure him that he must be hearing something else, but he wasn’t having it. A few minutes later he came barreling out of his den with that gun in his hands, running to the door screaming about that “goddamn kid” and “I’ll show him” while my mother chased behind him. He ran out the front door and stood shouting and waving it around in our driveway at no one, then mom locked him out. When he heard the door shut, he ran right back to it beating on it and yelling for her to let him back in. She called through the door that she was going to phone the police and with that, his tune changed completely. He quieted down and started apologizing and pleading with her to let him back in, which she didn’t waste much time doing. I don’t think either of them wanted the embarrassment of the police showing up.

Sometime after this event, it was a Saturday night and the madness escalated. The weekends were always the worst. Dad would come home from work on a Friday already half loaded from the beer he picked up on the drive home and would carry on until late Sunday night. Saturdays were when he hit his peak, as he definitely did on this night. He was in his den when something fired him up. I could hear him yelling and throwing things around in that tiny room, followed by a loud and unfamiliar clicking sound happening over and over again. Mom and I stood in the kitchen and through her frightened eyes she told me that the sound was him cocking the gun. I didn’t really know what that meant, but it terrified me. It was relentless, the sound seemed never ending until I heard the door to his room open. I looked to mom to do something, but she was frozen as he turned the corner with the gun in his hands and a wild look on his red and sweaty face. I don’t even recall what it was about, or if it made any sense at all, but he started yelling at mom and I was so afraid that he was going to shoot her. While he screamed and she cried, I felt responsibility to handle the situation and had to find a way to make it stop. In my ten-year old brain, I guess I thought I needed a weapon to do so and I grabbed the first thing I saw on the counter next to me. It was a large, metal garlic press. That’s right folks, I was going to stop the big man with a gun with a garlic press. I jumped in front of mom wielding my new weapon and screamed as loudly as I could for him to stop and to leave her alone. Things grew silent for a moment while dad looked confused, I thought he might even start laughing at this ridiculous scene in front of him, but no such luck. Instead he proceed to yell at both of us. Mom tried to silence me but I kept shouting right back at him, raising that garlic press high in my hand because I was ready to fight, if necessary. Then he lifted the gun and pointed it right at my head. I can still clearly see the weapon staring me in the face, I can hear my mothers screams, I can feel my heart race and then everything goes blank. I can’t remember a single thing after that.

I have no idea what the outcome of this was and like many other events, I’ve never talked about it with my mom. I’m quite certain it was never brought up by anyone after that night. But I do know this, that gun never made another appearance that I’m aware of. My assumption, or what I like to believe, is that dad was so frightened by his drug induced behavior and that he could have killed his wife and child that he got rid of his prized toy kept in the shiny silver box.


The Depth of Us

I am pleased to say that my apprehension with the work trip last week turned out to be somewhat unnecessary for a number of reasons. First, my husband ended up home for the week and opted to make the trip down to Charleston with me. While he couldn’t accompany me to my work events, it made it nice knowing that he was there waiting for me afterwards. His presence significantly altered the dynamic of some of the more stressful situations. I also need to thank a certain blogger who texted me to check in on Wednesday night – you know who you are!

The first night’s dinner was in an intimate courtyard at Leon’s Oyster Shop, complete with brick pavers and string lights. There was gorgeous whole fish being prepared on the wood fired grill in one corner and a massive open bar in the other. The one other sober person amid over 55 people there that night joined me at the bar for a club soda, and with that drink in my hand it wasn’t long before I realized that in this environment no one even noticed. I knew in relatively quick fashion that this evening would be a breeze. A few minutes later, our friendly but socially awkward I.T. manager sidled up next to me to mention that he had read my blog post about choosing sobriety. Now, as stalker-ish as this might initially seem, he called me nearly a year ago after I wrote a series of Linked-In articles where I referenced my other (more public) blog to tell me that he was following along. I am fully aware that there are one or two coworkers that read that blog, but I had forgotten that he was one of them. He nervously explained to me that he thought I was brave to put so much of myself out there for anyone to see and that he was prepared to go without a drink at these events if it would be of any help. Without making eye contact, he next quietly told me that he was also sorry about what I had to endure growing up. It feels a little odd to have someone tell me they are sorry, but I thanked him and promptly reassured him that I am in the best place I’ve ever been in my life. Now, I.T. guy is sadly someone that most people in our company avoid, and I’m sure that I’ve been one of those people at times, but the way he reached out to me that night made me see something else in him. I had the distinct sense that there is much more going on with I.T. guy and somehow the telling of my story was a way of connecting with him. It reminded me that we never really know what people are going through and we only ever see what’s on the surface with most of our interactions. It is easy to overlook that there is a depth and a life full of experiences, both good and bad, in every one of us. This would not be the only time this reminder would strike me on this short trip.

After dinner, I decided to stick to my original plan and call it an early night while others coordinated to hit the bar scene. As I prepared to head back to the hotel, I was surprised by the 10 or so people who immediately followed my lead. The bulk of the partying was expected to take place the following final night, usually with me included. As I got ready for dinner that next Thursday evening, I found my trepidation had mellowed. I knew wholeheartedly that I wouldn’t drink and given how the prior night went, I didn’t think the social aspect would be so bad, either. Instead, I found myself looking forward to dinner, but with the thought that I would still have to find a way to exit in advance of the big bar hopping. It seemed that fate had plans for an even earlier exit for me, however, when I stepped into a small pothole about a block from the restaurant. My fall was not a graceful one and judging by the reaction of the four people with me, I knew it was bad. I tried to brush it off and ignore the pain, proclaiming that I could just clean up a bit when we reached the restaurant and I would be fine. One of my coworkers even told me I’d feel better after getting a drink in me, to which I had to laugh. Then we all saw the goose egg on my knee and the blood pouring down my leg. After obtaining a pile of napkins and an Uber, I would spend the rest of that evening with my husband, a first aid kit and room service. I hear there are better ways to avoid drinking, though.

Earlier that day, we had several hours of free time to spend how we chose. Some folks played golf and drank, others went deep sea fishing and drank, and many spent the afternoon bouncing between bars and shopping, which is what I would have done in the past. Instead, I couldn’t wait to walk through the historic neighborhoods of the city and the best part was being able to take my husband along. It was during this beautiful walk on the perfectly sunny afternoon where we would receive word that a friend of ours had passed away. As my husband read the message to me on the sidewalk, I felt breathless. While the friend was not a regular part of our immediate circle of friends, he was someone we had known for close to 10 years and he was very much a part of the broader circle. It was just a few weeks ago that we spent time with him and now he was gone. You could say that we were both stunned by the news and while we had no idea what happened, I couldn’t keep from saying that this felt too close to home. We continued our walk, discussing how little we really know about some people and what may be going on in their lives or even with their health, both physical and mental. Something about the whole situation seemed off, not that it could ever feel right when something like this happens, but neither of us could shake the bad feeling.

It would be early Saturday morning when we would learn that our friend committed suicide. He was just 48 years old and had a wife and 7-year old son. There was obviously something so painful within him, something going on that no one knew about that made him feel that this was his only choice. We may not have been incredibly close with him, but his loss and the tragedy of it is painful. I feel heartbreak for his family and I feel heartbreak that many of us never really saw his struggles.

I have no perfect words for this loss, as I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I lost my father to a situation that speaks to taking his own life, and my step brother committed suicide after multiple tours in Afghanistan followed by a battle with heroin addiction. During my exposure to the recovery community, I continue to hear stories from others that have contemplated taking their lives at some point or still struggle with this even today. While I don’t know personally what it feels like to be faced with that affliction, I do believe that no matter what our story is, if we are comfortable sharing it then it should be told. Our stories connect us, and that connection can be incredibly powerful, maybe even life altering. If we aren’t sharing our stories with one another, then at the very least we should always remember that the stories are there within each of us. We are so much more than what we appear on the surface.

I celebrated two months of sobriety on Friday, 2/20, but it was Saturday that I felt some of the strongest cravings I’ve had in weeks. I struggled, I was irritable and I had an incredible urge to isolate and drink all day long, but I didn’t. It’s the feelings that are still difficult to face without alcohol and this will be my work for the foreseeable future, but it will also be the work that I continue to talk about because I know that I’m not alone in this.


Preparing for Another Sober First

Tomorrow is a day that I’m both dreading and looking forward to. In the morning, I will head to Charleston, SC. A beautiful city that I love, and I will get to see people that I typically only have the pleasure of being around once a year. This is the time of year when my annual company meeting rolls around and it’s always been couple of fun days. The problem is that the fun over the past seven years has been laced with alcohol. Two days of meetings intertwined with social activities, nice dinners, and free flowing booze. I mentioned last week that my company thrives on the drinking culture, it’s the environment we’ve fostered, like many others. We have high stress positions with long hours and relentless deadlines, so how do we let loose? We drink. We party. We stay up late and bar hop until we can’t remember what time we got back or how we got to the hotel. I am no longer a part of that “we”.

The locations are always carefully selected, we’ve done NYC, Miami, Chicago, Orlando, and the most recent event was in Nashville. I spent the first couple of years calling most evenings early, not hanging out with the crowd getting wasted because I still felt too new to fully partake. Then NYC hit and I was out with a group exploring the city bars and the whiskey scene well into the early hours of the morning. I wasn’t inappropriate at all, but I had a massive hangover through 8 hours of meetings the next day, which was utterly miserable. Then came Miami. Just after landing at the airport, I met up with a coworker for an afternoon drink on the beach where we polished off two bottles of wine and headed to dinner with the entire group. That night would be filled with pre-dinner cocktails, wine with dinner, post-dinner cocktails, champagne by the pool and then a couple of hours at a South Beach nightclub with table service and an entire bottle of scotch split between three people. I am fortunate to have been with people I trusted because I have vague memories of getting into a cab to head back to the hotel in the pre-dawn hours, but nothing after that. Somehow during my blackout I apparently had enough sense to set my 6:30 a.m. alarm in order to make it to the early morning meetings. I remember wobbling into the shower and still feeling so drunk that I could barely distinguish the shampoo from the conditioner, and the tiles on the wall looked like they might be moving. I next leaned over the well-stocked mini-bar in my room seriously contemplating cracking open one of the little bottles to take the edge off and get me through. I opted against it because I didn’t want anyone to smell it on me, but the amount of alcohol that had to already be oozing out of my pores would have remedied that.

I could barely see straight as I walked into the meeting room when my boss came up beside me and whispered that he was still drunk. I remember feeling relief that I wasn’t the only one. I spent the next several hours chugging Sprite and water and picking away at crackers, trying my best to keep from vomiting. It was complete misery. I remember repeatedly saying “I’m too old for this” as my hangover continued through the airport that evening. The moment I boarded the plane for home, I powered through two glasses of red wine. It was the only thing that was going to help, because there isn’t much that’s more miserable than being on a plane in that condition.

Everyone still makes jokes about that night and how awful we felt but how much fun we had. That won’t be the kind of fun I’m partaking in this time. While there were some good times, much of it is so fuzzy that it almost doesn’t seem like a real experience. It’s as though I have someone else’s memories. There is also no amount of fun that is worth that kind of hangover. It took me the better part of two days to recover, talk about lost time.

I look forward to staying sober on this trip, but I am walking into this with some trepidation. I am not ultimately worried about taking a drink, while I expect a craving to hit from time to time, I am too committed to staying sober at this point. What concerns me is the feeling that I went through at the small work dinner last week, only this time there is a much larger scale to deal with. That night made me realize that there are still unknowns that lie ahead of me and those can be scary. All I can do is be as prepared as possible. With that, I’ll share some of the tools and thoughts I plan to focus on to help get me through:

  1. Leave both dinners early, no matter what. The one sober person I planned to stick to will be headed out on Thursday and that will be the biggest boozing night of all. I may be compelled to stick it out, but I know that the longer I stay the more opportunity arises for struggles, so this time I’ll keep it short.
  2. I plan to take early morning walks around the city, starting the day with a little exercise and meditation to keep my thoughts on track.
  3. My phone is loaded up and ready with sobriety-based podcasts for those walks and the times spent getting ready in my hotel.
  4. Books and writing. When I come back early from those dinners, I’m well prepared for writing or reading something inspirational.
  5. I picked up a little pocket amethyst stone while in Arizona. Yes, I know it’s a little woo-woo and not something I would typically buy into, but amethyst supposedly has qualities to help people in recovery. If anything, when I hold the stone in my hands it reminds me of why I’ve chosen sobriety and sometimes that is all it takes.
  6. The Universe Has Your Back cards, from Gabrielle Bernstein. Sure, maybe another woo-woo item, but this fun little deck is a great tool for instant inspiration each day. It’s something new in my little bag of tricks and I spend time each morning reflecting on an affirmation for the day ahead followed by selecting a card that I’ll carry with me that day. For instance, today’s random card says “Surrender to a power greater than you.” That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
  7. Just breathe. When things start to feel tough, I’ll take deep breaths and with every one I’ll consider how great it feels to have a clear head and no hangover. I’ll remember how proud I am of the hard work I’ve accomplished and of how so much greatness still lies ahead of me. I’ll think of everyone who has supported me and know that I won’t let myself or any of them down.

I already ordered a celebratory coffee mug as a reward for making it through this trip. With any luck, it will be here waiting for me when I return. Not to mention, Friday will be my two months of sobriety. When I get through the next couple of days I have something pretty big to look forward to, and that makes me smile.