There and back again

So, my first sober beach vacation is done.

This is the first year in a lot of years that we haven’t packed up kit and caboodle for the journey south to the Outer Banks. We usually rent a big old house, and there a lot of days spent on the beach with very little talking (I’m actually not very talkative, though admittedly verbose in writing), delightfully thick books, surf fishing, kite flying, naps in hammocks and, for me, there used to be a LOT of wine. Vacation used to be the time that no one questioned drinking before noon: We are on vacation! And when the kids were really little and still napped, I could often be found heading over the dune with my beach chair, my book and a travel cup filled to the brim with wine.  The solitude, open vistas, sparsely populated beach, booming surf all appeals deeply to my introverted nature. This year, we just couldn’t swing it money-wise.  So, in January, when my drinking was at its’ worst, and our friends suggested a Fathers’ Day beach getaway at a super fun party hotel I was all “Yeah!” The fact that I only vaguely remember booking the hotel should have been a warning sign.

So, needless to say, heading to a beach with a bustling boardwalk, public transportation, and some of our hardest partying friends was going to be a change of pace in and of itself. Add in the fact that I was going to be doing noise, crowds, bars, restaurants and all of the above all while newly sober, welp. Cue anxiety.

First afternoon we arrived, we checked in and ventured down to check out the beach. Three of the families we were meeting were there and the adults had obviously been drinking since early in the day. I was immediately pressed to get a drink from the beachside bar and finally told my friend, “sure- tell them to give me their best virgin drink.” So, I sat there amongst my very relaxed, incredibly buzzed friends, feeling tightly wound, sipping a virgin mango daiquiri and watching round after round being ordered and thought “There’s no way they can maintain that pace. And who is watching the kids?”

My husband, who for the most part hasn’t been drinking at all these last few months, (he has refused to have any booze in the house as a show of support to me) suddenly found himself being bought drinks and before we knew it he was three deep with very high alcohol content craft IPAs.  When they bought him a fourth, he kind of threw up his hands and I told him “you know you can just say No when they try to bring you another” he gave me a look.  It was the “you are becoming one of those people” look.

I had a moment where I considered, “Am I becoming one of those people?”

I love our friends, and used to really love drinking with them, though I never allowed myself to get “drunk” when out. That was always reserved for the safety of my own home. Or “supposed”
safety, since near the end I was hurting myself during blackouts and it was spilling out into the rest of my life..driving, missing work, etc.  But for the most part, I kept my drinking under control when at other people’s homes or out for dinner because I guess the perfectionist part of me never wanted to look like a bad mom or the cheap drunk (though, I was certainly free enough to be both behind closed doors after my family had gone to bed.)

I woke up early Saturday morning and decided to go running before hitting the beach. I was heading down the beachfront street, enjoying the relative quiet of the morning. I was jogging in place, waiting at a crosswalk, listening to some good tunes and thought “Yep, I am becoming one of those people.”

I’ve seen them. The ones who are out running or biking along the trails at the beach. I would usually see them when I had finally emerged after a night of drinking, usually after 10 am and would look at them like they were crazy. How are they out exercising when I have a headache and want to vomit? How can they stand the bright sun? When can I drink again so I feel better? What is wrong with them?

Turns out, nothing. They value their health and exercise is a pleasure, not a punishment and it helps them feel good. They have time to do it because they ARE on vacation and nothing else is vying for their time and attention.  Am I the only one who never saw this before?

I swear I’m becoming one of those crazy optimistic people who sees meaning in everything. You know the ones. They post inspirational crap on their Facebook pages. I used to scroll past with a cynical eyeroll and now I look at their quotes (even the painfully misspelled ones) and nod internally. I feel it resonate deep in my soul and think “Yep, I’m one of those people now.”

“Those people” used to seem like aliens. Like who goes to a movie and doesn’t bring two or three airplane size bottles of vodka in their purse to add to their soda? Who doesn’t start drinking on vacation right around 10 am and continue until midnight, juggling the perfect buzz? Who doesn’t pregame before going out for dinner and drinks the respectable one glass of whine but then post-games until they fall asleep (pass out)? Well, me for one, these days.

I was the only non-drinking adult the entire weekend.  And you know what? It was fine.

One of my friends actually told me “whatever you are doing, it’s working. I’m jealous of your fitness, you are positively glowing and you look so pretty.” And I’m sure I was gape-jawed for a solid minute. Because all I ever used to hear when I saw her was how tired I looked. Funny, how not killing yourself makes you look dewy and, well, alive.   I know there are external changes. So many. But the internal ones are the ones that are harder to catalogue. There are hundreds of new choices, small shifts that add up to big changes.

For Father’s Day, we all went to breakfast at a very rustic and cool converted- barn restaurant and instead of the usual greasy eggs, bacon, homefries toast post hangover breakfast I would have ordered, I had fresh fruit and a portabello, egg and avocado version of eggs benedict which was delicious and didn’t leave me in a food coma. I felt light, happy, satisfied. And while everyone else had their Bloody Mary’s, I actually really enjoyed my dark roast coffee. I didn’t feel deprived or like I was missing out on anything.  And I think that’s the biggest surprise of sobriety. The things I am doing, and experience sober are so much better BECAUSE I am sober. Things I would have cynically sneered at are actually really great. I simply couldn’t appreciate them because my perspective was all twisted by despair and shame.  My old attempts to conjure a “be in the moment, find the joy in everything” outlook were always sour, and off in some way. Now, it’s authentic. So much so that it’s a little nauseating, even to me.  I’m sure I will find the balance but for now, my soul that is so scarred but awakening again finally appreciates sentiments that used to feel like bullets. Now they are balm.

Like this little gem:

Yes, I had a few moments where I was overloaded with too many people, noise, input.  But instead of drinking, I texted my sober group and took a moment to regulate. Breathed. Used my tools: Paid attention to my own breath and chose to come back into myself when I wanted to check out.  I paused and named three things I could hear: waves, laughter, distant steel drums, two things I could feel: hot, grainy sand under my feet, cool air brushing past my warm skin, one thing I could see: perfect puffy white clouds in an azure sky… and then the moment of discomfort passed and I refocused on where I was.  And went and got some ice cream. Twice on Saturday.

I have always loved the ocean and how it made me feel like my problems were insignificant in comparison to how vast it is. (Plus, whales.)  I love the wind in my face, the salt in my hair and in my nose. The light is even different. The wild air, the rhythm and flow of the cold waves, watching pebbles and shells turned over and over.  The mysterious depths feel ancient.  My own emotions are swallowed by the sheer vastness of it.  But I didn’t feel insignificant this time around.  I felt like I was where I wanted to be: in the waves, with my kids, fully present (albeit with sand in my ears from getting pounded!) My overarching emotions: hope, joy. The real kind.

And while I have a lot to consider about future vacations: where and with who, I’m trying to not stress it for now.  Instead, I’m aware of how many things are shifting, settling, like sand moved by the tide, within my own heart and mind. I’m not sure yet how my new inner beachscape will look in the end. So for now, I’m learning to just float in and out with the waves, not fighting, not panicking.. just trying to relax into it.

There and back again.

Don’t blow up the whale

(This was originally a post I wrote on my online support group site. Putting it here as a reminder to myself that this is all still true! And because this line of thinking has a great deal to do with the name of this particular sober blog)
Well, today was day 70.  This week has been rough. My peace has been rumpled and I’m finding that my inability to moderate applies to a lot of things. I’ve been going hard, pedal to the metal since day one and all of a sudden it hit me last night: I’m exhausted!
Sleeping has been a real struggle and somewhere in all those wakeful hours as I’m lying there in the dark, I begin with thoughts along the lines of ” I really need to stop eating so much chocolate. I should probably get some more exercise too. I love the idea of sobriety tattoos. I should get another good sober memoir to read”. Then my brain starts going a little bigger:  “I need to de-clutter this whole house, I should train for a half marathon. I should tell my other friends and family that I quit drinking…” etc. etc. and then my brain starts to really lose it’s sense of proportion until I’m thinking: ” I need to quit nursing and find a less stressful career. I should just grow a pair and post about my sobriety on Facebook. I should become a lighthouse keeper on some remote island. I should write a book. I think it’s time to end this marriage.” Future tripping, escalating, mind racing nonsense. It’s real conducive to sleeping.
Perhaps this is part and parcel of hitting this phase of sobriety where it’s still so new, but some of the novelty is wearing off and now it’s really starting to hit me how much work there is.  I have a million issues to deal with. The drinking is done, but the journey is starting to head steeply uphill.  And the lack of moderation part of me (which drove the bus for too long and look how that turned out!) has this idea that in order to do that,  I need to just burn everything down and start over. There’s this little part of my brain that sneaks in when my guard is down and declares “now you’ve identified the problem, I think you should just fix absolulety everything right. freaking. now.” Perhaps that’s the old alcoholic/ can’t moderate brain in its’ death throes but it’s a giant pain in the ass. And real bad for my eye bags.
There’s this panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach that goes against everything I’m learning. All the wise, prudent “sitting in the moment and feeling all the feelings, just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s real or that you have to act on it right away” type stuff. I have to tell myself to slow down a thousand times a day. Remind myself this is new, one thing at a time. (I’m assured by folks with more sobriety who tell me if this is just another phase that passes.. and that your brain learns to chill out a little *please sooner rather than later)
Last night, at 2 am, I found myself reading an odd article about how to get rid of a dead whale that has washed up on the beach. ( Link here, if you find yourself with insomnia and curious about deceased whale removal):   http://www.wired.com/2016/05/get-rid-dead-rotting-whale-beach-hint-dont-blow/
The problem: 80, 000 pounds of rotting whale on your pristine beach. How do you get rid of it so the tourists and the surfers can frolic in the sun without a giant carcass blocking the view, the scavengers, the God-awful stench?
And it struck me: that’s a perfect metaphor for how I feel about alcoholism and this journey into sobriety. It used to seem like an insurmountable problem. I mean, where do you even begin?
The article talked about how the whale can be towed back out to sea, or painstakingly cut into pieces and hauled away to a landfill… or, in the case of an ill-fated town in Oregon, back in 1970, they decided to blow it up with dynamite. Really.
There’s even a YouTube video: https://youtu.be/xBgThvB_IDQ
Let’s just say that it did not go well, and everyone who came to watch ended up covered in particles of rotting whale blubber; the biggest chunks actually damaged vehicles in the area and the whole thing ended up a million times worse.
The article concluded that the best thing in the long run is to allow the whale carcass to decompose naturally, which takes time and sunlight and salt air… and time.  Lots of time.  But eventually, the smell fades, the scavengers leave and all that is left is a set of bleached bones that were once a giant whale. And the bones are intact, a memory of something that once was.
I think we’ve all seen those “Take it Easy” bumper stickers a million times. I know it’s another one of those seemingly cliché’ phrases that end up actually being wise when you get past the seeming schlock. I know it’s a big concept with the AA crew and for good reason.
I simply have to take it a day at a time. I can’t future trip, think in extremes, or rush this process.  I have to just let things take their course, and allow what I am learning to sink in, take root. Like light and air working slowly on that whale, the truths I am learning will eventually also do their work. And time can’t be rushed.
(Now, if someone could just tell my brain)
That’s all I’ve got. So hang in there, friends, and don’t blow up the whale.

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