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):
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:
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.


Day 100.

I’ve been thinking about numbers this morning.

Zero used to be a number I wanted to avoid. It seemed empty and sad. But when I think about zero blackouts, zero hangovers, zero times driving buzzed, zero times I slurred my words, zero milligrams of Tylenol for splitting headaches, zero dollars spent on booze, (when in a very conservative estimate I would have consumed at least 200 bottles of wine in 100 days when I was drinking and even if that came from the cheapie wine bin, I’d say a thousand dollars? Mind boggling) then the idea of zero has weight to it. It represents freedom. Zero shame. Zero regrets. Zero moments that I wish I could get back and do over.

And then I think about “good” numbers. 539 miles run/walked in 100 days. 250,000 liters of water I’ve drank instead of booze. 100 wine-breath free bedtime prayers with my kids, 1 blog started, 100 journal entries written, 2500 hours spent doing yoga, 15 books read… None of those numbers would exist if I hadn’t strung together consecutive hours, and days of just not drinking.  Not drinking was just the beginning. It was like opening the cover on a mysterious book and finding wonders inside, turning page after page as the story sucks you in. I’m hooked.

I was stuck so long in the revolving door of addiction. I’d spin around inside, heaving my weight against the push bar to keep the door endlessly moving, occasionally catching glimpses of the world and light outside, think about jumping through that crack as it spun past, but ultimately I was afraid I’d get pinched in the door and so I just kept circling and circling. Until the day I was so desperate, I just flung myself at the opening and found myself blinking on the sidewalk with an entire colorful world opening around and up and up over my head. These last one hundred days, I have been walking (well, running) away from that spinning cycle of shame, promises, lies and despair and finding an entirely new world.  I wish I had just taken that leap twenty years ago when I first knew I had a problem with alcohol. What would my life look like if I had done that?  And how do you capture that moment, that moment of surrender, that moment of “enough, now” for others who are still trapped in that endless cycle and desperately want out but don’t know how? I wish I knew.

Unraveling all the strings and connections of why I drank and surveying the patterns and damage it has done over the years is stretching my mind, making me question and explore my motives and behaviors. I feel like I’m an anthropologist going through my own wrecked civilization and piecing it all together. Now I go to parties or out to dinner and watch friends and family with an almost clinical detachment, observing them cracking their 8th beer or struggling to find a wine opener for the 6th bottle of the night. Realizing how wobbly the conversation path gets when you are talking to someone who has been drinking for hours, how angry and incapable drunk people really are. How incredibly rare and radical it is in a way to be the only sober person in the room. And my inner rebel, the one who used to drink burly Army dudes under the table in my heyday is now shifting in perspective to think that the truly rebellious act in a room full of numbed out people is to be completely myself. My sober, non-impaired, capable, fully present self. It’s a sad testimony to our society that sober is rare.

Maybe my radar is just extremely sensitive, but I can’t help but notice the complete saturation of every aspect of our culture with alcohol.  Now, I drive past my old favorite liquor store, and I really read their sign, and notice the messages:

“Drinking rum before 10 am makes you a pirate.”
“Rain, rain go away… Beer.”
” If you are at a party and there’s no booze, you’re at the wrong party.”
“Make your liver quiver.”

My perspective is shifting, my eyes are different. I hear and see and live differently now that I, and not my addiction am calling the shots again. I think so much of the horror of alcoholism, at least for me, was living with cognitive dissonance: “contradictory or clashing thoughts that cause discomfort.” (that’s putting it mildly. It wasn’t discomfort, it was PAIN.) People have an innate need for consistency in our thoughts, perceptions and images of ourselves. Alcohol made me act in ways that were wholly inconsistent with my self image.  I wanted to think I was a good mother, a loving wife. And I am, when I don’t drink. I’m witty, and reliable, creative and kind. But when I drink, I’m a liar. I’m selfish, petty, self-serving, short-sighted, maudlin, careless, unfiltered.  Trying to reconcile those behaviours with who I imagined I was on the inside was impossible. The only way I can be who I truly am, is to remove alcohol from the equation.

I have a long road ahead. There’s a lot of popular wisdom about how long it takes to form new habits or break old ones. There’s a debate about whether it’s 28 days or 66 days. I’m not sure if those numbers matter, even when I’m writing a post celebrating numbers today. Each morning I just have ONE in mind. The day I’m in is the only one I can control, really. I can’t undo my past, can only try to make peace with it and learn from it. I can only impact my future by living in this day. This ONE day.

What I do know, deep down is that sobriety is delivering miracles to me on a daily basis. Small coincidences, signs…. all point me towards the truth that I am SEEN in this journey. I go running and see a tiny plant growing in an improbable place and I see it as a sign instead of a weed.  I would never have even noticed it before.

What am I really doing without? The one thing that was standing in the way of me reaching my full potential, my peak abilities.  The only thing preventing me from living with my insides on the outside.

Nothing has been lost. But I’m gaining everything.

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