Sunday, October 30, 2016

Time travel

Reporting on my sober trans-continental flight experience and how it differed from past experiences.

Excecutive summary: I did not miss a thing and I felt sooooo much better when landing than I ever did before.

The start of my journey did not bode well. The flight from my home town into Auckland was delayed by 40 minutes, so what should have been a leisurely stroll from domestic to international terminal, a half hour wasted in the security queue and a walk through the duty free shops with a disdainful smirk on my face - well, it really went like this:

On the delayed flight I worked out a deal with the flight attendant that once the seatbelt signs were off, I'd be allowed first dibs to get to the airplane door. She was great. Made that a public announcement in here "Welcome to Auckland" speech. Gotta love Air NZ flight attendants!

The leisurely stroll turned into a fast walk with as much running as I could fit in. Which is not much. I'm not a runner. Never have been. The most I ever ran in one piece was a 6 km leg, in a team relay, but that was over 10 years ago, I trained for that event for 6 weeks and I hated every minute of it. I'm still far away from my ideal weight right now, and running is not what I do.

I'm built for comfort, not for speed.

So, after hot-footing it to gate security, the dragon in charge had mercy with my yapping, gasping shape and allowed me to use the shortcut around the long queue. After that, still at the briskest of all walking paces I completely ignored the duty-free area and made straight for the gate, where boarding was just about to finish.


Then the flight experience. Premium economy with pampering. So here she comes, the next lovely Air NZ flight attendant and asks if I'd like some sparkling wine. Well, I was prepared for that question. "Thanks, but no thanks. If you could round up some sparkling water, that'd be great." Which she could and promptly did.

After that I just settled in. Meal, movies, more sparkling water, slept a bit, movies, breakfast, arrival. I did not think about drinking or about alcohol at all during the whole flight. And what a difference that was.

Previously, I would have schemed and scheduled how I could get as much alcohol into me as possible, especially since it was free. Start at home, maybe, if I could, and get a few glasses down.

Then at AKL airport I would try and get two glasses into me while waiting for the flight, spending more on a single glass than I would on a bottle from the supermarket, and feeling terribly guilty about that, but the need for alcohol was stronger.

If I was lucky enough to be in a premium class, there would be the bubbly before take off. Then pre-dinner drinks. I'd select based purely on effect than on enjoyment. Vodka? Gin?

Then dinner. Go for the red wine. How fast could I down it without looking greedy? There! My neighbour's wine glass was already lower than mine. So I could ask for more, too, right?

How many times would the bottle be brought around? Here she comes. Drat, she has the white wine, not the red. Drumming my fingers internally. Finally, here she is with the red. Come on, you can't be serious. That's what you call a refill? Please, just pour a bit more, will you? I need more!!

And after that? It was a revelation when I once saw my seat neighbour ring for the flight attendant and ask for another glass. It hadn't occurred to me that I could do that. From then on I knew I could and I did and they would bring more. Could I go to the galley and ask for more? I tried and I could and they would give me more wine. I still would not be as sozzled as I wanted to get, though.

On one occasion, I got a bottle of vodka from duty free and before boarding I went to the bathroom, illegally cracked open the alcohol bottle and refilled my water bottle with vodka and some orange juice. That would keep me independent of the wine bottles, right? What I had not factored in was my connecting flight in the US. I kept the vodka in my hand luggage, and when I went through security for the US domestic flight, they would not allow me to keep that open bottle. If I my brain had not been so addled with booze, I may have had the presence to transfer the bottle to my suitcase after bringing it through immigration/customs and before checking it back in for the domestic leg.

On another occasion, I flew into Vancouver and had a connecting flight to the US. While waiting for that, I shopped at the duty free in Vancouver and bought a bottle. When I got to the gate, my flight had left. The attendant at the counter said that they had paged me several times. He was nice enough to get me on the next flight, and he let me out through a back door, so I did not have to sit in the gate for three hours. I was a smoker then, and could not face that much time without a cigarette, so I wanted to get out of the gate, but of course that meant I had to give up the bottle, since I could not bring that through security.

These are two occasions where I wasted lots of dollars on securing alcohol supply, but my behaviour was so affected by in-flight alcohol consumption already that the money was a total write-off.

Sleeping on a plane is always difficult for me and I always had a headache and very low energy on arrival. The combination of sleep deprivation, hangover because of mixing drinks, dehydration because of too much alcohol not drinking enough water -- all this didn't really make the morning after an international flight very pleasant. I'd need half a day to get on top of the haze, then start loading up with drinks again as soon as I felt better.

So, what was different this time? Well, the sparkling water was all I needed, really. I'm not a big fan of the flat bottled water. At home I have a soda-stream machine and I love my sparkling water with a spritz of lemon juice from that yellow bottle in the pantry. So, having sparkling water does a lot to ground me and confirm my sober habits.

They trolleyed with the pre-dinner drinks. I said I was still fine with my half empty 300 ml bottle of sparkling water. The flight attendant gave me another one, anyway, "Just in case". That was nice of her.  I'm sure my neighbor had something with alcohol, but I can't remember. I did not pay attention. It was not important.

Then dinner, and the wine offers. I just smiled and shook my head. My seat neighbor had some red. It didn't bother me. At all. I can't remember how often they came around with the wine to offer refills. I don't know which colour wine they offered first. It does not matter to me anymore.

It dawned on me after arrival how little time I had spent dealing with alcohol on this flight. How my thoughts were NOT constantly revolving around booze. Planning to get it, getting it, drinking it, planning to get more, getting more, drinking more, dealing with the fallout of drinking too much, feeling like shit, still wanting more, still planning ahead about how to get cheap alcohol in a city I don't know.

I have my brains back for thoughts about things that are much more pleasant to think about. Things I actually WANT to think about and ENJOY thinking about.

Now I am in San Francisco. I arrived at my hotel in the early afternoon, freshened up and took a stroll around the neighborhood, some shopping, some food. I went to the movies and watched a film not yet screening in NZ. After that I picked up some lime juice and some sparkling water from a convenience store. I slept like a brick.

Waking up in San Francisco without a hangover is great. I changed my computer time zone to Pacific time, but my Blogger settings are still NZ time zone, so I see comments that were made in the future.

I'm sober and time travelling!!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sober flight

I have another "first" coming up. My first sober long-distance flight. Probably ever.

Way back when, B.C. (before children), I had a job that took me all around the world. That was in the early '90s and the tickets were business class. My drinking was not out of control yet then, but I've always enjoyed being pampered on a trans-continental flight. Once I even got upgraded to First, but that was lame. I sat in the nose of the plane, no windows, nothing to look at. In-seat video wasn't so great at the time, so the food and the wine were the distinguishing factor, besides the leather seats and the leg room, of course.

Well, tomorrow I'm off from Auckland to San Francisco, and since Air New Zealand had a special deal when my company booked my flights, my travel department booked premium economy. For the last few years, I was always stuck in economy, seat 43G. Now that I'm sober I get fancy seats with legroom, foot cushion and - don't get me wrong -- that's really cool, but of course they will be parading the wine up and down the aisle, lots of wine. Even in economy class, Air NZ serve decent wine.

So, I will need to work on my reflexes and try to suppress the automatic nod when they come drink-trolleying down the aisle.

Being on a low carb diet (as I currently am), the whole "food on the plane" topic will be tough enough already. The no-alc, no-carb drinking is taking tis a step further. I need to play this in my head before it happens, so it doesn't take me by surprise.

Can't take any liquids through security. After security there's duty free, which I will avoid. I'll tell a story about the money spent and wasted on duty free booze another time. The only way to bring my own supplies onto the plane is to buy overpriced bottled soft drinks at the gate stores. That does not sound appealing, either.

So, the drinks trolley needs some planning. Nothing alcoholic. That's the easy bit. Then, let's see. Fruit juice? Nah, concentrated carbs. Tomato juice? Ick. Why does everybody drink tomato juice on a plane but nowhere else? Coke, Sprite, Fanta, 7Up -- all no-no because of the sugar content. "Diet" or "Light" are packed with artificial sweeteners that are almost as bad as carbs.

I hope they can find me some sparkling water with a twist of lemon. I'd Better pack some low carb chocolate, so I can indulge at least a little.

At least I'll have room to stretch my legs. Yay!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Growing a tooth

I love charts. Good charts tell a story. I love making charts, too. I could make charts and dashboards all day. And that's what I do at work most of the time. Aren't I lucky to be enjoying my work so much?!!

So, as a data/charting person, I will of course collect data about my sobriety and will make it into charts. Here's one.

In March this year I started logging my alcohol free days. I have had many, many, many attempts to give up alcohol before that date, but it always felt like that: I was giving something up. Not drinking alcohol was a sacrifice. It was not what I really wanted. So, small wonder that my attempts never lasted very long.

If I were to chart my last three years, it would look very much like the fist half of the chart above: I start Day 1 vowing to my self to give up alcohol and I stick with it for a few days. The line is going up. I'm growing a tooth. I make it to Day 5, maybe to Day 10, but the wine witch/beast/wolfie gets the better of me and I fall back down. Sometimes I immediately try again, but I only last a couple of days, and the teeth I grow are getting smaller and weaker. Then there will be long stretches where I'm toothless, chewing on my gums.

Alcohol has taken all the bite out of me (Sorry, but I couldn't let that one pass without using it) and my sobriety flatlines. I'm depressed and keep drinking every day until I can muster up the resolve to try again.

But can you see the big change?

Six weeks ago today I started growing a tooth that is still healthy and strong. I'm six weeks sober today. I no longer feel that I'm "giving up" alcohol, because it has no appeal to me anymore. The bigger and stronger that tooth grows, the more confidence I have to bare my teeth, give an awful, angry snarl and scare the wine witch away if she dares to come and whisper in my ear.

Another thing this chart reminds me of is a see saw. It goes up and down. Thing is, a real see saw will have the same angle going down as it has going up, whereas the alcohol see saw brings you down with a crash. And it hurts!

I have left my see-saw behind and climbed into a rocket. See my vapor trail.

The only way is up.

(Do you want to chart your rocket trail? If I get enough comments from people, I'll upload an Excel file.)

Friday, October 14, 2016


Looks like I've reached 33 days sober today and saved a bunch of money. Which I spent yesterday on a nice Icebreaker jacket that will hopefully last me a lot longer than the wine ever did.

No regrets still. Feeling fine and not thinking much about drinking.

I do notice that the bad memories are getting a bit weaker, though.

Also, some thought running through my head that are almost like a reflex. A behaviour that I used to show for such a long time that it kicks in immediately when a trigger is pulled.

For example, hubby going away for a few days and my beast/wine witch/wolfie immediately tells me "Hey, he's gone, let's have a party with lots of drinks!!" Fuck off, witch!

To help her do that, I  think of where that one night of drinking would take me. If I had just one glass of red this Friday night, I would want "just" one bottle, then I would want "just" another bottle, and I'd pass out rather than fall asleep. I'd be awake at 3 pm, would suck the bathroom tap empty and then toss and turn until 7. Maybe fall asleep for an hour then and wake up again with a headache and a bad mood. Would spend the day with blurry peripheral vision and not fit to drive, startled by things that suddenly cross my view port. Around noon I'd start to have "just" a glass and by 5 pm I'd be well into the second bottle of red again. I'd get the bare basics done, which would include buying sufficient booze to keep me "in the red" (wine) all weekend.

No, I don't want to do this any more.

I feel a lot better without that pest of alcohol destroying my life.

Looking forward to a productive weekend.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Picking up pizza

In a few minutes I'll drive off to the pizza place with this amazing wood-fired crust pizza and will pick up our dinner for tonight.

A few weeks ago that would not have been possible. By this time of day, just before 7 pm, I would have been near the bottom of my first bottle of red wine and no longer fit to drive. A spontaneous idea like "Let's pick up a few pizzas tonight" would have met with my disapproval and probably resulted in an argument, unhappy kids, turned off husband.

Tonight is different. I don't drink alcohol any more, and I don't ever want to again. I am free to hop in the car at any time of day or night. I'm no longer under the influence and not DUI in the first place.

Add to that the glorious feeling of being free of the burden alcohol comes with. And the fact that I don't have any withdrawal symptoms. And no cravings. I hardly ever think about drinking. And I really don't spend all my days thinking about NOT drinking, either.

Just like it should be.

It is entirely possible to stop drinking without horrible withdrawal symptoms and without having to hit a rock bottom as bad as losing everything you care for. I've abused alcohol for over ten years. I had my last drink 25 days ago. I've had enough.

Just wanted to get that out there. Suffering is not mandatory when you want to stop.

Off now. Pizza is almost done.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Walking away

Right, then. Day 22. Still ticking along nicely and alcohol free.

I feel a little bit guilty that I seem to be sailing the smooth waves, while I read so much about how freaking hard it is to stop drinking.

I read some comments on a YouTube video the other day. Claudia Christian does a TEDx talk about how she got her drinking under control with Naltrexone. Apparently it's a pill that you take, wait at least an hour, and then you can have a drink. The drug suppresses the high that alcohol normally creates, so there is no kick and no drive to drink more. For some people it seems to work quite well and they can drink "normally" again, i.e. stop after a glass and a half and drink only twice a month. But you need to take the pills, of course, if you know you're going to have a drink.

Fascinating talk.

What was very disturbing were the comments. There are the usual trolls, of course, but a few die-hard AA members just couldn't let it go. If she was still drinking, how could she call herself "sober" (she never claimed she was sober). If it was so easy for her to stop, then she, and anyone else who was able to stop drinking without big suffering and the help of AA, had not really been an alcoholic (she never said she was an alcoholic, but that she had developed Alcohol Use Disorder).

I don't know why these AA people are so hateful towards somebody who manages to get out of the stranglehold of an alcohol dependency and get back to a healthy lifestyle without considering themselves as alcoholics in recovery for the rest of their lives. What's their problem? Is suffering a mandatory step for becoming sober? The 13th step? I don't think so.

Am I suffering, now that I've "given up" alcohol? Hell, no. Quite the opposite.

But I did suffer while I was still drinking. I felt ashamed and guilty, deeply unhappy and depressed. It was becoming unbearable. I wanted out.

Still, I hid booze and I drank in the mornings. For years I drank 2 bottles of wine a day. More on weekends. I switched to vodka, since that meant less hassle sourcing, hiding and disposing of bottles.  Does that make me an alcoholic?

I was never kicked out of my house. I was never scraped off the street, soaked in my own filth, unable to remember my name and smelling like a distillery. If I did not sink THAT low, does that mean I am NOT an alcoholic?

My "rock bottom" was as low and as painful - for me - as I needed it - for me - to be, in order to realize that my relationship with alcohol could not continue. In my previous attempts at cutting back or "giving up" I felt that I was deprived of something that I still wanted. Badly. And since I still wanted it, I always went back to drinking, after a few days, a few weeks, or a few months of abstinence.

On my last "Day 1", something was different. I knew that I could not return to drinking and all the misery and problems it involves.

Now I don't consider myself "abstinent". I don't abstain. I have not "given up" anything. I have turned my back on a treacherous, lying beast/witch/wolfie and walked away from the slippery slope of deceit, depression and misery. I'm inviting love, honesty and happiness into my life instead.

Gawd, I sound like a hippie. ("When the moon is in the seventh house ....")

I still own my house and I have not lost my driver's license. I have not had it as hard as some others whose blogs I read. I'm truly grateful for that.

Am I or was I an alcoholic? I don't know. It does not matter. It's not exactly a badge of honour.

What matters is that I am sober and happy with how things are. Let's just keep it that way.