Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sober 101

A few thoughts on being sober. Maybe you find some of it useful. May it inspire.

I love being sober. I love my clear head, my gorgeous deep sleep, the time I now have to do things that I care about.

Being sober is easier than I thought. After a few relapses and false starts in my attempts to end my drinking, this time I feel I'm on the right track. From Day 1 I have felt very positive about getting sober. My sobriety is my gift to myself. I can now look forward to another 20 years of life, enjoying what I do. I now know that I won't have to keep drinking, feeling dreadful and wasting away the last few decades of my existence.

I don't miss alcohol. It may be surprising but I really don't. I went from 2 bottles of cheap red wine a day to nothing and I did not have any cravings. I don't think I even had withdrawal symptoms. The witch/wolfie/beast did not whisper in my ear much. I just stopped. And now it seems the natural way to do things.

I have not changed my routines. I still drive past the same bottle store, I still shop in the same supermarkets. I still buy my husband's beer (a six pack lasts him a week or more). I still cook dinner at the same time of day in the same kitchen. I have simply stopped buying and drinking alcohol.

There is no social pressure to drink. There are fewer drinkers in the world than I thought there were when I was still drinking. Not "everybody" drinks. Quite the opposite. I can have a lot of sober company. I don't get nagged to drink in the ah-come-on-just-the-one-who-is-counting-everybody-needs-to-relax kind of way. Never have been.

I have not outed myself completely. I tell people that I'm on the One-Year-No-Beer (includes wine and any other alcohol) challenge and that I'm loving it. The reactions I get to this have been 100% positive. Many of them with a hint of jealousy or admiration, e.g. "I don't think I could do this.", "A whole year, really?!", "Good on ya!" (this is New Zealand, after all!) People don't look down on me for not drinking. They don't pity me. Some even envy me. Imagine!

Social events are better now. I don't go out less than I did as a drinker. My drinking was mostly done home alone, anyway. But now I enjoy social gatherings much more. I don't have to plan anything to organise and hide my alcohol intake. Like, how much to pre-load, so I don't look greedy at the event, how much and how fast I can drink, whether I will make a fool of myself, realising that I've had too much but continuing to drink and starting to do embarrassing things. Not remembering much about the night before after waking up the next morning. That's all something that has been replaced by a calmness I never possessed before. I can now talk with people without trying to work out how soon I can slip away to refill my glass. I no longer check if anybody has registered how many times I already did go to refill. Because my refills now are all healthy.

Finding yummy alcohol-free drinks can be hard. Alcohol is in abundant supply and alcohol free drinks are often harder to get by at social functions, especially non-sweet, non-alcoholic drinks. Almost everything fizzy is also sweet, either with a boatload of sugar or with low calorie sweeteners -- but it is mainly sweet. I wish there were a more taste-neutral options. I don't like the "diet" or "zero" fizzies and juice is just too thick. Yuck.  At home, I don't have that problem. The SodaStream machine gets a good workout. Spritz of lemon juice, dash of home-made ginger kombucha. Better than any G&T ever can be.

I had some help. I've had a few conversations with Jackie from Sober Sassy Life. She listened to me and made me feel understood, which helped me a lot in the early days. Just having someone to hash out how you feel, why you feel that way, what you can do, what you're afraid of, what you're proud of -- that made a big difference. I did not have someone like that in my every day community, but internet chats worked just fine for me. She gave me the boosts I needed to keep my rocket on course. Thank you, Jackie!

Blogging is useful. Writing about my experiences helped make the thoughts and feelings more real. Getting comments and encouragement from strangers and people I had read in other blogs is great. That encourages me to stick to my commitment and keep thinking positive.

I'm sober and I love it. Today is my sober Day 101.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Missed it ...

Two days ago I reached my 90 days sober. Of course I wanted to write a blog post on that day, but our ultra-fast-fibre network decided to throw a hissy fit and left me stranded without internet the whole weekend. Me!! Without internet!!

So, I missed my 90 day milestone post.

Hello 92 days. Still feels good. I'm so calm. Rested. Ah, the sleep I'm getting!! I'm out like a light long before midnight and sleep like a log until well after 7 (or until the alarm goes off).

I'm dealing with a bit of a curve ball at the moment, since my dear husband (DH) managed to fall off a ladder and broke his hip. That was 3 1/2 weeks ago.  I drove behind the ambulance that took him to the ER on the Friday night. Note that I was still able to drive on a Friday night, an unthinkable situation only a few months earlier.

I was able to speak with paramedics, doctors and nurses and the next day I remembered what we talked about. I stayed with him until 3 am, until there was really nothing I could do to help him feel better.

Over the following days I was up early, without any hangovers or other after-drinking effects, got my busy days sorted, what with the kids, work, the house, the hospital visits and all. In the evenings I stayed with DH in the hospital until he settled in for the night. I was calm and peaceful.

Compare that to ...

... a few years ago, DH had an accident that put him in hospital for a few weeks. A year later he was in hospital again for a few days to get something fixed. Those times I could not wait to get back home when I visited him. I was impatient, inwardly drumming my fingers through every minute of every visit, because each minute I spent in hospital was a minute I'd rather be drinking but I could not. And I would have been drinking if only I could be home. I resented that he kept me from getting my alcohol fix. After all, the coast was clear at home. He was not there, obviously, so I could drink more freely at home. Pizza for the kids delivered to the door instead of picking it up. I could drink while waiting for the pizza, not while picking it up. Alcohol supply sorted every day on my way from work. Empties stashed in the car or even in the recycling bin. Hiding not required, because there was nobody to hide it from.

I'd drag myself out of bed in the mornings, barked at the kids, felt crappy during the days. After work, I would try not to get over the limit when loading up before my evening visit with DH. I would avoid coming too close to him, so he would not smell the alcohol on my breath. I would find excuses to go home as early as possible and then all the stops came out.

I was an awful caregiver. Only thinking about my drinking, hating myself and my behaviour, resenting him for needing me, for keeping me away from alcohol, for coming home and taking my alcoholic freedom away again.

How different it is this time. I am no longer a slave of the beast called addiction. The witch has stopped whispering into my ear. I am content and peaceful without alcohol. I have energy to burn. At any time of day or night I can climb behind a steering wheel and help my family and friends. I have patience and keep a positive mood, despite the challenges.

Throughout the last three weeks I have consciously thought about what would happen if I would have a drink in this situation or that situation, playing through the scenarios. I could not find a single aspect of the last few weeks that would have been better with me drunk.

Nothing is better drunk. There is not a single situation in my life that can be improved by me drinking alcohol. And I'm glad I don't have to anymore.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Day 66 ... plus 6 bottles of wine

Double 6 today.

I'm a bit tired because of work. Earthquakes can cause my employer some trouble and extra work, so I drove to the office when they called all hands on deck. The most remarkable thing was that I was sober after midnight, and fit enough to drive to the office and to help out. A few months ago that would have been unthinkable. I would have had passed out way before midnight and probably would not have felt the quake at all. It was not too strong where I live, but the lamp shades were swinging. Anyway, I pulled a few hours of night shift and still have some sleep to catch up on.

But I did not want to miss writing a post on my day 66 of sobriety, so here it is. Let's make it short. Scroll back to Saturday.

Arriving in Auckland airport at 7 am after an international flight, immediately after passport control there is the onslaught of duty free shopping. Displays with bottles block the traveler's path. The marked walking track meanders around booths and shelves. Bottle upon bottles beckon. Bright lights and sales assistants with too much makeup and pasted-on smiles make me want to run even faster. It's like they are lying in wait, ready to pounce on you, so all you can do is walk faster so they don't drag you into their booze aisles and force feed you the free samples.

Floor to ceiling adverts spell it out for you, in case you missed the message before:

You can bring in three absurdly large 1.125 l bottles of spirits. But that's not all. On top of that you can bring in six bottles of wine.

What an invitation for a nation famous for its binge drinking problems. That looks like the weekend is sorted, right?

By comparison, you can bring in a measly 50 g of tobacco to roll your own cancer sticks, I think. I don't know how many ready-made cigarettes are allowed. That information is given much more discreetly. There is no visible tobacco product in the duty free shopping area. Legislation does not permit the promotion of tobacco.

But - Man! - do they make up for it with the alcohol ads!!

These over-sized ads create a sense of urgency and pressure to buy cheap while you can. Don't miss out. Three bottles of hard booze. Plus six of wine! Go for it!

To me these ads and the way the traveler is forced to walk through the duty-free shopping area felt like an assault. I felt harassed and bullied.

I think alcohol does at least as much damage as tobacco does and should be treated in a similar way. It should be hidden away behind opaque doors and in order to buy it you would have to know what you want, approach someone and ask for it in person.

This duty-free pushiness is one of the reasons why people buy more alcohol than is good for them. I wonder how many duty free bottles are instrumental in creating new alcohol dependencies. I wonder how much longer it will take the authorities to realize that danger and curb alcohol trade like they have curbed tobacco.

Glad I got that out of my system. Off to bed now. Sober and happily so.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Giving in to temptation

I spent the last two weeks away from home, which I knew meant that I would be facing a number of sober "firsts". International travel and conferences with lots of catered food and drink are always a challenge. Especially when trying to stick to a diet, as I have been doing for the last 5 months or so. Very low carb. I lost about 8 kg. And then the whole sober thing on top of that.

Well, the international flight went well. I left the carbs on my plate and drank lots of sparkling water, as reported in the last blog post.

The first week was my own private holiday time and I found that sticking to my principles was relatively easy. I love exploring supermarkets in other countries and I had a great time inspecting products on the shelves of the US states I traveled through.

It's amazing how different the ingredients and the labeling of certain things is, compared to what I'm used to from New Zealand. The US packaging lists the nutritional values in grams per serving and you always need to check the size of what is considered "a serving" for this particular product. Comparing nutritional values across different products and brands is near impossible, because serving sizes may differ considerably. In NZ the labels also list nutritional values per 100g, so comparison is a lot easier.

The ingredients list is another surprising difference. Example: I looked in many different supermarkets but could not find a single mayonnaise without water. If it has been stretched with water, then it needs chemicals to hold it together. They call it "real mayo" but still fill it in with water, so it's not just oil, egg and spices.

Anyway, I managed to keep my carbs at a fairly low level and my drinks alcohol free during that first week.

Then the conference started. I caught up with people who I'd been drinking and partying with on previous occasions. I'm sure that at previous conferences I probably was the most enthusiastic drinker in the group and I was very anxious at the prospect of staying sober. Would anyone notice? Would they react?

Conference days start with hotel breakfast buffet, then catered food throughout the day and evening events where the alcohol flows in big rivers and waiters bring an endless succession of hors d'euvres and drinks on trays.

I tried. I really tried hard, but they practically kept pushing the stuff into my face, under my nose. It was everywhere. It was impossible to resist. So I finally caved.

I succumbed.

I felt guilty, but once I had started I could not stop and I thought, "Oh, what the hell. It's once a year. I have quit before, so I know I can do it. As soon as I get back home I'll quit again". I dropped all resistance and dug into the cookies and the chocolates, the breads and the pasta. And the desserts -- mmmhh! Carb heaven.

Did I drink alcohol? Hell, NO! Of course not.

Staying sober was a LOT easier than staying low carb. Half of the group I hung out with does not drink at all, anyway. The other half usually have a couple of pints and then stop. Nobody asked me why I did not drink. I made fun of the fancy sparkling water in cylindrical bottles that look like they were meant for cosmetics. Someone asked if I'd been to Napa valley on my trip leading up to the conference and I said no, because I was doing the One-Year-No-Beer challenge from the British web site. That was the only time I spoke about alcohol.

I DID gain a couple of pounds, but now that I'm back home, I'll quit the sugar again, get back to my low carb regime and I'm sure I'll be losing that weight again soon.

I also gained a lot of confidence into my sober lifestyle and that I can maintain sobriety indefinitely. What I was very anxious about turned into a great experience and a realisation:

I don't ever have to drink alcohol again and nobody can make me.

What a relief!

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.)