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The First Very Hard Day

On the way home from work I felt dread bubbling up in my chest. The Kid had an incident in school that I didn’t clearly understand and his therapist would be there when I got home. I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into. Chaos? A board game? The Kid hiding in his room?

I sat in the car for a minute when I got home. After managing to bypass the wine store, I told myself that no matter what, I was not going to have a cocktail after the therapist left.

I told Drunken Little Birdie if I still wanted a glass of wine on Friday night, I could have one, but it’s Thursday night and I just wasn’t going to do that to myself.

As I sat there with my husband and the therapist, all of the annoyance and frustration I’ve been feeling about the lack of progress on the root causes of why The Kid was struggling came out. I was probably more terse than I should have been. And once again, we didn’t really get a roadmap for what we were going to do differently moving forward.

By the time the therapist left I was seething. Everything today was hard, from the time I woke up feeling like I barely slept to the moment I sat at the kitchen table with nothing to buffer my feelings.

Why couldn’t I just have a glass of wine to chill out like a normal person?

Why did I have to deal with my problematic drinking now, in the middle of everything else?

Anxiety Bird and Drunken Little Birdie pecked my nerves raw.

I tried to figure out what I was feeling, what my body and brain needed, what would help me feel better…and nothing. I didn’t have a clue what I needed. When my husband made some suggestions I snapped at him, too. “I’m going to leave you alone,” he said, “it seems like you just want to be angry and miserable.”

I don’t want to be angry and miserable. I don’t want to feel like this, not for a second.

I just don’t know how else to be.

So I went to bed at 7:15. Damage control, I told myself. I was toxic.

And then I spent the next half hour beating myself up for not spending time with The Kid or making art or writing or cleaning or cooking or tackling anything else on the long list of things I needed and wanted to do.

I sense Depression Bird perched on the windowsill, waiting for me to stop moving long enough for him to swoop in.

3 Days Sober – Soft Belly Breathing

Soft belly breathing is saving my ass right now.

Last night I went for the skin biopsies I’d been putting off since August. I’ve had plenty of them in the past so I know they’re no big deal, but for some reason I just couldn’t make myself do these two. Every time the appointment rolled up on the calendar, I got increasingly anxious until two days before when I finally cancelled it so I didn’t have to worry about it for another month.

In the past, before going to the dentist or dermatologist or any other potentially painful and annoying appointment, I’d have a glass of wine or two to take the edge off. And then when I got home I’d have a glass of wine or two to reward myself for getting through it.

Drunken Little Birdie reminded me that I had gin on the counter and that there were several liquor stores on the way to the appointment.

Sigh. Drunken Little Birdie is not helpful.

So I laid down on the sofa and practiced soft belly breathing for a bit and accidentally took a two hour nap.

If you’ve never tried soft belly breathing, you really should give it a go. It’s something they teach in yoga classes but you don’t need anything fancy – just your belly, lungs, and somewhere to sit or lie down.

When you were a baby, your belly expanded and contracted with your breath. Later on in life you were taught to suck your belly in so you don’t look fat, and you start breathing from your chest instead of your belly. The result is that you walk around breathing backwards and oxygen deprived most of the time.

When you practice soft belly breathing, all you need to do is become aware of where you’re breathing from. Sit or lie down, place a hand on your belly, and take a deep breath. Notice where the breath goes. Is your chest moving, or is your belly moving? Where else does your breath go? Just get curious and explore it.

After a few breaths, focus on expanding your belly when you inhale, and then pushing your breath out from your belly when you exhale. When you inhale, think “soft,” and when you exhale, think “belly.”

You might notice that your breathing naturally slows down. You can intentionally lengthen your breaths or set a timer – really whatever works for you.

While I was waiting for my dermatologist to come in with her needles and scalpels, I practiced soft belly breathing and was fine until she mentioned something about one of my spots looking like squamous cell “but don’t worry about it at all it’s probably nothing we’re just being proactive.”

Anxiety Bird sat on my shoulder and laughed, knowing she would get to have fun with me until my lab results come back. She was already encouraging me to go straight to Google when I got home.

(I did not Google.)

When I got home, I did so much soft belly breathing.

And I logged Day 3 sober.

Maybe soft belly breathing repels Drunken Little Birdie and Anxiety Bird with all of its whooshing and air inhaling.

Day 1, Take 1: One Week Anniversary

Dry January started on January 1, if your calendar works like normal people’s calendars. My calendar was unintentionally a little more flexible.

New Year’s Eve is low key for us because I don’t like to go out and be around all the drunk people and then be on the roads with them (HA – behold my moral superiority). I fell asleep at 7:30 and scooted up to bed around 8:30, after watching a few minutes of the New York Philharmonic playing Sondheim show tunes.

I was excited to start Dry January and looking forward to a yoga class at noon with some old friends from high school.

Yoga was AMAZING. It was a gentle, restful practice (until we got to the laughter yoga part). By the time class was over I felt taller, stretched out, and happier than I’d felt in ages.

When I got home I saw the bottle of wine from the night before on the counter. I *knew* I should have listened to Wise Old Owl and poured it down the drain the second I woke up, but I didn’t.

Drunken Little Birdie started chattering about how I wouldn’t want to waste that wine, would I? After all, I’d bought a very nice bottle of wine because I knew it would be the last time I got to enjoy it until February 1 – it wouldn’t keep until then.

There was only one glass left in the bottle so I figured that was harmless. I’d have the wine to shut Drunken Little Birdie up and then go about my day.

That’s not what happened, because Drunken Little Birdie also noticed that there was some gin hanging out on the counter. Since she doesn’t have an off switch she made a dirty martini. And then another.

Not only did I fuck up Dry January already, I also woke up the next day with a mahoosive hangover – headache, upset stomach, and all.

All the good feelings I’d cultivated doing yoga were gone. I was dehydrated, depressed, and demoralized.

Drunken Little Birdie attempted a victory lap, telling me I’d already ruined Dry January so I should just grab a bottle of wine on the way home from work. I still felt awful so I skipped it.

Drunken Little Birdie: 1

Sober Birdie: 1

This morning I’ve been putting off getting on the treadmill. My morning is a little more flexible today as I have a school appointment, so I’d been making excuse after excuse to keep putting it off.

When The Kid got in the van and left for school, I sat down for a minute and considered my plan for the rest of the day. Snow squall warnings had been blowing up my phone every half hour and rattling my already jangly nerves.

Wise Old Owl reminded me of the yoga class on January 1, and how amazing I felt afterward. She also reminded me that after I walk for awhile, some of those same feelings can happen again right here at home.

So I put my sneakers on and walked.

And I feel better.

Maybe a big part of this is just creating new connections in my brain. Being still and letting Wise Old Owl rule the roost for a change.

Drinking wine at the end of the day used to relax me and make me feel better. But for longer than I can think back, it’s also made me tired and useless the next day. I’ve been stuck in that feedback loop for ages and it’s time to step out of it.

Day 2, Anxiety Sets In

Meet Anxiety Bird, one of the many birds residing in my overpopulated head. You have birds in your head too, right? Chirping and chattering away all day long every day, telling you this and that? Mostly these birds are useless, but every once in awhile if you get really quiet a wise old owl shows up. Haven’t seen my Wise Old Owl in awhile but I know she’s out there.

(To be clear, I don’t actually believe I have birds living in my head. These are metaphorical birds.)

Anyway. All was going well today until it was time to get The Kid out the door, so…like two hours were fine. The Kid decided today was a good day to refuse to take a shower or brush his teeth or take his medicine or eat breakfast — he must have sensed I woke up in a good mood.

On his way out the door, the kid refused to put his coat on or even take it with him. Past experience has taught me it’s best just to leave it and let him go to school coatless. So off to school coatless he went.

After all that nonsense, my Drunken Little Birdie was chirping, letting me know I’d definitely earned a glass of wine at the end of the day. I smacked her with a spinach leaf (I was making a salad at the time) and she shut up.

BUT THEN. An alert popped up on my phone advising there was snow in the forecast for the afternoon rush hour.

Anxiety Bird starts pecking at my ear: What if there’s an accident and The Kid is stranded on the side of the road without a coat? What if the van breaks down and he has to wait for rescue and it’s cold and snowy? What if what if what if.

Luckily I’m able to dodge Anxiety Bird by saying a little prayer and moving on with the day.

By the time I get home for the night, I’d survived:

  • Commuting home in snow
  • Homework meltdown caused by three digit multiplication and new math
  • Running back out the door to the dentist, driving there in snow
  • Getting a permanent crown so now I’m like a queen or something
  • Driving home in even more snow
  • Trying, unsuccessfully, to encourage The Kid to brush his teeth before bed so he didn’t end up with crowns and fillings like mom

Anxiety Bird and Drunken Little Bird were conspiring. My heart was pounding from being on high stress alert for four hours and they told me I needed to take a Xanax (yes I have a script for it thanks for your concern). But I don’t want to replace one substance with another so I settle into bed, do some Soft Belly breathing, and cuddle up with my Kindle and The Kid, even though he has dirty teeth.

I just started reading We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, which so far I like.

I have a hard time relating to a lot of quit lit because a) I’m not fairly well off; b) I haven’t had alarming adventures; and c) I don’t have friends or a social life to worry about losing.

I’m a fairly average introvert type and haven’t seen my experiences reflected in anything I’ve read. Maybe because introverts aren’t writing books about their problems with alcohol? And having time and energy and space to write is a privilege?

I guess that’s kind of why I’m here. Love a good DIY project!

Day 1, Take 2

Hi. I’m Sober Birdie. I’ve been a sober bird for 22 hours.

In about two hours my blood alcohol content will be 0. In 2 days and 2 hours my brain cells will start to regenerate themselves. In 13 days and 2 hours my skin, sleep, and digestive system will start improving.

I’ll have to wait 2 months 29 days and 2 hours for the much anticipated greatly improved mental clarity.

TBH, the mental clarity is just about the only thing I care about right now.

A couple years ago a fog settled in around my brain and I haven’t been able to see through it well enough to do much of anything. I can see values and goals and to-do lists, (out in the distance on top of mountain ranges) because they’re in big, bold letters (Cooper Black, 72 pt).

I just can’t see the road to get to there. The fog is too thick. Sometimes it clears just enough to start something, but those moments are becoming increasingly rare.

The Drunken Little Birdie who lives in my head tells me I’m getting old and brain fog is a sign of perimenopause. She vehemently denies brain fog has anything to do with my daily wine habit.

Having just strung together three days without alcohol, I’m beginning to suspect my Drunken Little Birdie was lying.

I think she lies most of the time. Like the other day when she told me I could safely go to the liquor store and come out of there with only non-alcoholic beer. My hangover the next day was proof of her lie. She denied any involvement, as usual.

Since I can’t seem to do anything else these days besides obsess over the wine I’m not drinking and come up with strategies to avoid it, I figured I’d write my way through.

I’m here for Dry January.

But if I want to get to the good stuff, I know I have to hang in there longer than 30 days. The Drunken Little Birdie positively shrieks (like, you can probably hear her all the way over where you are) when I contemplate forever sobriety, so one month, one day, one hour at a time.

Whatever it takes.