Day 15: Living Deliberately

Hold on! Let’s do a quick mid-Dryuary assessment. What have you noticed since setting your base line? The results may surprise you!

A recent conversation on the MM Listserv:
The past couple of days when I’m getting dressed in the morning and putting on make up (which is pretty light) it has vaguely flitted across the back of my mind that I don’t have to use as much under eye concealer for dark circles. It really hasn’t even been a conscious thought, just something flickering around in the background.Then today it dawned on me. Yeah, for sure the dark circles under my eyes are definitely lighter. I mean, really noticeably lighter. That is so cool!-HorseLover

So awesome—and me too! I was feeling generally less puffy the first week, but today is the first day I’ve woken up to a noticably flatter stomach. I’ve been eating everything in sight, but I guess nothing can top all those dead wine calories. It’s a really good motivator for me to think past January and how to keep this going. –Hazel 

Somebody said to me today “What are you, in your 30’s?” I said, “47” Thank you abstinence. 🙂Mike C.
Now, back to our scheduled post.

“You are goodness and mercy and compassion and understanding. You are peace and joy and light. You are forgiveness and patience, strength and courage, a helper in time of need, a comforter in time of sorrow, a healer in time of injury, a teacher in times of confusion. You are the deepest wisdom and the highest truth; the greatest peace and the grandest love. You are these things. And in moments of your life you have known yourself to be these things. Choose now to know yourself as these things always.”
– Neale Donald Walsch

In her TED talk that went viral a few years back, Brené Brown talks about how crucial it is for us to be vulnerable in order to live a fulfilled life.

As a 42-year-old PhD student in her last year of graduate school, but still drinking like a fish, I didn’t know the difference between feeling anxiety and vulnerability.

I lived to please my co-supervisors, those two people I felt were in charge of my fate. My worth wasn’t intrinsic it was conditional — dependent on what I produced. When I began graduate school EIGHT YEARS earlier, I still had some shred of interest and enjoyment in the writing process. The pitfalls of being critiqued by multiple professors, on the same piece of writing, regardless of how kind the person — had, I felt, squashed any sense of creativity. Somehow in the interim, probably not long after I began the dissertation project, it was extinguished altogether and replaced with harrowing anxiety. In approaching my writing, most of the time, I was like the black and white cat trying to escape Pepé Le Pew in the Looney Tunes cartoons, front legs out to push him away… back legs scrambling madly to run in the other direction. Most of the time, when sitting down to write… and I can fully admit this now… I HATED IT (it felt like a trap, a carnival game I could never win). And it isn’t as if I did not have successes (sometimes, they really liked what I wrote!). By that time, however, (after a year of sobriety) I was using alcohol again to dull the pain of the writing process, and I had come to rely on it to get through deadlines (again).

YIKES. DEADLINES. I began seeing a therapist for my anxiety around deadlines a few months after I began my dissertation work. I was prescribed anxiety medication to lessen the debilitating hormonal surges that came with PMS once or twice every other month, as well as an anti-depressant. Not my first time on anti-depressants folks, not even the first time while in grad school… but this is just a 1000-word essay. So, there was hope! But my psychiatrist was not aware of the extent of my drinking binges. Be that as it may, I made sure to not drink while on the anxiety meds, I didn’t mix them (I had to have four hours in between!). Now looking back (not so far in the past) I see the insanity: I was taking an antidepressant every day while being hooked on a depressant (alcohol), and taking anxiety meds (about four times a week), when I had an alcohol-use disorder (AUD) that exponentially increases anxiety.

Fast forward two and a half years – October 2018. I was still drinking regularly, but perhaps with less big binges (perhaps). In late May, I had successfully defended my dissertation. I was set to graduate in the summer after making some revisions to just two chapters (out of six). Yet I failed to find a teaching job for the following Fall, after a couple of very near misses. By July, not unlike Brené Brown when she avoided vulnerability “at all costs,” I… broke… down. The perfectionism I had fended off for the last two years took me over (again). I was at the finish line and it had to be right this time. Last chance. It was like I even forgot how to write for an entire month. By the middle of August, it was clear that I would not make the summer deadline. By September, my husband had agreed to help me enroll in one last semester to get it done. My co-supervisors, the people who would write my letters of recommendation securing my future career path, were not happy.

At that point, I was an isolating sack of misery, in the apartment every day, alone, trying to write. And I drank… often. My husband would regularly come home to find me wasted, sitting on the back porch, trying to write. Things came to head when I panicked in missing a conference paper deadline. I bought enough beer to get a hockey team buzzed, and ended up staying up until dawn on the back porch, still trying (in vain) to write – but we don’t need to go any further into that low point. What I decided to do two days later is what ultimately saved my marriage (again), and my professional future. On October 4th, I got serious about recovery. I signed up with two online forums: Moderation Management and Women For Sobriety. They are both wonderful in different ways, and both continue to be a great help to me.

I already had some experience with Moderation Management, and had already signed up for drink tracking manager ABStar. I even had the workbook they recommend, still unread. I took the short Alcohol Dependence Data Questionnaire at the beginning, which determined that I was an 18 out of 20—that is, almost on the threshold of “probably wanting to go for abstinence” for good (but definitely needing professional guidance through the moderation process). Great, I thought, who wants to be sober for the rest of their lives? But I knew that that the recommended first step to successful moderation is to take a period of abstinence. I was on for 30 days of abstinence either way, this was it—no more drunks for me!

After an upcoming conference a week later, I managed to moderate almost every day. I had 1, or 2, too many glasses of wine—that is, beyond the recommended daily limit—at a friend’s get together but no catastrophe or embarrassment. I returned home and immediately started my 30 days of abstinence. What saved me—what made it EASY even—to abstain, was the sense of community I found online through both programs. Community with others who could understand the same predicaments I was going through was my lifeline and my saving grace. I am still here, still abstaining, still wrapping up the dissertation and ALMOST THERE (literally just days to go!) , 48 days later.

I knew that I could not try to drink again while this dissertation is still in the works. Using alcohol to remove anxiety was too much of an obstacle for me. I did return to the psychiatrist, and the therapist not long after I got back into recovery, and I have successfully worked through and lessened my anxiety – particularly through the tools I have learned in both programs. I was determined to recover my enjoyment of the writing process and my belief in myself as a writer, and little by little, I am! But in order to have the clarity and courage to do this, I had to give myself at least a month of complete abstinence. Because of this gift, I have learned what it means to take control of my life and live deliberately: that is, to be there for myself and my family.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned, however, was to identify what vulnerability actually feels like. When I posted online to share my story that first day, Oct. 4th, I was sure that no woman in my position had ever drank as much beer or racked up as much shame. I made that difficult first step, to share my drinking story and everything I was feeling at the time. I was really scared in pressing submit (both times). Yet in return for that risk, I was greeted by two different incredible communities who opened their hearts to me to offer support. I am so grateful for these wonderful people who helped me understand that without making ourselves vulnerable we can never grow, expand, or succeed! For me, I will probably drink at some point again (I am going on a celebratory vacation with friends quite soon), but I think that a nice glass of wine for me is like a piece of delicious chocolate cake: there are consequences, major ones… especially if I choose to eat the whole damn cake!

From taking one month off from drinking, I have learned that for me to be truly happy with myself and in my life, and to consistently find relief from anxiety, my default has to be abstinence. Not necessarily ALL the time, but for 98.9% of the time. Abstinence with daily meditation, exercise, and consistently building a sense of community and self-worth—that is what works for me. Want to find out what works for you?

Post Submitted By: Manoa L.

5 thoughts on “Day 15: Living Deliberately

  1. Raul

    Ok. This one hit the nail on the head for me. Inspired even more now to keep up the abstinence. I feel so much better now that I have been able to abstain completely so far.

    Good luck everyone

    1. Kary May Hickey Post author

      Hurrah for you, Raul!
      I have to share a secret with you. When I received this submission, I realized it was over the word limit that we had asked writers to adhere to (I am a blog reader so I agree with you that longer blogs tend to have me passing them over or thinking I’ll get back to them later, then I never do. We will definitely keep this in mind and try to intersperse shorter blogs among the wordier ones next year.). I wrote the author and asked if she could shorten it, which she did. But then I read back over her original post, the one you read today, and decided I didn’t want to cut a word of it, so we kept the longer version.

  2. Kary May Hickey Post author

    Thank you, Manoalei for your thoughtful post today. I went for many years thinking I could tackle everything I wanted and give everything my best shot while still drinking. Of course, I’ll never know how much further I could have gotten in life or the things that were left undone and undiscovered if I hadn’t been pouring 6-8 drinks down my throat every night. I finally got to the point I couldn’t honor the promises I made to myself and worst of all, I couldn’t honor the promise I made to others. That more than anything forced me to do something about my drinking rather than just say I was going to do something.

    I’m glad you found MM! We’re grateful for your interaction in our communities.

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