I thought I’d feel further along at the 500 day mark without alcohol in my life. I mean, in some ways I feel like I’ve grown exponentially, but in other ways, unfortunately, I feel like I’m back at square one. Okay, maybe not square one, more like square seven. But still, square seven? Ugh.
Our family vacation to France brought up more than a few emotions that need to be unpacked now that I'm home, along with all of the luggage and carry-on baggage from our trip. The metaphor is not lost on me.
This trip afforded me the opportunity to practice the Steps I’ve been working on in AA (currently on Step 7 Humbly asked Him to remove my shortcomings and what a job that's going to be for Him!) and how to implement the chosen sobriety tools I’ve slowly accumulated over the past year or so. I packed my favorite blend of essential oils, my go-to lip balm, a hand-painted mantra card and carried the AA literature cards in the inside pocket of my journal. I never reached for anything AA related; not a prayer, not a reading; and I did not text my Sponsor while I was out of the country for 15 days. I didn’t hit a single meeting. In hindsight, I can see now that not doing any of these things was an error on my part. I made this choice consciously and I guess I wanted to see if I could get through the two weeks abroad without the help of the AA program. I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea, but I like knowing for sure that I need the tools of AA and meetings are essential to my well being and recovery.
I thought I could design my own way of coping and, for the most part, I did. I emailed almost daily with my sober friends from my six-person gratitude circle. I took time to draw and make lists each morning and that always serves as a sort of meditation and calming ritual. I had great discussions with my French friend, M. (whom I spent most of my vacation with, along with out husbands and our sons) about my issues with drinking, my sober strides, how life is going in that regard and my mental health.
I hit a few rough patches and when I called on my go-to mantra of Choose Grace Over Drama, well, it just pissed me off. Sometimes I need a little drama to help me purge the very things that ail me. In those moments, it's not pretty or rational. It's simply a release. I don’t know about anyone else, but two weeks abroad with your family is a long-ass time, especially in tight quarters in a country where you don’t speak the language (French) and you struggle to communicate effectively every day - even when its your husband you're talking to and the language is English. Now don’t get me wrong, our vacation was 90% grandiose and smooth sailing, but I definitely was given the opportunity to learn a lot about how much solitary time I need in order to function peacefully and how much stimulation I can handle and handle well.
Crowds, noise, long car rides, parking structures, too much talking, ambulance sirens, rugby fans drunkenly celebrating below our apartment, searching for food while hungry or tired and being ignored or dismissed by my fellas really triggered my anxiety and put me on edge. And I wish that 10% didn't matter, but it does. Oh, how it does.
On our fourth night in Paris, I almost drank an entire glass of wine.
We had spent a long day out and about and I was just completely overstimulated and tapped out. Back at our apartment, my husband poured a glass of white burgundy and set it on the counter while he went to use the bathroom. I eyed that yellow straw-colored liquid in the wine glass and started calculating how I could gulp it down and replace it without my husband ever knowing. It was a split second of fucked up thinking and it scared the shit out of me.
I didn’t take that drink, but I really wanted to.
I quickly jumped on my computer and texted my sober friend and confidante, H. She talked me off the ledge and reminded me about the importance of not taking that first drink and reminded me that alcohol is ethanol. Did you know our bodies process ethanol into a toxic chemical known as acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen? I always seem to forget that. She helped save me from myself that night and, once again, I'm grateful to her.
I guess the big news to report (at the risk of over-sharing) is that I’m going to seek out my own private therapist now that I'm home. I paid attention to when my anxiety would flare up and how it physically manifests in my body. I realized I need to do a better job of protecting myself on the outset, when I think there is going to be a high level of commotion or a taxing social situation. I also need to talk to my spouse about drinking in front of me and ask for more sensitivity in that regard.
All in all, these past 500 days have been an evolution into understanding more about who I am and what makes me tick. My AA program has supported me so well over these last nine months (I white-knuckled the first 7 months on my own) and I look forward to digging into my step-work now that I'm back home and processing my feelings from the trip. I also know that I need to mix things up a bit, so I’m going to look into subscribing to Yogaglo online classes with Stephanie Snyder and incorporate yoga into my daily practice, along with walking my dog. It sounds silly, but I need to exercise more, get out of my head a bit and make more art this summer. Those three things will definitely assist me in starting a shift in my life and I feel ready to dig deeper into the work I'm doing on my recovery.
If you had told me on Day 1 of my sobriety that I would be flying home on an 11.5 hour flight from France and foregoing the bottomless bloody marys and complimentary glasses of wine, well, I don’t think I would have believed you. 15 days in France and not one glass of champagne, wine or fancy cocktail was had by me. It seems nothing short of miraculous to me.
The French have a saying that I love, joie de vivre - the exuberant enjoyment of life or the feeling of happiness or excitement about life. I used to think that the exuberant enjoyment of my life had to revolve around drinking wine or cocktails.
Turns out, I had it all wrong.
My joie de vivre has been unleashed since I stopped drinking and I need to remember that because it seems like I keep forgetting that simple philosophy when I'm in a tough spot or hit a rough patch in my recovery. I've come a long way in these last 500 days and to think, even for a minute, that I'm back at square seven is ludicrous. I'm not the same person I was on Day 1 and thank God for that. I like who I am becoming a hell of a lot more than the woman I used to be and that's enough for me today. Just knowing that simple fact buoys me and can carry me into the next 500 days.
One thing I know for sure is that now that I'm back home, I’m going to push headlong into this next stretch of days with some serious determination and continue to grow and learn more about my anxieties and how to manage those a little better so that I can enjoy life to its fullest. I'm going to find a kick-ass therapist and I'm going to pursue finishing my AA step work with my Sponsor with a renewed energy that has been lacking from me over these last few months.
And once I put these ideas and routines into motion, I know for certain I will be living my very best 'one day at a time' by simmering in my truth, becoming laser-focused with my intentions and hopefully walking-my-walk with a joie de vivre that is infectious to those around me.