Anxiety + Neverland

One of the side effects of no longer drinking alcohol has been increased self-awareness surrounding my social anxieties.  It wasn't until I stopped drinking completely and spent enough time with myself that I figured out that the speeding up of my heart, numbness in my arms, my shortness of breath and heaviness in my chest were all symptoms of my anxiety trying to get my attention - Hey, Tammi!  Yoo-hoo!  Over here!  It's me, Anxiety!  Can I hang out with you while you get ready to go out to a social event?  or host people in your home? or travel? or go into a busy mall? No?  Oh, well.  Too bad.  I'm going to anyway.  And that's how it would start, anxiety would creep up on me in the hours before any kind of social function or new situation.  To stave off these feelings, I would typically uncork a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc and pour myself a glass in order to take the edge off of my jagged feelings.  You know, just to smooth out my emotional edges, so that I was ready to mix and mingle.

Graffiti art, San Francisco (artist unknown)

Graffiti art, San Francisco (artist unknown)

Let me back up a bit.  For those of you who don't know my full story, I used to own a wine bar and my business doors were open to the public 6 days a week, 8 hours a day.  When I moved to Bodega Bay in 2002, I was a newlywed and eager to make friends.  I was not a day drinker at that time and barely even drank wine.  We got pregnant later that same year, my husband ran the wine side of the business and I purchased the goods for the boutique part of the store.  It was a fair and equitable arrangement.  Life was good.

We made some really wonderful friends during this time.  We got involved in the community, found a sweet little preschool on a working sheep ranch nearby for our son and I started to take the reigns at running the shop by myself.  I took over all of the wine tasting, buying, stocking, bartending, selling and socializing with the customers, while my husband still helped out when he could, but mainly he was selling real estate full-time on the Sonoma Coast.  Our life was all falling into place and we were making it work as best we could.

Around this time, I was diagnosed with an allergy to wine.  I was prescribed three medications that would help mask the symptoms and this enabled me to continue drinking.  I started to go out more after hours with my new friends.  The stress of being a new mom really did a number on me.  I now know, without a doubt, that I suffered from postpartum depression after having my son.  I had a long and difficult labor and never really bonded with him like I should have.  Add in that he was a colicky baby and the fact that I couldn't breastfeed and you have yourself one stressed out new mom.  I felt like the ultimate failure.  To a virgo, type-A, control freak - this was all very bad news.

Pen + Ink drawings by me

Pen + Ink drawings by me

My failures at motherhood gave me the perfect excuse to kick up my socializing a notch, leaving my husband holding the responsible parent card most nights.  When I was out, I never wanted the party to end.  And when I couldn't go out, I would call my poor husband right before closing up shop and drop the bomb that I was bringing home 6-8 people for dinner and was that okay?  What could he say? I was the ringleader.  The hostess.  The self-appointed sommolier.  I would start drinking at the shop and continue pouring wine until the last person left my home.  We would easily go through $300+ worth of wine in a night and because I owned the shop and they were my customers, I thought - This is our business.  This is how you treat your customers.  This is for our overall good here in the community.  We are building relationships and lifelong friendships.  This is important. Which was really just bullshit.  All I wanted to do was carry on and drink more wine, laugh and be funny so that I didn't have to feel awkward or discuss my real feelings.  I was in so much pain back then, but didn't know how to put a stop to it or help myself.

Painting headed for the goodwill, but a client gave to us instead - artist uknown

Painting headed for the goodwill, but a client gave to us instead - artist uknown

My husband was never completely on board, at least not to the degree that I was.  He's a quiet, thoughtful, moderate drinker and I think he thought work should stay at work and home should be our sanctuary.  After all, we had a little person in our midst.  I thank my lucky stars for him every single day.  He's put up with a lot from me over the years.

When I'm totally honest with myself, I can admit that I had a hard time becoming a mom.  Actually, what I need to say is that I didn't want to become a mom.  It's not an easy thing to say, but it's my truth and I'm tired of suppressing it for fear of any shaming it might induce.  Sure, I'm grateful for my wonderful, healthy kid now, but I just wasn't ready for it when it happened.  I had no real concept of what it took to become a parent and how much my life would change.  It shook me to my core and unsettled me as a woman, as a human being.  It increased my anxieties a hundredfold.  

People, parties, social and community events, winemaker dinners, fundraisers - all of them were an excuse for me to drink so that I could feel comfortable.  My shop became a hub for the community to gather and as much as I promoted it, I was unsettled by it, too.  The anxiety and the stress, as well as the lead-up to the events, were the foundation for my drinking.  I needed to unwind and relax in preparation for these big functions that I created.  It was crazy-making.  I had a love-hate relationship with all of it.  No one knew any of this.  I kept it to myself.

The reason I'm writing about all of this now is because I'm learning more and more in sobriety that if I write or share or talk about the things that plague me, I am somehow freed from their hold on me.  Seriously.  It's like I have the key (the truth) and when I choose to use it, I work through my struggle or problem.  Lately, I've been hearing and reading about so many other people that share this same problem with anxiety and it's been a huge solace to know I'm not alone.

When we sold the shop in 2008, I had a lot of time to be alone with these thoughts.  It was an uncomfortable time and so I did what I knew how to do to push those feelings down - I drank.  Every single night of the week.  Oftentimes with others at dinner parties, book club meetings or out at a local bar/restaurant. 

Mantra by  Holly Glenn Whitaker of  Artwork pen + ink by me

Mantra by Holly Glenn Whitaker of
Artwork pen + ink by me

A few years back, I upped the ante with my home drinking and started to drink martinis and that, well, really that was the beginning of the end for me.  I came to rely upon them at the end of the day and by the end of the day, I mean 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  Three was my limit, but three was all it took.  I was a heavy-handed home bartender and my martinis were cold, crisp and filled to the rim.  I'd try to recruit my husband or friends to join me in clinking a glass full of wine or spirits because if they were drinking, too, that meant I didn't have a problem, right?  

The last six months of 2014 were my absolute worst.  I was so anxious, my health compromised, sugar spikes at 2:20 a.m. on the dot, waking me up in a cold sweat every single night.  I was overweight, my complexion was a mess and my blood pressure was through the roof.

When I finally quit drinking in February of 2015, I went through a few weeks of withdrawals.  I identified a lot of my ailments as having something to do with my drinking.  I started exercising, going to bed early and taking a boatload of supplements.  Water became my new beverage of choice.  I lost 14 pounds.

Social situations still confound and overwhelm me.  I've pulled away and isolated myself from a lot of my relationships.  I just couldn't deal with the awkwardness I felt and didn't want to ruin social gatherings by being so out of sorts and in my head the whole time. 

Sobriety has caused an unfolding within me that I never expected.  Instead of getting back to the old me, I've discovered that a new me is emerging and let me tell you, I like her a whole lot better.  I haven't completely worked through this new me phase quite yet, but I can see the shift starting to occur in my thinking and I like knowing there is progress being made with regard to my social anxieties.

Parties, dinner with friends, concerts and large group gatherings used to completely undo me.  It hasn't been until recently that I've been really working hard on identifying and overcoming those fears.  Last month, I attended a lovely literary salon and had a major anxiety attack just hours before the event.  I called my sponsor, texted and talked with sober friends and eventually calmed the fuck down.  It was hard while I was in it, but a good exercise for me to remember to use the tools in my sobriety toolbox - calling a friend, taking a hot shower, repeating mantras and saying the serenity prayer.  I used every single tool I had and, lo and behold, it worked.

Me + Walt at The Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco (way more my speed!)

Me + Walt at The Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco (way more my speed!)

Today, my husband and son are going to Disneyland and I'm staying home.  You see, now that I've admitted my anxieties about large groups of people and overstimulation to myself, I've let my guys in on it, too.  They have been so understanding and supportive and they are letting me off the Disneyland hook. 

I know I used to fear what other people thought about me and my reluctance to take my only child to Disneyland.  He's approaching the end of his 12th year and he's never been.  I can now see that it was actually just my fear of people, large crowds and lines that prevented me from letting him have this childhood right of passage.  My cursory and perfunctory refusal to go all of these years was really just me protecting myself from all of my anxieties.  I was totally in the way on this one.

I've always been too anxiety-ridden to take my kid to Disneyland and I've had tremendous guilt surrounding that.  I mean, what mother doesn't want to take her only child to the happiest place on earth?  Um, well, that would be me.  I'm learning that it's okay for me to opt out when I feel this way.  By identifying and accepting my limitations, I am reinforcing my new, healthier normal.

Tink was not all bad: or, rather, she was all bad just now, but, on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time. They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change.
— J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

And, thank god I'm allowed to change; for my sake and for the sake of the people I love most.  

The window is closing on my son's childhood and I think it's beautiful and fitting that his father is taking him to Disneyland to celebrate that fact.  These last 12 years seem like they happened in a blink - it's true what everyone says, as much as I hate to admit it.

And while I won't be with them physically today, I will be with them in spirit.

Kind of like Tinkerbell.