Wednesday, July 12, 2017

gifts

last week was my birthday.  that, in my world, is an event.  my parents made a big deal about birthdays (and holidays) when i was growing up, giving my transient family a sense of tradition that would provide us with a feeling of home as we moved from base to base. as a result, i play up the birthdays of all my friends and loved ones... and i celebrate my own in the same manner.

this birthday was not one of the best. i got in a huge fight with a loved one that ended up disrupting a majority of the day's plans.  and a yearly call i was expecting from another loved one didn't light up my phone, despite my constant monitoring. these let downs seemed magnified on my birthday, and i cried and felt depressed all afternoon and evening as a couple of friends visited and others facetimed and called to try to talk it through with me.

all i wanted was to have a glass of wine.  or six.  i wanted to just go out with my best friend and shrug it all off; to pretend like i wasn't hurt and fucking celebrate my birthday.

but there was one additional complication: i gave up drinking for my birthday.

last fall i toyed, for this first time, with being sober.  i blogged about the journey as i started with 40 days, extended it as i was "assigned" an additional 40 days by elena brower (ex-life coach, present and eternal teacher), and then the lessons i learned about myself along the way.

but there were a few things i left out, even in my honesty: 1) the real reason i started the first 40 days, and 2) the depth of the concern i had that i couldn't do it; that i enjoyed alcohol maybe a little too much for me to give it up for even 40 days.

the real reason i started the 40 days?  the rape i didn't really want to talk about yet.  yes, i wrote a vague blog about it.  yes, i named it as rape and several days later even reported it.  yes, i was doing a lot of things to process.  but the initial motivator for the 40 days was when my research assistant asked me "do you think you're drinking more?" as part of a post-rape self-care inventory.

"no," i immediately replied, insistent, even to myself, that i was handling this.  but when i got home and got in the bath that night, i noticed there was a large glass of wine in my hand.  and i thought, "i don't normally automatically pour wine when i walk into the house." and my next thought: FUCK.

and so, the 40 days.  i wanted to demonstrate that my life would not be negatively affected.  i wanted to show myself i had the strength to do something i didn't think i could (thematic in my life).

and that's where that second omission surfaces:  i had concerns about my ability to stop drinking. in my first post about it, i even seem to minimize the sobriety aspect of the 40 days with the calorie counting moratorium i threw in to the challenge. (side note: the calorie counting was actually harder for the first several days... and that behavior had plagued me much longer!) but i had deeper, more secretive worries about giving up drinking: some related to social situations, but others were around the relationship (or obsession) i've cultivated with avoidance mechanisms.

i've blogged more openly about bulimia and dating as avoidance, but not about drinking.  drinking, with most of my friends, is not something we need to talk about.  because it's assumed that everyone is always drinking.  a lot.  you could blame it on the penn state influence, australian norms, or the single-in-the-city lifestyle.  but a majority of my friends are drinkers. so why would i concern myself with analyzing an avoidance mechanism that is an acceptable part of my life and relationships?

each drinking event i attended sober became easier and easier.  sober dates and sober holidays and sober vacations followed.  it was more recently that i came across some life planning notes, from life coaching work with elena, that hit home the non-named concern i had with drinking at the start of the 40 days.

excerpt from work written 5/5/14:
Things friends have said recently, but I tucked away due to denial:
Hal: Does your drinking every worry you?
Owen: It’s basically like rape when we have sex and you’re that drunk.
Matt: Yeah, I didn’t realize we always do that [drink so much when together].
Kitty: But we don’t have a problem, right? We’re young and single; we wouldn’t do this if we had families.
Me: (Hiding behaviors at all costs from my parents and others. Minimizing how much I engage in some of these bad habits, including drinking.)
dare i say i'm thankful for the impetus to start the 40 day journey?  reading about my previous denial scared me. i wondered if the "sober thing" would have ever appealed to me.  emergency room visits and blackouts hadn't influenced me to change my behavior; who's to say that anything would have?

in the 7 months after the "40" days, i haven't had much to drink on any one occasion.  i've learned i don't like alcohol or its after effects on my body or mind. and i LOVE being totally clear in my life and intentions.

this is how i 37.
and yet i've been afraid to totally give up alcohol.  isn't it nice to have that one glass of wine occasionally?  isn't it therapeutic to have a martini with a friend when they really need it?  isn't it socially acceptable to have a glass of champagne while attending a wedding? i had a million reasons not to give it up.

and then, about a week before my birthday, i realized the problem.  i was looking at this from a perspective of lack, and the only solution to that was to re-frame it.  and so i did: this birthday i gave myself the gift of not drinking (ever again).  the disappointing july 6th had no wine; the party with all my friends the next day had no whiskey (well, none in my glass!); the birthday dinner the following night had no cocktails. 

but i have so much more

and this, my loves, is the how, the why, and the what of my 37th birthday. 

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