Friday, December 17, 2010

Never enough sleep

Sunday day, I went to a meeting with my sponsor. It wasn't inspirational or amazing or boring or anything. It just was. But I was crying anyway. Little quiet tears seeping out. I had no idea why. After the meeting, my sponsor and I just sat there as I sobbed. No explanation - no need for one. My mind has pushed a ton of things deep down into my body so I wouldn't think about them, and perhaps this is just the biological release.

Then, I cooked up a mean bean chili soup and watched old episodes of Survivor. ...Ironic? nah, I've been cycling through old TV shows out of boredom: made it through all of weeds, was turned off by the catty morons on The Apprentice, not into the girlie drama of Seattle's General Hospital (Grey's Anatomy), stressed by all the yelling on Hell's Kitchen. So, I settled on Survivor for now: there's still mini drama, but I like it more for the group challenges.

Monday was a new day: work, meeting, sleep. Tuesday, I had 7:30am meeting with my boss lady (which meant I had to get up at 5:15am - who is alive at 5:15??!!), work, meeting, sleep. And it's about this time that my cold kicked it up into sinus infection land. And I've just been beat. Wednesday: work, meeting, sleep. Thursday: work, almost didn't go to a meeting because I feel so shitty but still made it, sleep. Thursday was the more interesting day as I had lunch with a grad school friend who is also working where I work. (She kind of got me the job.)

I told her last weekend that I had some good news, but we weren't able to meet up as she'd banged up her knee post-ACL surgery. So, when she met my new boss lady at a meeting she thought that was my good news. Nope! I was having that meeting in my friend's work building and asked her if we could grab lunch. We didn't have a lot of time so she invited me to the restaurant downstairs to eat at the bar. Hilarious. I mean, you've got to understand that I'm not some fiending drunk who is slobbering for a lick of booze. I didn't even think about the bar fact. "Of course it will be faster at the bar." And it didn't even dawn on me until after I'd told my friend that I was an alcoholic and she apologized for bringing me to a bar. But, I wasn't much of a daytime drinker anyway. Had it been night and she'd invited me to a bar for a chat, I might have thought otherwise. In fact, I found it odd that a young woman saddled up to the bar and ordered a huge beer with her lunch. It's the middle of the day!

So, she asked if that was my good news, and I told her, "You're the first person I'm saying this out loud to face-to-face. Please don't freak out." "You're scaring me, Lola," she laughed. "Well, I'm an alcoholic and I've stopped drinking." She got tears in her eyes and hugged me, told me how proud of me she was, asked what prompted it, how did I know, how she thought of me as her hero (she's younger) and how brave I was for doing this. I don't really think of it as brave. Frankly, I don't want to think too much about it - quitting drinking for good, knowing that I'm "allergic" to booze in the sense that 1 is never enough and a 1000 never too many, that this is a hard journey that I'm undertaking, that it takes bravery. I just don't want to think about that. I want to think about work-meeting-sleep right now. I want to think about the fact that in my list of priorities when visiting family for the holidays is: AA meeting, grandma, sister/parents, extended family, whatever else. Keep it simple. Keep it basic. Dig in and dig deep over time.

She was still very sweet and totally relieved me that she didn't freak out. It was super awesome. I think I stunned her though and when we hugged goodbye I think she was still processing it. I mean, lunch wasn't a very long time.


Friday I went to the doctor. Did you all know that DC has barely any urgent care clinics? It's ridiculous, but thankfully I called for an appointment on Wednesday and got in Friday morning. Got some antibiotics - needed to conquer this sinus infection so I don't bring it back to WI and infect my dad while he's battling cancer on chemo meds. Came home and slept for four hours. Then, I hit a meeting at 7pm. Saw my guy friend who helped me get to AA, listened to some good and honest stories.

Today, I went to a morning meeting, but ended up accidentally in an Al-Anon meeting. I was rushing to get to the meeting on time and didn't realize I was in the "wrong" room until it was somewhat too late to get up and walk out.

Texts to my sponsor:
Me: Oh no I accidentally ended up in the alanon grp mtg! think I might stay and listen esp considering what my sis said last nite.
Me: Think that's ok? That I stay?
Me: Quick or I'll duck out
Sponsor: Yes. You can stay.
Me: Is it bad? Am I a traitor?
Sponsor: I've accidentally walked into that one and have also walked out. Being in either one is ok... Alanon might be helpful with upcoming trip home.
Me: Maybe HP [higher power] wants me here? Accident on purpose?
Sponsor: NO!! LOTS of people overlap. If you speak, don't address yourself as an alcoholic. Just intro as "Lola"
Sponsor: Exactly. There are no accidents.

I actually heard some really good words and stories. It wasn't all alcoholic-bashing at all. In fact, it was about anonymity - leaving the personality at the door. Principles before personalities. I felt a bit justified for being in the room because my mom's an alcoholic, but it didn't matter. What mattered is that everyone is trying to get through life with some issues at hand. It was just what I needed today.

Then, I came home for a bit and headed out. Tonight was my first sober social event. This woman E had invited me to her place for dinner with friends. I took the metro out, with a good book in tow (Dry - A Memoir; by Augusten Burroughs, the writer of Running with Scissors). Then, despite E's offers, I walked the mile to her apartment building. I needed the cool air to clean my brain for the evening. The dinner was great, the company was so-so (some ego-acting, some bad jokes, but overall some really sympathetic and kind folks), the dessert was amazing (gluten-free German chocolate cheesecake). And, I was so humbled and overwhelmed by E's generosity - she gave everyone gifts. I got a thumb drive with This American Life mp3s, a rubik's cube, a million chocolates, and some vanilla spray scent. I brought her a bag of chocolates that I had basically already eaten from but felt compelled to bring something and I'm just not in the head-space to plan right now. Such a chump.

Then, one of her guy friends gave me a ride home. It's so strange to be around men right now. It's almost as if I'm a Mormon or something, or a 13-year-old at a Baptist school dance. No one really looks at each other. No one touches. The guys as they left the party waved. The girls gave me hugs. At one point, one of the girls who is dating one of the boys, was all huggy on him and he somewhat pushed her off - as if he didn't want to demonstrate affection in front of me. Not that there's not affection between alcoholics - don't get me wrong. I mean, the guy friend who helped me find my first AA meeting is also a pretty kinky, wild guy - after all, we did start our friendship trading sex stories and kink advice.

But there's this tension. And, I think it has more to do with me than them. See, I'm all newly sober and that means I'm super raw and exposed - able to cry faster than a speeding bullet. It also means that I'm not a whole person at all. I'm between some drunk girl who swallowed all her emotions and packed them deep down into the back of a cavernous closet and a girl aiming for sobriety who is finding out who her real self is - the self that feels things, is honest (more real than my fame-claimed "brutal honesty"), and has gone through the pink cloud out to the blue cloud to the black cloud to the white cloud while staying sober. Right now, I'm too new. I'm not to be trusted, but to be hoped for. I'm also highly lacking in sexual intimacy (21 days sobriety PLUS 21 days prior that of not sleeping with anyone which equals 42 fucking days of no fucking! Probably the longest I've gone in almost a year). So, I'm all oozing and radiating and pulsing attraction, while also emitting crazy-girl-supreme. I'm certainly not pouring myself over men, or even touching them, because I just feel too... well, Mormon. I'm all new and confused, and dangerously unstable.

I was walking home from work on Thursday night. Thinking I'd take the bus home and go to a later meeting because I was sick and planning the doctor visit on Friday morning. As I was leaving the building, this guy who works there left with me. We'd chatted a couple times before - once when I met him as the CFO was departing the agency and once walking out to head home. We briefly chatted the second time and I recall commenting (pre-sober girl) that I agree to working hard and playing hard. He had no idea that Thursday me was new me and as I was parting to go to the bus stop he asked if I'd like to grab a drink. I was totally caught off guard. I said that it was a nice invitation but I'm really sick and just heading home to rest blah blah. Well, could we grab one another time? I said sure, that'd be nice. (Dumb dumb dumb, but I'm not about to tell co-workers that I'm an alcoholic, just joined AA and well, I'm not even a month sober.) I'll have to figure out a plan for this one. He called me today and I begged out of a long phone call with heading out the door to dinner (not a lie) and that maybe it would be best to tag up after the holidays since I'm trying to lie low because my dad's not in the best of health and I want to get healthy (not a lie). Postponed for now. I'll chat my sponsor up about how to handle this.

But there's more to it. I'm not ready to share my personal changes with anyone at work, but also I'm totally damaged goods.

As Augusten wrote (post-rehab, first time back in NYC):
While I'm doing tricep kickbacks, my face ready to burst capillaries, a handsome guy doing squats smiles at me. Nods his head. I immediately look away, feeling very much like damaged goods. Because even though I'm in public like a normal person now, I am still removed from society. I imagine how our coffee conversation might go.

Squat Man: So, tell me about yourself.
Me: Well, I just got out of rehab. And went to the first of the AA meetings I will have to attend for the rest of my life.
Squat Man: Hey that's great, man. Good for you. Listen dude, I gotta run. Nice talkin' with ya. Good luck. Ciao.

Like cubic zirconia, I only look real. I'm an imposter. The fact is, I'm not like other people. I'm like other alcoholics. Mr. Squat can probably go out, have a couple drinks and then go home. He might even have to be talked into a third drink on a Friday night. Then on Saturday morning, he might have a slight hangover. I, on the other hand, would have to be talked out of a thirteenth drink on a Monday. And I wouldn't wake up with a hangover. Just a certain thickness that only after rehab, only after waking up without this thickness, did I realize was a hangover. A comfortable hangover, like a pair of faded jeans or a favorite sweater with too many fur balls on it.

I go down to the locker room. In the shower I think about how I'm a drunk that doesn't get to drink. It seems unfair. Like keeping a Chihuahua in a hamster cage.

It's true. This is one the of the great truths to early sobriety - and long-term alcoholism. Sure, my sponsor has a great boyfriend she's been with for a year. Sure, alcoholics get married or partner up for life or for however long. They fall in love, they have kids or dogs or go traveling the world. They find happiness and sadness and joy and pain. But this does not happen in early sobriety. In early sobriety - I feel and have heard - the only people who get me/us are other alcoholics. Our drinking friends don't like us hanging out with a drink or two in us (I have yet to try this as, frankly, I don't have any drinking buddies in DC who equaled my drink-to-drink intake - and honestly, I'm not interested in finding them back in Minneapolis or Madison or Paris or anywhere.) Our "normie" friends (as you normal folks so affectionately called - those people who can have 1 beer a night or go weeks without drinking or have a beer a night or a few drinks and call it enough) don't get us unless they have alcoholic friends also. It's like when my school chum/work colleague didn't get it when I said I drank like it was water. Literally. Toward the end of things I'd have about 10 empty bottles for recycling after 7 days. And I remember pouring one glass of wine after work and sitting here, in front of the internet, getting up, pouring another, sitting down, getting up, pour another, over and over, like I was on rinse repeat. Or, like, when my sister said, "But you're not like mom." Sure, I didn't want to be visibly drunk like my mother. Toward the end of a night, she got mean sometimes. Growly. Touchy about every little comment. Slurry. Sometimes affectionate in a misdirected, accidental, sloppy way. I kept it contained and hidden during the work week. And on weekends, I had to have a few drinks before doing anything: seeing my ex, hanging out with friends (rarely done, a lot of excuse-making there).

The only people who can understand where I'm at when I break down in tears (with no real reason for them, no memory, no instigation), or when I feel shy reading the preamble, or when I hide my face, or when I beam with temporary joy, or when I'm terribly afraid - the only people who get why are other alcoholics. It's not just the same fears and emotions that regular folks have. It's an unpeeling of a giant onion that I've become with all my emotions pushed deep down.

One of the speakers I heard recently focused her talk on anger. How she'd find release for her anger when she drank, which landed her in several overseas jails and in fights. I never ended up in the latter two, and I don't see myself as an angry drinker, but my sister said on the phone, after I told her the first time, "I guess I can see it. I always wondered why you were so angry sometimes." I actually shared this with the group (a big group, too) following the speaker's lead. That I don't remember being an angry drunk (they laughed - of course, I don't), but that I'm looking forward to doing certain Steps to uncover that and also to speaking with those affected and asking for forgiveness. I know I was angry sometimes because I remember some raucous tangles with pdh and James, and the random screaming and singing at the pier in the dead of winter.

And, as the speaker said, her anger was just a result of a deep, deep loneliness. Alcoholics are some of the most isolated isolationists. We're all overly sensitive and supremely insecure. And while I'm going through this strange unraveling of that and the buried hurts, and becoming real again and learning to feel feelings and let them be normal, I really don't think I can be around other people much. Even tonight, sober around other alcoholics was difficult. I wasn't sure how to communicate, when to laugh and when to not take things too seriously, when to offer to help, or when to smile. After dinner, as we sat around with our stocking presents and chatted, I felt compelled to play with the rubik's cube. Focus on this object instead of the overwhelming need to cry for the amazing generosity of E for giving me gifts. Focus on this plastic toy instead of interact with all this conversation I felt disengaged from. I kept looking at the clock the whole time. I wasn't thinking about drinking, nor was I craving a drink. But I was craving the isolation and safety of my apartment. And, while I was outside having a smoke with one of the guys, he counseled me that I should keep doing this - keep socializing, keep getting together with people to get out of the bubble, to be normal again.

It's good advice.

But for now, one moment at a time. Revel in the debutante socializing, sip chamomile tea, and go to bed - so I can go to the meeting tomorrow, see my sponsor, and maybe try hanging out again.

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