No, I’m Not On A Diet

Over the past eight years I haven’t quite accepted the identity of being a “sober person.”

Yet.  So, that’s why I’m writing about it.

My thoughts about it have wavered; at times, I was accepting of myself, and at others, I threw the idea of recovery out the window simply to “fit in.”

I couldn’t stand explaining myself to people about why I don’t drink.

As I mentioned before, some people assume you’re defective, problematic, or trouble if you say you’re in recovery.  However, most of the time people are supportive and understand.

So, if people have been supportive, why have I held on so tightly to the ignorant responses of “are you pregnant?” “are you on a diet?” or worse, “are you a mean drunk?”

I simply can’t put mind altering substances into my body.

But why would I want to?  This world is beautiful.  It’s a gift to be present.

A lot of people have questioned why I can’t just have one drink.  “Why can’t you have a glass of wine?”  These people don’t understand that the one drink sets off a switch that isn’t shut off until I’m passed out on the couch of a stranger’s apartment in Brooklyn (true story).  I could write novels about all of my mishaps while drinking- and I’m lucky to be alive to tell the tales.

Glamorizing the good old days isn’t helpful, though.  Today, I can look back and smile at the good times, but remember that the very best days are the ones where I am living in the moment, not looking forward to the next- with a clear mind and open heart.

Learning to Live Mindfully in Sobriety

I was never mindful when I was drinking.

There have been endless examples of my inability to simply sit and enjoy the moment over the years, but one memory sticks out in my mind.  I can vividly remember sitting at a wine bar with a group of girl friends during the Traverse City Film Festival several years ago.  We were on our way to catch the Conan O’Brien movie and started the evening by sharing a bottle of champagne.  As the server filled each glass, I stared at each pour, making sure I got as much as everyone else.  I remember a ping in my stomach; an unsettled feeling, knowing that the glass of champagne wouldn’t fill the emptiness I felt inside.  I felt anxious, out of place, and uncomfortable- but if, and only if, I could numb out my discomfort, maybe I would be okay.

We left the bar after those glasses, and the only thing on my mind was getting another drink.  That “on and off” switch is very real for an alcoholic- one drink is too much and a thousand are never enough.  I didn’t simply enjoy the champagne like the others did, nor did I enjoy the moment.

I wanted more.

That was also the first year I tried to get sober.

My life has been a variation of this experience, from shopping to dreaming about my future.  What was right in front of me was never sufficient; I was always fixated on what was next.

My life started to fall apart three years ago when I was living in New York.  My drinking was getting out of control, my roommate had enough of my shenanigans, and I begrudgingly went to my Fifth Avenue marketing job with the shakes.  My dating life was a mess, my finances were out of control, and I was unhappy within my own skin.

From the outside, it appeared everything was wonderful.  On the inside, I wanted to be anywhere but where I was- within myself.

I bought the greatest outfits and spent my spare time with friends who would commiserate with my sadness over a vodka cocktail and 2016 election news.  I dreaded when the nights would end, for I had to face the day ahead of me.  Plagued with uncertainty and fear, I knew I had to make a change.

I left New York on July 25th, 2016, and moved back to Michigan for the summer.  I may not have stayed sober that time, but I did learn an important lesson: there is beauty in simplicity.  There is comfort in enjoying the moment.  All of the achievements and things on the “outside” may be nice, but those things won’t give you peace.

Only you can do that.

It’s been almost three years since I left New York and eight since that day at the Traverse City wine bar, but today I’m reminiscing on how hard I was on myself over the years, and how I failed to notice the most important thing of all: that if I can find contentment in the moment, the future will unfold on its own.

Each and every day takes practice.  It’s in our nature to think ahead, but today I know that there is nothing a drink or quick fix will remedy- sometimes, you just have to sit by the river, look up at the clouds, and enjoy the beauty around you.

Faux Extrovert

The other day I picked up the book “Quiet” at the library. It was a timely find, as I’ve been reflecting on my own self care needs, causes of anxiety, and everyday interactions with those around me.

As I read the first few pages of Susan Cain’s book, one paragraph struck me:

“Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang if guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.”

Oh, how I relate.

Lately I’ve been exhausted; not due to a lack of rest, but with the amount of social interaction I have had. This has been a month of healing, but it has also been a month full of groups, social activities, and sharing my story, thoughts, and innermost challenges. In a community setting it can be difficult to find the space and time to sit and reflect; there’s always someone talking, somewhere to go, or someone critiquing what I say. Sure, I have no problem speaking up, but I am easily drained when I don’t have time to just be.

Over the past decade I’ve been extremely outgoing, which served its purpose when moving to new cities, recreating myself, making friends, and succeeding in the workplace. Alcohol helped with that, too. However, alcohol no longer serves, either.

It’s time to embrace who I truly am- on my own.

As I’ve written numerous times before, I grew up as a shy only child, spending my days drawing, reading, and writing. “Boredom” is not in my vocabulary- I’ve always known how to entertain myself through creating. However, somewhere along my path I became a social butterfly, only to find myself lashing out when my batteries weren’t charged. I never considered that my mood swings were partially due to a lack of energy.

Someone explained the definition of “introvert” to me years ago: someone who gains energy from alone time. An introvert is a very misunderstand type of person; they’re not necessarily timid or weak- an introvert holds a modest strength that doesn’t need to be proven through loud words, social interactions, or attention-seeking.

As I dig deeper into the person I once was, who I’m becoming, and the person I want to be, I have realized the power in quiet. Truth be told, extroverts tend to annoy me. How can these people be so loud? How can they be so needy? Can’t they just learn to sit still and create something instead of constantly consuming?

Of course, it’s not my place to judge people who gain energy from activities and social interactions; diverse personalities make the world go ’round. However, I have always gotten along best with fellow introverts- those who are introspective, creative, independent, and calm. I prefer one-on-one interactions to groups, deep conversations to small talk.

I’ve also learned that I don’t have to pick up a drink and be the life of the party; I can find my tribe by being myself. I can develop meaningful relationships, a purposeful career, and live a happy life by embracing my introvert characteristics.

Susan Cain describes people who pretend to be extroverts just like I have; it’s a breath of fresh air to leave that facade aside and own my introversion. I may not be loud and aggressive today, but when I do speak up, I do have something meaningful to say.

I’ve found solace and strength in my writing, and for that, I am grateful. I’m no longer afraid to speak my truth- my whole truth- and admit my struggles. More on that later. As for now, I’m enjoying my Saturday afternoon curled up with my book, writing in my journal, and soaking in the sunshine from my window.

Quiet is a beautiful thing.