Day 30 – a break in the clouds

I am feeling better today. Last week I didn’t think I would ever feel better. I thought the world was essentially toxic to me, or that I had some fundamental flaw that meant I was doomed to be miserable for the rest of my life. I don’t know that those things aren’t in fact true, but today, at least, I don’t feel they are.

Two things happened in the last two days that helped tremendously. First, Scarlett came home from her trip. It’s amazing how much light and purpose she brings to my days. I can’t mope in bed (or at least not as much) when she’s home. Seeing her bouncing around the house (literally bouncing on my exercise ball which she has turned into a seated pogo stick), I can’t help but smile a few times a day. She asks to cuddle, she makes me laugh, she demands attention, she shines a ray of light in the darkness. I have her for 10 more years. I’m so very grateful.

Second, my period started. I am terrible about tracking my periods, so I didn’t realize I was in the middle of PMS. I should have figured it out. For the past year or so, I’ve noticed that just before my period, life gets extremely dark. I don’t know if this is a new development – in the past I never associated an intensifying of my depression with PMS, but these days I can point to it as a consistent and terrible time when I am near suicidal. I need to be more diligent in keeping track of my cycles, so that when I’m about to have my period I can at least know that biology is the culprit and I need only hold on for a few days and things will get better. Boy, it stinks to be a girl.

So I’m on day 30 without alcohol. Life is bearable today. I can be grateful for my many blessings. I don’t feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin. I don’t feel the gnawing panic and dread. I have enough energy to make it through the day without collapsing into bed. For today, I’m ok.

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Day 27 – how to get out of bed

I stayed in bed for most of the weekend. Scarlett is out of town with my parents, and although I got up for brief intervals to do what I absolutely had to do, most of the time I was in bed. This is not very different from what I would have been doing if I were still drinking. Then, I would go to the store in the morning to buy a box of wine that would last a day or two. I would drink until I fell asleep, and when I woke up I would drink again until I could go back to sleep. Drink, sleep, drink, sleep, until the weekend was over. Without the alcohol, I had to rely on carbs to put me to sleep. Popcorn, crackers, ice cream, bowls of cereal. They don’t work as well – they give me gas and a painful, distended stomach. But they do provide some relief.

I’ve struggled with chronic depression since I was 16. It has expressed itself in the form of eating disorders, anxiety, loss of interest in everything, inability to experience pleasure, irritability, a zombie-like lack of energy, suicidal thoughts, and, of course, alcoholism. I have just learned the name for this type of depression. As opposed to major depression, an acute attack that lasts for a period of time as a break in what is otherwise a happy or “normal” life, what I experience is a chronic, overwhelming fatigue, lack of motivation or pleasure, a severe need to isolate, and general despondency and hopelessness. This could be a form of depression called dysthymia. This is a self-diagnosis – nothing more. All I really know is that I am depressed, and I have been so, more or less constantly, for my entire adult life. I don’t know how to change this. I am on all the highest levels of the drugs – the scary ones for “treatment-resistant” patients. I have done years of therapy. I mostly still show up at work, and I’m not really suicidal (although I often think I would rather not be alive) so I don’t think I’m a candidate for a psych hospital. I have wondered about electroshock therapy, but I’m embarrassed to ask about it. In fact, I have been faking well with my psychiatrist lately, because I’m so tired of admitting that nothing is really working. I suppose I’ve lost hope.

Addiction memoirs and mental health memoirs all maintain a similar plot-line. The author details his or her harrowing experience with the substance or the condition, but at the end of the story life becomes livable. It might take several tries, several stints in rehab or the psych ward, it might look terrible and ugly and hopeless, but then it gets better. The lesson is learned, and the experience is wrapped in a more-or-less tidy picture. Where is the chronic sufferer? What is the prognosis for her? What is the end-game? Or is this all there is?

The title of this post is ‘how to get out of bed.’ I confess, I don’t really know how to get out of bed. I managed it a couple of times this weekend, and when I did I felt better. Saturday I mowed the lawn, and I was proud of myself. Sunday I forced myself to go to my brother-in-law’s birthday party, and I had a nice time. Today, I made it to work at noon and my head cleared. So how does one get out of bed? I guess you find reasons so that you have to. Make appointments so that you are expected somewhere. Show up for your job so you don’t get fired. Lay there thinking of one thing (just one!) you can do in the day that is worth getting out of bed for. Forget about the “to-do” list – that’s not going to get you out of bed. But you can probably find one thing that will do it. And then you can get back in, and that’s ok. But then you find one more thing. And even if it’s not enough to make your depression go away for ever, it might be enough to make you feel better for a moment. And maybe that’s reason enough to get out of bed.

Day 24 – my moods

I’m always in a bad mood. Always. When I catch my reflection in the mirror, I invariably look sour and anxious. I snap at Scarlett constantly. People in the grocery store infuriate me. Just seeing my mom’s name on the caller ID makes me want to throw something. I alternate between anger and despair. Nothing is good, nothing is pleasurable, nothing is light. Yes, that’s the main point: the absence of lightness. It’s all so heavy right now. So dark. So bleak. And recognizing this as I go throughout my day just makes me feel more hopeless. What’s wrong with me, that I am always grumpy? Why do I always see the glass half empty? Why am I so negative? Why can’t I relax?

I don’t know if I will always be like this. Right now it feels like I always have been. On the other hand, I have been addicted (to food, then alcohol) since I was 17. Who knows what I’m really like – as a person, as a human? And if this is, in fact, what I’m really like, how can I find some relief, some coping mechanism that will help me through the darkness?

I’m so tired of being sick of myself. So tired of finding no joy in the world.

People talk an awful lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness is difficult for someone who makes it her mission to escape. At day 22 without alcohol, I still live in escape-mode, retreating to my bed and my novels instead of a bottle of wine. I can’t even bear sitting with Scarlett on the couch to watch a show these days. It takes too much energy, too much presence. But it occurs to me that my best hope right now is in mindfulness. Nothing too revolutionary – I certainly don’t have the energy for big life changes right now. But just trying, as an experiment, the exercise where I allow myself to fully focus on a task-at-hand, like doing the dishes or making my bed or even cleaning off my counters. Noticing every sensation. Taking pride in each tiny detail. Not rushing to get it done, but sinking into the act itself, taking pleasure in the process. I’m going to give it a try tonight. At least, I’ll try to give it a try. I’ll report back. Wish me luck.

Day 22 – just hang on

Last night I got home and went right to bed (it was 6:30). I kept having sneezing attacks and generally felt like I had been hit by a bus. I lay there in agony, grateful only that Scarlett loves to read and was content with her book while I was strung out in bed. I turned to the trusty internet to learn that flu-like symptoms are common in early recovery. Just one more joy of withdrawal to accept and ride out. I also learned that all these awful symptoms – irritability, depression, fatigue, anxiety, etc. – can last for 2 years after quitting alcohol. So last time when I managed to quit for a year, I thought I was out of the woods when I absolutely was not. Furthermore, my withdrawal is likely worse this time around thanks to the phenomenon of kindling, or “the progressive worsening of acute withdrawal, post acute withdrawal, and relapses. In general, symptoms are worse each time an addict relapses. They suffer more pronounced and longer lasting symptoms during detox, their PAWS symptoms are more severe, and each progressive relapse is worse than the last.”

Some conclusions. It’s going to be worse this time than last time. I’m not going to feel good for awhile. Some days I’ll probably be barely coping, and other days I’ll just feel like shit. I need to expect this, and I need to accept it. I need to be extremely gentle with myself. In a way, it’s helpful to know that I’m not going to feel great for awhile. I can let go of expectations, and concentrate on taking care of myself. I can allow myself to stay in bed if I need to stay in bed. I can survive for now in survival mode, knowing that at some point it WILL get better. Also, I can know that this is what I can expect if I ever drink again – this, and worse than this. I can do better at protecting myself from triggers. I can forgive myself for not showing up places that make me anxious or stressed or self-conscious. I don’t have to have it all figured out right now. I can just hang on.

I can also acknowledge tiny victories. Like… taking a walk yesterday because I knew it would help to move my body. Like taking a bath last night when I needed some self-care. Like making my bed this morning, so that I feel a little better about my environment when I get home. Like eating an egg scramble from the cafeteria for breakfast so that my body has some good fuel to fight today’s battle with withdrawal.

I feel a little more hopeful today than I did yesterday. If I can keep my attention on small victories, on doing the next right thing, on accepting where I am and what I need, then I will be ok. It’s going to be ok.

Day 21 – will I ever get out of bed again?

I drank to escape. Now that I’m without the alcohol, I still just want to escape. Every evening, after “dinner” is over (I’m still just feeding Scarlett instant macaroni and cheese every night), I retreat to bed. I don’t read or write or do anything at all – I just close my eyes and curl up into a ball and lay there. Scarlett watches her shows, or reads her book in bed next to me. At 8:30 or 9 I take a sleeping pill. In the morning I stay in bed for as long as I can before getting ready for work. This is my daily routine – spending 12-14 hours every day in bed. I’m worried that I’m going to spend the rest of my life in bed.

I’ve recently started having dreams again. Maybe that’s a good thing – maybe it means I’m getting better sleep? I don’t feel better rested yet, though. My energy is low to nonexistent, and my motivation is nil. I’m sure I’m depressed, but I’m already on all the meds. I have few friendships right now, and I have completely cut out the idea of ever dating again. I can’t afford to go back to therapy to talk through what is at this point a very old situation. I guess I’ll just let this play out and see if it gets better. After all, it’s just day 21. Maybe at 3 or 6 or 9 months I’ll feel differently. In the meantime, back to bed.

What do I do now?

I sit in my office overlooking the interstate. I have my own office, with a door and a plant. I don’t normally do plants because I tend to kill them, but this one I took over from an out-going HSE director. I went home yesterday, so today I have to sit in this chair all day and pretend to work. I pass the time by reading addiction memoirs. Today it’s Dry by Augusten Burroughs – one of the classics. I’m sure I could find something work-related to do, but I don’t really have to. No one is looking for me, no one is expecting anything. I wonder how long I can keep this up. I wonder how long I can keep this job.

It occurs to me that I should be in rehab. I never got to go to rehab, to have 30 or 60 or 90 days where I didn’t have to do anything but dry out and think about recovery. Because let’s face it – that’s about all I can think about right now.

I need to give myself a limit. Read until lunch, then find something real to do for the afternoon. That seems reasonable. Maybe I would feel better if I did something real. All I really want to do, though, is crawl in bed and get through this dark period and come out on the other side feeling better, feeling different, feeling normal. Feeling not-me.

I hate this journal. I hate these thoughts. These are my thoughts. This is me.

Day 7 – again.

Here I am again. I got sober. I had a month, then two months. I got to where I didn’t need to count the days anymore. I managed about a year of continuous sobriety.

Then I drank.

I had just spent Thanksgiving in Santa Fe with my daughter and my parents. I left them in Albuquerque and boarded a plane for Colombia where I needed to go for work. I was triggered, from being with my parents for so long. I was fed up by the holidays. I was exhausted. The flight attendant came by with the pre-flight tray of orange juice and champagne. I chose the champagne.

And just like that, my sobriety was gone. I drank through my Colombia trip, and I kept drinking for the next six months.

How old is this story? How predictable? To go through hell and be on the other side, and then to return to hell on purpose. Because at least in hell you know how to stop the pain, if only for a moment.

My world narrowed down to the drink. How to get it, how to get rid of the evidence, how to keep it going. I started thinking about suicide again.

Seven days ago, my mom dropped off my daughter from school and said she had been trying to get in touch with me all day. “What’s wrong? Something’s wrong. Are you sick? You’re not drinking, right?” she asked. What a ridiculous question.

But I knew she had caught me, even if she didn’t. Even if I was still (barely) managing to keep up pretenses. Things were slipping. I was slipping. After multiple halfhearted efforts to stop over the last 6 months, never truly wanting to quit, I finally dared to form the thought that I was done with drinking forever. I couldn’t keep it up. And I knew it wasn’t worth it. I knew there was more to life, and I was missing it. And so I repeated that sentence over and over, praying for it to stick. Every time I thought about a drink I said it again: “I will never drink again.”

The first few days that’s all I could do, just keep repeating that thought. I will never drink again. I will never drink again. I went back through the physical symptoms – the sweats, the insomnia, the excruciating muscle pain. I pretend to do the things I’m supposed to do.  Show up at work and sit in my office. Heat macaroni and cheese for Scarlett’s dinner. Pack lunch for school. I am still just keeping up pretenses.

Today is day 7. My back and shoulders still hurt, but today the pain is manageable. Last night I slept hard for the first time in a very long time. Several times I screamed out in my sleep and my daughter work me: “wake up, Mommy, you’re having a dream.” I think one of those times I was yelling “Fuck you!” in my sleep. I wonder how much she heard. I wonder how much this has affected her. She still seems normal, happy, silly, well-balanced. Two days after Mother’s Day, I wonder if I could still be considered a good mom.

I say it like a mantra, like a magic charm of protection. I will never drink again. I will never drink again. I will never drink again.