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Moderation Journey: Month 1

Drinking in moderation has been going all right. Not fantastic.

I’m going to forgive myself, because I see this October as a “getting it out of my system” month. Like some heartbroken people have as many affairs as possible following a breakup, I’ve tried as many beers and wines as possible following my year of sobriety. Particularly the old “lovers” I’ve missed, including:

  • Woodchuck Fall Cider, which tastes the way Fall in New England smells.
  • Shipyard Pumpkinhead (with the cinnamon and sugar rim, of course).
  • Stone’s Enjoy By (specifically the 10.31.16, which had a slight tangerine flavor).
  • All the IPAs (all of them).
  • Switchback Ale
  • Beer Works Bluebeery Ale and Wachusett Blueberry Ale
  • Not Your Father’s Root Beer
  • Sam Adams Wintah Lagah dood
  • Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva wine
  • Domaine Paul Autard Cotes du Rhone wine

Most of the time I was able to maintain moderation, but a couple of times I may have taken it too far. This led me not necessarily to a hangover state but rather a depressive state for the two days following my drinking more heavily. I really, really hate this feeling.

I now realize that my limit is about two drinks at any given time.

Those couple of times I tried to chase that happy, relaxed feeling I get after having a couple of drinks. I love that feeling so, so much. I always wonder, “Why can’t they put this feeling in a pill?” It makes me feel oddly functional and my best self. Lately I haven’t been as motivated to clean, yet after a couple of drinks this Sunday I was singing and bee-bopping to music while scrubbing my toilet, happy as a clam. This is what alcohol does to me.

But I stuck to a glass of wine and one beer. Enjoy the feeling. Don’t chase it.

A family member in AA and NA sent me a one year sobriety keychain in the mail at the beginning of the month. It meant the world. I spoke with this person about my sobriety journey and he thought I never really had a serious problem with alcohol. It never caused chaos in my life like it did in his. I never lost jobs, my license, relationships, etc. That made me feel somewhat reassured.

 

 

 

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The Collector of Junk

This story was inspired by my parents moving out of the home they rented for about 40 years and the memories I had in that home.

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My Dad off-handedly describes himself as “the collector of junk” as he cleans out the house he and Mum rented and called home for more than 40 years.

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The house isn’t much to look at now, but it is beautiful to me. Every crack in the wall, every slice of peeling wallpaper, every dated wood panel, every leftover square of linoleum that we tried to cover up with stick-on tiles.

It is beautiful to me.

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The crayon markings on the walls leading to the cellar show that children grew up here. This is the same dank cellar we played video games in, on consoles we bought on sale after newer versions came out. When almost everyone else had Sega, we had Calico Vision. When almost everyone else had Super Nintendo, we had Nintendo. And so on.

But we didn’t care about that. We had a lot of fun playing those games.

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The piano that my grandmother used to play at my grandfather’s political parties stands silent in our back cellar, worn and yellowed by the years. We inherited it when Nana McLaughlin died. Nobody else wanted it. Nobody else wanted to deal with it.

Dad is a professional dealer with things. Not wishing to part with something that played such an integral part in his childhood, and not having anywhere else to put it, it ended up in our back cellar, atop floorboards that loosely covered dirt. Sometimes us kids would open the piano and pound on the keys chaotically. The piano needed tuning, but it still sounded strong. It still had life.

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The remainder of the last 40 years of my parents’ lives now remains in the back cellar in cardboard boxes and rubbermaid tubs. Sheet music that belonged to my grandparents. The first camera Dad purchased as a budding photographer. That lens that captured Mum in so many beautiful portraits when they were first married. My brother Paul’s clarinet. A beach rock one of us painted for my parents’ wedding anniversary in 1987.

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The rest of the house is just about empty.

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The hallway where my Dad trimmed the Christmas tree with a saw after us kids helped him pick out the perfect one.

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The kitchen where Paul told us he and Diana were engaged. And where they told us they were expecting their first child.

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The kitchen sink, where my parents once argued about whether or not we could afford paper towels.

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The living room couch, where Mum cried on the phone as she learned that her best friend, Anne, had been diagnosed with skin cancer.

Again.

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The back stairs, where I first saw my Dad cry as he told me that Anne passed away.

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She was 46. When I saw her in the hospital for the last time I was scared to touch her. She looked so frail, and I didn’t want to break her.

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Every death after that was easy.

Even that of my beautiful and serene Nana, whom I always long to hug one last time.

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The front entryway, where Paul would arrive home after a long shift at Bickford’s, reeking of pancakes and syrup.

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The staircase, where I tip-toed to my room when I came home early in the morning, sometimes drunk. Where I always knew who was coming up or down by their tread. Mum’s was the softest. My brother Sean’s was the loudest.

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The bathroom, which never had ventilation and Mum hated. But she always made it look as nice as she could.

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My parent’s bedroom, where Mum, in embarrassed tears, told me how mothers should never let their children see them cry.

The living room couch, where Paul grabbed my cheek like a doting grandmother and said, “Be brave, little buckaroo.”

The back door, where Mum and Uncle Larry made a deal to quit smoking. The back steps again, where they stayed up most of that night smoking the remaining packs they had.

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The telephone on the kitchen wall, where I learned that Uncle Larry, missing for 14 years, died of lung cancer. And where I thanked God that Mum held up her end of the deal.

The living room, where we opened so many wonderful Christmas gifts under the happy tree. Where Sean and Paul watched The Dukes of Hazzard, transfixed in front of the TV in thermal undershirts and sweatpants.

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The living room carpet, where Dad once wrested the car keys from Sean’s hands and pinned him to the floor so he wouldn’t drive drunk. Where Mum sent me up to my room so I wouldn’t see Sean get arrested.

Sean’s room, once decorated with so many car posters, which he knew every detail about. And once littered with liquor bottles, hidden under the bed.

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Paul’s room, where he once drew me all of the Muppet characters because I saw similar drawings hanging in the local mall and liked them.

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The kitchen, where we celebrated many Thanksgivings. Some functional, some dysfunctional. Always topped with Mum’s famous gravy and stuffing.

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The kitchen table, where Paul would eat a can of Spaghetti-O’s after an 80 hour work week of making filet mignon and french onion soup at the Double Tree hotel.

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Where Diana lovingly painted my nails for prom, asking me to gush all the details about the new guy.

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Where Dad told me I could be anything I wanted to be, even the President of the United States.

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The upstairs hallway, where Mum and Dad would traverse to attend to me when I couldn’t sleep, bringing soothing words, tissues to dry my tears, and warm milk.

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The downstairs hallway, where Paul intervened when Sean pinned Dad against the stairwell, splintering one of the railings.

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My bedroom. Where I would look out the window curiously at the kids who moved in next door, too shy to go over and say hello.

Where as a teenager I would retire to avoid the sometimes chaos of family.

Where I wrote in my journal.

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Where I would cry alone into my pillow, not understanding why I was sad and not wanting to upset anyone else.

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The remnants of the old tree outside the front of the house that came down years ago. Where Dad took our pictures on every first day of school, in our new outfits. Where I fell and broke my nose, saying, “Now I’ll never be a teen model!” and laughing as blood gushed onto the pavement.

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The backyard, where we would play with our beagle, Jake. Where Dad and I practiced soccer and softball. Where our next door neighbor, Bernie, grew tomatoes and cucumbers that he gave to us.

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Where our cat, Muffy, climbed the neighbor’s tree.

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Where lilacs bloomed near the back stoop around my birthday every year. Their scent and the sun shining through the leaves were always the best birthday gifts of all.

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The front hallway again. Where Sean invited me to an AA meeting, where he would be recognized for two years of sobriety.

This is where we kissed, hugged, cried, and loved.

For forty years.

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Now the remainder of it all lay in boxes and in the musty air of the back basement, where Dad, Paul and Sean worked on wooden projects and model airplanes together.

Dad has been left with a lot of things to sift through, and it’s a burden that he acts like isn’t one. It’s the same burden he experienced after trying to wean down the stuff after his parents died. He has gotten rid of most of the things that don’t matter. But trying to get rid of things with so much sentimental value is hard. There are so many special memories.

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He jokes that he is the “collector of junk,” but I believe he is the collector of things more valuable than anything.

He is the collector of history, of memories, of love.

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Family Me

11 Months Sober*

11 months sober*

This past month, I did something I haven’t done since I was a kid: I didn’t get drunk at a wedding. A special shout out to my sister-in-law Bailey, my mother-in-law Kaylyn, and my husband Greg for ensuring that there were non-alcoholic beverages I enjoy available for me behind the bar. This was very thoughtful of them and completely unnecessary. It meant A LOT. Normal people don’t have this kind of consideration. Your kindness is extraordinary. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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A photo from the wedding. I am second from the right.

Honestly, not drinking at the wedding was really hard. I had a lot of fun, but I honestly would have rather been drunk like most everyone else (the reception was open bar). It’s especially hard being around other people who are drinking and having a great time. I feel very jealous of them.

In addition, something happened after the wedding that made me wish I had gotten drunk. I can’t get into details.

The following week was the closest I came to drinking again. One day I had a particularly bad day and watched the movie “The Fighter” to keep myself from drinking. For those who aren’t familiar, “The Fighter” is about two brothers who are boxers. One of them, played by Christian Bale, struggles with crack addiction. Bale’s character is forced into sobriety when he serves a prison term. When he’s released from prison, he visits his crackhead buddies. Just when you think he’s going to use crack again, he essentially tells them to fuck off. View the scene here. (Random fact: this scene was filmed right down the street from our house in Lowell). This scene is so powerful and inspiring to me.

I had a couple of “oops” moments this past month. They shouldn’t count against my sobriety, but for some reason I feel like I have to put an asterisk next to my 11 months, just like Roger Maris’ home run record.

1. Prior to the wedding, a bunch of us went to a Mexican restaurant. Bailey informed me that the bar had non-alcoholic margaritas (they dispensed them from a margarita machine and added the booze after). The choices were mango and strawberry. Someone at the table had a mango margarita, and without even thinking, I asked to try it because I couldn’t decide between mango and strawberry. The person who offered it up is not as familiar with my sobriety journey, so she didn’t stop me. I took one sip and immediately realized what I did. My husband came over at that moment and I said to him, “Oh my God why did I do that? I’m so stupid!!!” I ran to the bathroom to try to spit out what I imbibed. Then I went to the bar to get a cup of water to rinse out my mouth. Luckily I’m not a fan of tequila. Otherwise this could have easily tempted me to order a drink.

2. A few days ago, I went to a chocolate shop in Burlington, VT, and opted to try a cherry cordial along with a few other chocolates. I understand it’s common knowledge that cherry cordials contain alcohol, however I’ve only had non-alcoholic cordials and would assume that I’d be carded for purchasing alcoholic cordials. I took one bite and immediately spit the chocolate into a napkin. Then I asked for a glass of water to get the taste out of my mouth. I went over to the label behind the glass to see if the cordials were even labeled as containing alcohol. The “contains alcohol” warning was teeny-tiny and almost blended in with the background of the description card. Again, I felt so stupid.

Everyone is telling me that these instances shouldn’t count against my sobriety, but I can’t help but feel that my sobriety is tainted now.

On the psychiatric front, I’m adjusting my medication again. I was experiencing a lot of anxiety in the evenings for no particular reason. It even happened on the weekends, when I wasn’t working and didn’t have anything to do. It even occurred while I was on vacation this month.

I’ve struggled with this evening anxiety ever since I started taking Latuda. It has gotten to the point where I don’t want to interact with people in the evenings. I force myself to attend social gatherings, but feel very embarrassed about my anxiety. Greg has noticed that I’ve been on edge and continually asks me if I’m okay. I say yes, even though I’m not. There’s nothing he can really do, so I don’t complain about it.

Another side effect of Latuda is akathesia, or the inability to sit still. I’ve been walking for almost 2 hours each evening to stave off this side effect (and because I like to walk). My vacation messed with my normal regimen and I felt the inability to sit still a few times. To the point where I found myself interrupting time with Greg’s family to walk in 100 degree weather and in circles around my in-laws’ basement. This inability to sit still isn’t TERRIBLE, but it’s very, very uncomfortable. I HATE it.

I’ve been going back and forth with my Nurse Practitioner over medication for almost a year now. It’s frustrating, and I’m starting to wonder if she’s right for me. She keeps pushing increasing Latuda when I have repeatedly told her about the awful side effects I’m not willing to take on, like trembling, akathesia, and anxiety. I feel like she’s not listening to me. It makes me wonder if she’s getting kickbacks for prescribing it.

When I last saw her, I asked her about a prescription for medical marijuana to ease my anxiety in the evenings. She didn’t recommend it and thought it would sedate me more than Seroquel did. I wouldn’t normally ask about marijuana, but I was honestly getting kind of desperate.

Due to my insistence that Latuda isn’t right for me (I gave it a fair shot), she is now starting me on Zyprexa. It’s similar to Seroquel, but isn’t as sedating. I am lowering the Latuda dosage and will be rid of it in a week. Within just one week of taking Zyprexa and lowering Latuda, I feel much less anxious in the evenings. Last night, Greg was surprised about my lack of anxiety. It’s reassuring that he is noticing a difference too. I hope this will be the last medication I have to try.

Well, I’m almost a year sober. Yay!!! Just one more month. Thanks to everyone for your support and love.

Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service!

A special Throwback Thursday post in honor of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday! I will never forget visiting the Muir Woods National Monument outside of San Francisco. The first photo shows me looking up, up, up at the 200 foot tall redwood trees. The second photo shows me at the base of one of the trees. About 98 percent of the area where the trees flourished was logged in the 1800s. The only reason this particular area remained untouched was because it was so incredibly hard to 1. get to (and boy was it a scary ride to get down there!) and 2. transport wood out of. I looked up at those beautiful trees, which are also fire resistant, and thanked God this small area remained untouched and preserved. It is truly miraculous. This was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Bipolar and Hypersensitive Hearing

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Today I read this article about the connection between bipolar disorder and hypersensitive hearing. I have always struggled with noise sensitivity and never realized until now that there might be a medical/psychological reason for that. People talking in movie theaters send me into a rage. Walking down the busy street near our house is oddly disturbing. Noise from our neighbors frustrates me incredibly, even though I realize I may be overreacting. I also regularly wear headphones in busy stores because I simply can’t stand the noise sometimes. I feel very uncomfortable in busy restaurants and bars (mostly open concept ones where noise travels easily) and feel the need to escape. This is interesting. I guess I learned something about myself today.