Life in 3 acts

Being married to a drinker (when you’ve stopped drinking)

(Perhaps you’ve heard this story…) I woke up one day in 2010 and decided that I wasn’t going to drink alcohol anymore.

When I told this to my husband I conveyed it with the same sense of urgency that I did the time that I declared that I wasn’t going to eat meat anymore.

Or when I told him that I wasn’t going to eat dairy anymore.

Or when I told him that I was going to take up running and train for a race.

He was moderately supportive but continued to do his thing.

The thing is though, when I dismissively announced to him that I wasn’t going to drink anymore that day in 2010, I desperately wanted him to stop drinking too. Not because he necessarily needed to–just because I needed his support and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about giving up alcohol while living with a partner who still drank.

Did I tell him this? Hell no. I didn’t even convey the seriousness in my decision. If I remember correctly, I think I probably said it like this: “Hey. Just so you’ll know, I’m not going to drink for awhile and see how I feel.” Just the same way that I announced it when I was becoming vegetarian–which lasted several years–then I was back to meat-eating.

I think he probably felt like I was doing it to maybe lose some weight. Or that I’d read an article in Woman’s Day about how alcohol messes with your sleep cycles or something. I don’t think that he 1. knew the seriousness that I felt, 2. thought that I’d make it a permanent life change or 3. knew how much I wanted him to take me seriously and support me.

Did this piss me off? Yeah, it did. Was it really even his fault? Nope.

I should’ve told him these things. I should’ve let him see the vulnerable side of me–the side that really struggled in social situations without alcohol. The side that struggled trying to figure out who I was anymore. But, I kept it all under wraps and waved it all off dismissively.

Who knows. Maybe I also didn’t want him to know the seriousness so that when I failed at sobriety, he wouldn’t see me as a washout.

So, I stopped drinking but he did not.

He continued to drink at home after work and on weekends. He continued to order a glass of nice red wine with his steak over dinner at a restaurant. He continued to meet up with friends for happy hour after work, coming home smelling of bourbon and cigar smoke.

Did it hurt? Big time. Did I tell him this? No.

Instead, I quietly seethed when he’d crack open a beer at home, in what felt like a taunt to my sobriety. I’d feel like crying when he carefully perused the wine list over dinner, trying to choose just the perfect crisp white to compliment his meal. I raged when he added beer to my Costco list and left me to heave a giant 24-bottle box of Shiner into our already overflowing cart while I fought to ply my (then) toddlers with more fruit snacks in order to make it through the checkout tantrum-free.

I know, in my heart of hearts, that if I’d simply told him how difficult it was for me that he continued to drink when I had quit, he would’ve stopped for me. He might not have stopped entirely, but he might have tried to survey the scene through my eyes and refrained from drinking in my presence.  As a result, I seethed in silence for a few years early in my sobriety. It wasn’t fair to me, and it really wasn’t fair to my husband.

All that it would’ve taken was 4 simple words from me:

I need your help.

Vulnerability though, man. That’s probably why I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to appear as vulnerable as I felt. Also, the seriousness of the situation scared the living shit out of me. I didn’t want him to suddenly see his wife–the mother of his two children–as an addict. I didn’t want him to think, “Holy hell. I’ve been leaving my children in the care of an alcoholic all of this time?”

Almost 7 years have passed since I quit drinking. I’ve survived all major social occasions, vacations, weddings and funerals without alcohol now. My husband doesn’t drink  nearly as much as he did when I was a drinker, but he does have a fridge in the garage that’s typically full of beer and a liquor cabinet in the kitchen that’s full of all of the “important” ingredients for just about any cocktail you might require.

To be honest: yes, I do sometimes still slam the liquor cabinet shut a little harder than I should when I’m in there, trying to find a place for the salad spinner and there are too many bottles of liquor in the way. I also have been known to shove the beer aside with more force than necessary (oops, sorry about that foam, bro) when making space for our salad greens and leftover casserole in the garage fridge.

All of this to say that, if you need your spouse to quit drinking in order to feel supported in your sobriety, please DON’T BE LIKE ME! Ask for help. Tell him or her. Demand it of them. And, if they can’t fathom giving up something like that for you, then rethink that relationship or suggest that they reassess their own relationship with alcohol.

Don’t be scared to be vulnerable in front of your partner. I can’t turn back time and go back and do it all differently–I wish that I could. I know that the way that I handled the situation was really dangerous–my constant anger could have really done permanent damage to our marriage. How it didn’t, I’m not sure. And all it would’ve taken is for me to say, “I need your help.”

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Life in 3 acts

8 date night ideas that don’t revolve around alcohol

Before I quit drinking alcohol, back in 2010, a typical date night for my husband and I meant dinner (plus drinks) and drinks. Oh, and then drinks after dinner. Then, if we still had anything left in us after the date, more drinks at home after the kids were in bed.

Especially after we had our first baby, when we got a rare date night, we didn’t want to waste our time doing anything but drinking our new-parent frustrations away and trying to find the “old” us that was hidden under layer upon layer of sleep deprivation and Elmo-induced brain atrophy. In fact, back in those days, a date night activity that didn’t involve alcohol felt like punishment. Why even bother?

A rare date night out, sans babies, circa 2009. Lots of drinking going on here.

 

Then, I quit drinking, and I remember feeling very lost when we got our first, long-overdue date night. What the hell were we supposed to do on a date night now if I couldn’t drink? I’d be lying if I said that I remember what we did on those first few sober date nights, but now that I’ve been doing sober date nights for awhile, I feel like I have a better-stocked arsenal of date night ideas that don’t involve drinking.

So, here are 8 date night ideas that don’t completely revolve around alcohol, in case you’re a teetotaler (like me), maybe you’re pregnant and miss being able to drink on date night or maybe you’re just looking for ways to have fun without the hooch every now and then.

1: Go to the movies: There’s a new wave of movie theater “experiences” that incorporate drinking into enjoying a movie. We have Alamo Drafthouse where we live and fancier-versions in the larger cities nearby, but I enjoy a good movie on a date night. I think it’s a real treat to go and watch a movie that I choose, that doesn’t involve a Pixar character, nor an animated version of Justin Timberlake singing top-40 hits. Plus, I’m all about getting candy or another sweet treat that I don’t have to share.

2: Play mini-golf: Going to play mini-golf WITHOUT your kids might seem cruel, but nobody said that you have to tell your kids where you went on date night, right? I think that mini-golf is all kinds of fun. You want to know what makes it even more fun? When you can get fiercely competitive with your partner and play your heart out without having to give up a shot for your kid or wait, as your 1st grader takes 52 shots on a par 4.

3: Costco run: Lame, right? But, imagine this: Costco After Dark. Way less crowded than your usual Saturday, at 11am Costco run. Plus, you and your partner can carefully critique the differences between the latest and greatest televisions that Costco has to offer. You can wander around, gathering samples without having to bite your Kirkland-brand peanut butter cup into 4 equal portions so that your toddler and 4 year old don’t lose their minds in the middle of the store. Better yet? Pick up the toilet paper and kitty litter that you’ve been putting off purchasing and have your spouse load it in the back of your minivan for you. Now, that’s what I call foreplay! Meeeeow!

4: Go to the museum: Many museums offer an after-hours happy hour every month or so. Yes, booze is the primary focus of these events (because, of course it is) but you can take the opportunity to see the museum without the large crowds who are usually there during normal business hours. Typically a museum membership is required to attend these events, but museum memberships are awesome for families to take advantage of anyway. They always pay for themselves in just a couple of visits and they afford you the luxury of going to the museum on a rainy day to see the one thing that you kid cares about seeing and then leaving directly after. No need to try and get your money’s worth out of a single day ticket.

5: Linger at a coffee shop: Since I quit drinking, coffee shops have become a favorite place of mine. I never cared to have coffee after the hours of about 10am before, but now, an after dinner coffee is a pretty great special treat. Coffee shops are also good places to go and have a nice, uninterrupted conversation with your spouse. I love to people watch there also. All good things…

6: Take in some community theater: Most communities–no matter how small or large–have community theater. Some of the productions are really, really good and some of them….well, aren’t. But, on date night, it doesn’t matter. You’re out of the house, sans kids. There’s often beer and wine available in the lobby of these productions, but it’s not pushed on you like it is in, say, comedy clubs. Go check out a local production and remark at how talented (or not!) your neighbors are.

7: Church activities: I know, I know. Now that we’ve found a church that we like, we’re becoming “those people.” But, most churches have opportunities to be social with other couples every now and then (if not more often). I’ve heard great things about “small groups,” that give you the opportunity to meet other people from the church outside of services. Our church has classes and seminars as well that would be good to do on a date night.

8: Shopping: There’s something rather appealing about going shopping with your spouse without the kids in tow. To leisurely browse on your own time and look at what YOU want to look at, without having to divide your time watching the kids play in the indoor mall playscape while the other runs quickly into Sears to grab a refrigerator filter and a new shirt. Use date night shopping as an opportunity to pick out new dress clothes or new granny panties–whatever makes you feel good. Or, shop at a furniture store for your (perhaps fictitious) dream house. No purchase necessary.

I used to see date night as more of a “treat yo self” night. A night that I could escape my day job and drink to alleviate the stress of parenthood. Every time though, I’d end up feeling like a worse parent–especially when I was hungover the next morning and unable to properly perform even the simplest of parenting duties for my kids. Now that I’m sober, date night is truly a recharge night for me. I get to enjoy my husband’s company and then wake up refreshed the next morning, ready to do this crazy job called “parenting” to the best of my abilities.

What about you? Any sober date night ideas to share?

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Life in 3 acts

Feeling excluded

Feeling excluded was a common emotion that I experienced when I first stopped drinking.

Now, let’s be clear: It certainly wasn’t anything anyone did on purpose. But it was the nature of the social scene. When people get together–specifically moms of young children–drinking is the main event. When I stopped drinking, I struggled to find things to do socially that wouldn’t make me feel uncomfortable. But it also made me very aware of how much alcohol plays into social events.

Continue reading “Feeling excluded”

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Life in 3 acts

Making friends when you’re a teetotaler

I’ve been asked many times how I make new friends as a woman (specifically a mother) who doesn’t drink.

On the surface, this might sound like a stupid question to someone who doesn’t think much about alcohol. But, in our culture of “Mommy Juice,” and PTA meetings that end with tequila shots at the taco joint next to the school, it’s a formidable question.

The shorts answer is that…well, it is difficult–I’m not going to sugar coat it.

Part of this is likely due to my introverted personality. I would much rather be a fly on the wall at a party than be actively moving about the room visiting and getting to know people.

Also, if someone is part of a recovery community, they’ve got a built-in safety net of people to socialize with.

I didn’t have this at my disposal.

When I was a drinker, meeting people was a bit easier because alcohol allowed me to be more open and friendly. I took more chances and I didn’t quietly observe the room quite as much as I do sober. I could also tolerate certain personality types when I was drinking that I typically couldn’t have tolerated sober.

When I stopped drinking, I had a wonderful home-base of lady friends. When I told them that I was going to stop drinking, they were supportive but also largely non pulsed, which is just what i needed at the time. It was no big deal and they loved me regardless of my drinking habits.

Then, we moved away from my friends and I was faced with making all new friends.

So, I started mixing and mingling with people in our new community. When my drinking status came up in conversation, I found that it was usually met with 3 possible reactions:

Oh, okay…that’s cool.

(Then I’d be watched closely to see if I exhibited any overtly religious behaviors, which might explain my teetotaling. Spoiler: If you’re around me for more than about 15 min and hear my potty mouth, you’ll quickly learn that I’m not fanatically religious)

Oh, wow! That’s so interesting! I want to hear more!

I love this response, because, it not only shows that the person cares about who I am and getting to know me better, but it also gives me an opportunity to share a bit of my story with others who might benefit from hearing it.

Oh. My. God. Are you kidding me? I could NEVER give up my wine! You’re crazy.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this is my least-favorite response and generally lets me know pretty early on that: a. this person and I aren’t going to jive and b. this person might have a bit of an issue with alcohol herself.

I have an acquaintance who still–every time she introduces me to others–says this, “This is Jenny. She doesn’t drink!“. This can be at any setting at all, be it a place where that explanation is necessary (say, at a winery tour) or absolutely not necessary (at a funeral). She’s definitely one of those people who blurts things out all the time and her mouth often gets her into trouble, but I find it so telling that that’s the thing that she chooses to tell people about me. Not, “This is Jenny. She’s the mother of 2 kids.” Or even, “This is Jenny. She has 4 cats, a dog and a fish.” Nope. Every time, it’s, “This is Jenny. She doesn’t drink…not even wine! Can you believe that? I could NEVER give up my wine.”

There have been instances when I’ve met someone–a potential friend–and when they find out that I don’t drink, their face falls and I notice that resigned, “Oh, and I really LIKED her” look go across her face. It makes me sad but I also know that I USED TO BE that person too. In my drinking days, when I met someone who didn’t drink I’d often mentally cross them off of my list of potential friends. “Clearly, we have nothing in common.” I feared judgement from non-drinkers. I assumed that anyone who didn’t drink wasn’t my people. So, I totally understand how people feel when they meet me.

And, all is not lost when first meetings don’t go well. Often, once someone gets to know me and sees that, in addition to being sober, I’m also funny, self-deprecating  and wildly inappropriate, they forget that we differ in our drinking habits and they accept me anyway. That’s really all that I typically hope for.

I also work hard (perhaps harder than I should) so that my friends feel comfortable drinking around me. The thing is, just because I can’t drink doesn’t mean that they can’t. I’m not here to judge but I am here to be an example of what a sober woman looks like.

If you’re a teetotaler, have you found it difficult to make friends? 

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Life in 3 acts

On marriage

Over the weekend, a prominent figure in the tiny community that I grew up in died. While I was sad to hear of Mr. N’s passing, truth be told, I hadn’t given him or his family a thought for the better part of a decade. I don’t live in that area anymore and I never have a reason to go back, so a lot of the people who were on the periphery of my adolescence have just disappeared from my memory–Mr. N. and his family included.

It’s been interesting seeing the tributes pour in all over Facebook, honoring this man. I’m seeing posts by people whom I haven’t thought about in years. People have been sharing their stories of how Mr. N.  touched their lives and shaped who they are as an adult. It’s beautiful.

So, once this news broke, I texted one of the only friends from high school that I’m still in touch with to see if Mr. N. had been ill or if it was a sudden death. In the course of us discussing Mr. N. and his family, she reminded me of a few of the gossip-y “scandals” that had plagued his family when we were in high school. It was interesting to rehash those decades-old stories and commiserate over our shared versions of the gossip from back in the day.

Continue reading “On marriage”

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Life in 3 acts

Overcoming shame

…and admitting that you have a problem.

One of the hardest things for me when I stopped drinking (and still today) is admitting that it had become a problem for me.

You see, I like to uphold this lofty “Superwoman” persona. I’ve got a bit of a competitive streak in me and I like doing my best. Sue me.

So, admitting that I was failing in an aspect of my life was painful for me. Especially being a mother, I felt like I was failing my children, my husband AND myself when I drank too much. Maybe it’s the same for you?

The way that I was raised, you didn’t show your cards to anyone. Everything is perfect. I’m perfect; we’re perfect. It was all about appearances and how we appeared to be functioning in other’s eyes. This has fucked me up. Yup. Effed my ass up.

Last January, I posted a link to this article on Facebook. It resonated so much with me and I wanted to share it, in the hopes that it would resonate with someone else as well.

I got several private messages from acquaintances telling me such things as, “I REALLY needed to read this,” and “I think that I really need to reevaluate my relationship with alcohol.”

That’s when the lightbulb went off in my head: I could use my voice and my experiences to help someone else.

I have been so conditioned not to speak of my weaknesses that talking about my sobriety felt as foreign to me as trying to speak Portuguese. This blog has been a learning experience for me. If you’ll notice, as time has gone on, my posts have gotten more and more real. I hope to continue to dive deep for you.

It comes down to this: What’s more shameful–drinking too much, saying things that you’ll regret, harming relationships…

or

admitting that you’re human and you’re working on yourself?

Do you have difficulties with shame? 

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Life in 3 acts

How to ditch alcohol forever


(the way that I did it)

*Disclaimer: As I’ve stated here before, my road to sobriety was different from most. I didn’t require the assistance of a 12-step program, rehab and only minimal counseling. If you feel as though you can’t stop drinking on your own, please seek help promptly! 

When I decided to stop drinking, I just did it. I drank too much on a Sunday afternoon and fell asleep about dinnertime, leaving my husband to take on the feeding of the kids/bathing/bedtime routine. I woke up later that night, embarrassed at what I’d let happen. I went to a board meeting at my kids’ church preschool the following morning hungover and vowed right then and there. Enough. I can’t keep up with this habit anymore. That was the Fall of 2010.

If you’ve ever wondered if maybe you need to stop drinking, <as blunt as this sounds> you probably do. A good way to find out is to quit for a little while–and I don’t mean for a day–I mean for an extended amount of time to see how things change in your life. From there you can consider moderating your drinking or maybe you’ll continue to abstain. The trick is to be honest with yourself about your drinking. 

Some of the following tips I followed and some, I wish I’d followed. But all of them have dawned upon me at one time or another over the course of the past 6 years.

Continue reading “How to ditch alcohol forever”

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Life in 3 acts

On sadness and anger in early sobriety

I was looking through old photos this morning–trying to find photos of me drinking that I could share with you (I’m not sure why, but it seems important to show you who I used to be).

Sadly, (or maybe fortunately) I couldn’t find much. I think that our photos from that time period aren’t on this computer, but what I found instead were lots of photos of me in those first few months of sobriety.

Continue reading “On sadness and anger in early sobriety”

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Life in 3 acts

Drinking at the gym

…and why it makes me angry. 

I joined a Crossfit “box” (that’s what they call a gym in Crossfit lingo) a couple of years ago. I was looking to challenge myself physically a bit more than my classes at the YMCA could provide for me and I wanted to maybe even meet some people; make some friends who were interested in a healthy lifestyle. 

So, I joined a box in my area and showed up for my first class. As the front desk person was giving me a tour, she showed me the refrigerator that was stocked with bottles of water for purchase. I also noticed that the entire lower shelves were stocked with beer. I thought that was odd, but chalked it up to the owner maybe enjoying a cold beer when she was up there doing paperwork or cleaning or whatever. Who am I to judge?

Then, I started getting emails about a special Friday afternoon Crossfit class that ended with a “Happy Hour.” The photos showed up on my Facebook feed of the class participants, still sweaty and dirty from the WOD (workout of the day) doing handstand/kegstand-type of maneuvers, guzzling beer like college students. This rubbed me the wrong way. 

Then, at the holidays, there were several social get togethers both at the gym and at the owner’s home where alcohol was predominantly featured–and I don’t mean a festive glass of wine–I mean jello shots and beer bongs. 

It was very common for my fellow classmates to show up for the Monday morning class hungover, reeking of alcohol from the weekend before, complaining (or bragging?) about how much they’d had to drink over the weekend and commiserating over shared weekend shenanigans with fellow classmates and even coaches. 

All of this really made me angry. 

First of all, I joined a gym to try and engage in a healthy lifestyle. I hoped to surround myself with people who were health conscious and maybe not still drinking like college-age people at my age (40-something). Some of these heavy-drinking classmates were also mothers like me. I knew that I absolutely didn’t want any part of that scene.

Also, I learned that the owner of the gym is a recovering addict herself. I can’t speak to her current sobriety, but she was prominently featured in all of the social media photos cheering on the shot-taking and jokingly holding the beer bong for other gym members at the Friday Happy Hour class. 

Long story, short: Due to a handful of factors, I canceled my membership to this gym. I’m not going to lie–the college student-like approach to drinking and socializing was a big factor, as was the owner’s laissez faire attitude about the drinking habits of the other gym members.

All of the drinking that was going on at the gym and with other gym members didn’t trigger me or make me want to drink–quite the contrary–but I did feel excluded. I had hoped to make a few connections at this gym, but it became clear to me that if you didn’t go out and drink with everyone else, you weren’t “part of the club” and this quickly became a “club” that I didn’t care to be a part of.

From what I see though, my experience at this “box” isn’t necessarily an isolated scenario. I see more and more gyms luring members with promises of social gatherings at local breweries and wine tastings and happy hour classes that end with drinks. I mean, there’s even a Wine Workout that someone came up with. I’m sorry, but…WHAT?

Image: www.greatideas.people.com

 

I’m not judging people who can drink socially but I’d really like to see a gym or a fitness professional NOT advocate drinking. Just for once. Not only is drinking your calories not a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight, but it’s also a dangerous habit to introduce to your members. 

Can we really not do anything without alcohol? Can’t we go for a few days a week without drinking alcohol, or is that unfathomable? 

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Life in 3 acts

Why “moderating” my drinking didn’t work for me


Years ago, when I realized that I needed to make a change in my drinking habits, I decided that I’d simply “moderate” my drinking. I’d make a plan and have “x” amount of drinks per week/day/event. This sounded way more doable than flat-out quitting entirely.

So, the first few weeks, it worked brilliantly. I held myself to that one glass of wine with dinner. Then, in the coming weeks, when confronted with the temptation to have more than my allotment, I bent the rules…just a smidgen.

Then, the next event or dinner out, the rules bent even further.

The next thing I knew, I wasn’t “moderating” my drinking at all. I was right back where I started.

You see, my brain is funny like that. It’s a master at talking me out of or into things. Here’s how the dialog went in my head when I was trying to moderate:

Jenny: “I’m only having 2 glasses of wine at the dinner out with friends tonight. That seems like a reasonable amount and won’t get me into too much trouble.”

Brain: “Absolutely! 2 glasses is the perfect amount! Let’s do this!”

Jenny (over dinner): “I’m having a great time! We’re enjoying a leisurely meal with good friends. Everyone else is finishing up their second drink too and the main courses haven’t even arrived yet. What should I do? I really want another drink…”

Brain: “You know, this IS a special circumstance. I mean, how often do you get to have dinner with these good friends? And, you got a babysitter, so you’re foot-loose and fancy-free tonight. I wonder if just 1 more drink wouldn’t hurt?”

The next thing I know, I’m in a pickle.

My brain talked me out of moderating so many times. It became exhausting trying to keep up with the rules that I’d established beforehand for my drinking and then keeping up with the change-on-the-fly rules that I had as the evening progressed. Then, after that evening was over, I had to reevaluate my whole system for moderating. It was way too much work and spent too much of my mental energy.

image courtesy of intherooms.com

That’s when I decided that I needed to abstain all together.

Abstaining completely took away all of that extra psychic baggage that I was carrying around, constantly dividing and multiplying in my head; negotiating and re-negotiating all night. Abstaining from alcohol set me free and made my decisions easier. It allowed me to be present. It took the guesswork out of drinking and eliminated those inner negotiations that made me crazy.

Moderating works for many people. It’s a good place to start if you’re thinking about curbing your drinking. It helps you to step back and take a look at your drinking habits. From there, you can determine if you can continue moderating or if you need to abstain entirely.

I wish I could have made moderation work for me–I really do–but in the end, I needed a finite rule to my drinking. I needed to stop completely. And this is what worked for me.

Have you ever tried (successfully or unsuccessfully) to moderate your drinking?  

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