Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Oops

Last night was our first official "pasta night" in over a month. It was a blast! Everything's better with wine, isn't it? But I have a hangover today and part of me wishes I had stuck to one glass of wine. I'll leave you in suspense as to how much I did have but suffice it to say you're gonna be a cheap drunk for a while.

At least you'll be a happy one. :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ab Fab

Cue the angels. The cleanse is over and I'm happily looking forward to five months of "normality." Did I say hallelujah? Oh yeah ... several times.

I can't express to you the joy, relief and pride you'll feel when you finish a regular cleanse. It's a true gift of expansiveness which I rarely feel in any other part of my life. Love wine too much? Yup. But that's why I'm doing this in the first place.

At about 9pm last night, we uncorked a decent bottle of California cab and let it breathe on the counter for three hours. The place began to smell slightly musky, like a wine cellar, something I wouldn't have noticed or appreciated if I hadn't cleansed.

At midnight, we each poured a glass. One glass, not overly large, about 5oz. We toasted to a lot of things (but mostly me) and put in season 3 of "Absolutely Fabulous" which we've been saving until after the cleanse was over. Watching Edina and Patsy stumble about half-drunk on champers first thing in the morning? And be hilarious while they're doing it? Not helpful on a cleanse.

But it was great watching as Eddie forgot Saffy's birthday, Saffy gave Patsy a breast exam (she drew the line at a "smear"), and the whole bunch of them try to redecorate the kitchen Patsy burned down when she passed out with a cigarette in her mouth at the end of last season. Funny stuff, that alkie business.

I felt the wine slowly course through my body, tingling my arms, filling me with warmth. The total-being relaxation that takes place with alcohol is irreplaceable, as most substances with an addictive bent are. I laughed more, I smiled more, I felt wonderful. Is it cheating to have my first drink at midnight on Day 28? Well, it's officially Day 29, so nope! Dem's the rules.

Btw, a recent study conducted by the University of Calgary took into consideration over 140 earlier examinations of the effects of moderate drinking on our health. On average, people who drink moderately (women one drink a day, men two - not quite ready to be THAT moderate, but I'll get there!) were between 14 and 25 per cent less inclined to get heart disease - compared to non-drinkers. Moderate alcohol consumption also protected the cardiovascular system by increasing "good cholesterol."

They forgot one benefit of course - it's just plain fun. Which helps everything else.


Sources:
Globe and Mail, Feb. 25, 2011 "Cheers to Your Heart Health" by Paul Taylor
IMDb

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 28 - The Lost Weekend

First of all ... it's the last day of my cleanse!! Hallelujah!!! God is in heaven and all is right with the world - especially my little world. Now, anyway. ;)

Remember I mentioned that cleansing will bring you more in touch with yourself emotionally and spiritually. Don't be surprised if you find yourself smack in the middle of some cathartic moments when you cleanse. I know I had my own this past weekend.

To make a long story short, my husband has been suffering from numerous colds the last few winters. Every time he gets sick, he seems to stimulate in me a kind low-grade annoyance. Although I wasn't completely aware of it, we did work our way through to the fact that I behave this way because it's how I was treated by my own mother when I was sick. She was a single mom - and an alcoholic - and as with all alcoholics, she was the center of attention and anything that distracted from that was not tolerated for very long. Including my own illnesses. This isn't her fault, of course! Not only was she stuck in a dopamine depression that prevented her from looking at life's challenges in a positive light, she also didn't get a lot of parental love when she was growing up.

My hubby on the other hand was coddled and spoiled by both of his wonderful parents when he was sick. So he's used to that. And when I cut myself emotionally from him (which is my automatic response to his being sick), he feels abandoned and gets testy.

Day after day of this and both our fuses had fizzled out. After much yelling, screaming, fighting, door slamming, wrestling on the bed, love making, crying, and pacing my balcony barefoot - we finally realized that we just have a "blind spot" for each other when it comes to this. The way sickness was dealt with in my family is exactly the opposite of what he grew up with, so we have a lot of natural friction in this department. And as obvious as it seems, we've never been able to understand that - until this weekend.

I bring it up because there were several levels to this realization - it went on for most of Saturday afternoon. What we talked about afterwards is that at some point during that day, particularly when we'd hit some kind of conciliatory mood, and it happened several times, chances are one or both of us would have said: "I could use a glass of wine" or "Let's go out for lunch" or something like that. We would've got a dopamine buzz and chilled out. But we would've lost the thread of our convictions and we probably wouldn't have made it to the deeper, emotional breakthrough. We both feel so much more relaxed and in touch with each other - and ourselves - now.

I sincerely hope you don't have to have a teeth-gnashing fight when you're on a cleanse. If you do, at least it's sober so you'll be clear-headed for it. ;) Accept it. In fact, embrace the growth opportunity in a disagreement and understand that whatever the cause of it, you'll be on a more honest, positive path when it's over. Because you will know the truth of your life and your situation more clearly.

I hope you don't have to fight in front of your kids. I hear it's not healthy for them. (Wah, wah!) Still, as far as I'm concerned, watching a good, healthy, SOBER argument between two adults who care for each other and the future of the family, is immeasurably better than watching random, booze-soaked scraps, which happen much more often if you're stuck in the cycle of addiction. So if you can keep it PG, great! If you can't, I bet your kids will give you a few free passes because you've probably been able to spend more quality time with them this month. And kids who have been affected by your drinking will appreciate anything you're doing to improve it. I know I would have.

Now I'm not saying that there WILL be fights when you cleanse! Not at all! Don't expect it! Cleansing is actually a very peaceful time in my life. Even though I often find myself making personal emotional breakthroughs, it very rarely involves a fight with anyone else! So don't worry about that. If it happens, go with it. But it's not inevitable.

What might be more likely is that you're having emotional "growth spurts" on your own. Don't be surprised if you find yourself up against lifelong blockages when you cleanse. They might leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Go with that, too. I know it's part of my syndrome as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOC) to find more comfort in chaos than in peace. And as a former addict, I still find myself drawn to drama. The cycle of fighting and forgiveness that I grew up with, and developed as a drinker myself, is still a part of my makeup. It gets better every year, but I haven't completely rid myself of it yet.

If you do have to face emotional roadblocks on a cleanse (or any time!), I hope that you have a partner who is as open to your development as mine is. It'll make it easier if and when something like this happens.

If, on the other hand, you don't feel the support from your partner, family or friends that you need, you might want to seek professional guidance to help with your journey. I saw a psychologist myself when I was in my late 20s and (other than reading "Drinking: A Love Story") it's one of the best things I've ever done for myself because for the first time in my life I said: I deserve to be happy and I'm doing something about it.

There are many services on the web to help you find appropriate counseling, including therapistlocator.net and find-a-therapist.com. Explore your options and be open to many different forms of support, professional or otherwise. Welcome the feeling of getting closer to who you really are. Experience yourself completely and honestly. In the long run, you'll be a happier, healthier person for it.

Having said that ... I put a bottle of wine in the fridge to chill today. My first in a month. Did I say ... hallelujah? :)


Sources:
- wwwgatscounselling.blogspot.com (Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome, Nov. 21, 2010)
by Robert Mitiga

Note: "The Lost Weekend" is the 1945 film by Billy Wilder about an alcoholic writer on a weekend drinking binge. (IMDb) It's an intense, sad, and terrifying story - especially if you're still out of control of your drinking. If not, it's a classic that'll have you thanking your lucky stars you're not there anymore.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 25 - Still Alive

The last weekend is just about to start. But the hubby is sick with a very nasty cold and I'm stuck doing the rest of those chores I meant to get to, so it's not as if we're walking on sunshine here. Life is still life.

Monday the 28th is the last day of my cleanse, meaning Tuesday is my first drinking day. I usually start a cleanse on a Tuesday because I can't stomach the idea of losing a weekend early in a cleanse. I'd rather really party and feel "ready" to cleanse. Seriously. I know it sounds irresponsible, but if you really indulge yourself in the days leading up to a cleanse, you'll actually feel more "ready" for it.

Btw, I'm not talking about getting so blasted that you can't walk, talk, think, remember who you are or have to get your stomach pumped in the E.R. I'm just saying if you feel like having a glass of wine or a morning glory at noon, go for it! It really does help to have had "enough" when a cleanse starts ... and, yes, as you start cleansing, you really will get to a point where you CAN have "enough" even though you may not have felt that way for many years. I know before I started cleansing, I could never have enough to drink. I always wanted, always needed, more. Which is how you can get into serious emotional and physical problems. But that's part of the gift of cleansing: being more in touch with your true and healthy "limit" and happily living with it.

Back to timing the start of a cleanse. So the last party weekend is out. But the idea of starting on a Monday doesn't sit well with me either. It seems to make sense in a "fresh start" kind of way, but facing Monday - AND the first day of a cleanse on the same day? Forget it. So Tuesday seems to work best.

When you start drinking again you'll be back in the swing of two days off a week. I usually take Tuesday and Thursdays as my "off" days. But for the first week back, I count Monday as a day off, and the regular Thursday. Yes, a little bonus to myself. :)

Again, try not to overdo it that first week or two. Your tolerance levels will be different and you won't need as much to feel a buzz - or feel hungover the next day. More importantly, you risk throwing off the whole reason you cleansed in the first place - to actually reduce the amount of alcohol you want to (or are able) to drink. If you can't continue to drink more and more (and more, which is what happens with any addictive substance) because of regular cleanses, you can't get back into the cycle of dopamine depression and addiction. It's all about keeping the pleasures of alcohol vibrant and real, while reducing the negative impact of it on your system. It's all about balance.

"All fits of pleasure are balanced by an equal degree of pain or languor; 'tis like spending this year part of the next year's revenue." Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 23 - Spring Break

We're well into Spring Break all over the continent - yet it's snowing again here. Probably one of the last snowfalls of the year. On MTV and MuchMusic, we see bikinis and tans in places like Cancun and Daytona, anywhere there's sun and sand. God, kids go crazy on Spring Break.

When I was 17, I went on my first memorable Spring Break with two girlfriends from high school. My drinking career was already in full swing (I got drunk for the first time on my 13th birthday), but I have "special" memories of Fort Lauderdale 1980. Wish I still had the t-shirt to prove it.

One of the girls usually spent a couple of weeks in Florida every winter with her parents at the Holiday Inn in Miami Beach, and since she had a crush on one of the lifeguards who worked that beach (and we could get a good deal on the room) we decided to stay there.

Of course, Miami Beach wasn't what it is today. There was no South Beach, no fab retro-hotels, no fashionistas. It was all retirees and blue rinses. So we tanned during the day in Miami, got ready with the hair and the makeup when the sun went down, then took a cab to Fort Lauderdale at night to party with the rest of the kids. (The ride was about $40 if I remember - a small fortune back then, but faster and easier on your outfit than the bus.)

My drinking was already ending in puke and/or stumbling and/or blackout sessions by this point. I think part of the reason I started to drink so much was because it camouflaged my insecurity. I had always been the smart, skinny blonde who got bullied a lot. But when I started drinking, it felt as if I had extra powers, a sort of armor that I could pull on me. When I was blasted and had no inhibitions, I didn't feel vulnerable anymore. I felt powerful, protected, wild. And I was definitely the heaviest drinker - and the most promiscuous - of my friends.

My two travel-mates had just hit the legal drinking mark, but I was still underage and couldn't get into every bar. The ones I did get into absolutely baffled me. There was so much to drink, so much dancing - so many BOYS!! I literally didn't know when to start.

Funnily, with a boy buffet all around me, I was completely stumped. As if there was too much choice. I couldn't decide which boys I liked and somehow it made me start missing an ex-boyfriend back home.

My two friends, on the other hand, didn't follow my lead. Always protecting their reputations in the hometown bars we fake-I.D.'d our way into, as happens to certain females in the spring, Florida seemed to put them both in heat. I had never seen them so openly sexual.

I remember one night in particular, the three of us went to a hotel room with three boys we met in a bar. Before long, I could hear my friends having sex with the two they'd paired off with. I, on the other hand, was just not into it. Probably for the first time since losing my virginity at 14. I don't know whether I didn't like the guy or whether the whole thing just seemed a bit off, but I wouldn't have sex with him and he started getting sulky. Especially since in the darkness it was perfectly clear his friends were getting lucky. Very lucky. Wow. There must be something in the sun.

Anyway, "my" guy and I were on the floor (the actual copulating couples got the beds) and when he finally realized he wasn't getting anywhere, he ignored me and rolled away. I leaned over to him and said, "You're still going to drive us home right?" He got so angry, he literally picked me up in his arms, carried me across the room, opened the door (somehow) and deposited me in the outdoor hallway. He didn't throw me down or anything, he just set me firmly on my feet, but clearly the answer was 'no.' He was NOT driving us home.

Meanwhile, the girls saw in the half-light what was happening. Suddenly they started squealing and screaming, yelling at their own dates about what a jerk their friend was. Running around naked, trying to find their clothes and get dressed before joining me in that dark outdoor hallway surrounded by palm trees. It was the middle of the night.

I remember we tried to find a phone booth - no cells back then - and the only one was beside a nearly burnt-out gas station with broken windows. A pickup truck screeched by in the darkness. Someone screamed out the window at us. We seemed to be in the middle of some swampland slum. We finally got a cab and climbed in the back, all passing out for the long ride home.

For anyone who's gone to Miami Beach, you might know that the Holiday Inn - at least the one we stayed at - was about halfway up the main street, Collins Avenue. Somehow or other our cab driver missed the hotel and kept driving southward to the very bottom of the island. I remember opening my eyes at one point near the end of the drive. I don't know what woke me. My friends were still sound asleep. I looked out the window and I saw the most amazing old, abandoned buildings. All of them in pale, peeling stucco with art deco swoops, domes and cut-outs. Most of the windows were broken, all of them were dark. It was obvious that these old buildings were empty, abandoned for years. If you want to get an idea what the place might have looked like check out Al Pacino's "Scarface." The chainsaw bathtub incident takes place in the exact neighborhood and close to the time frame. Though the place was even more derelict in the years since filming had taken place.

Anyway, I was absolutely awed. I sat up and just stared out the window as block after block went by, all these incredible art deco low-rises sitting empty beneath streetlights that were half burnt out. Everything was quiet. I didn't even talk to the driver; he couldn't speak much English (which might have explained the wayward fare). I was too riveted to even wake up my friends. So I just stared around the streets in wonder.

What I didn't know at the time was that the driver had missed our hotel and gone all the way around the bottom curve ... and we were driving around what is now South Beach. Of course, this was before the 80s revival of all those fabulous groovy hotels. Before the yuppy investors came in to renovate everything. Before HIV-positive gay men from all over the world went there thinking at least they could die in paradise.

With the help of modern medicine, they didn't die of course. Not all of them, anyway - thank God. And the ones who stayed on helped establish one of the hippest travel destinations in the world. (Plus they ended up with some great real estate.)

As for me, I'll never forget that half-drunk/half-hungover trip through the abandoned streets of South Beach when it looked like a blasted-out ghost town. All those buildings seemed on the brink of being demolished - when actually, they were on the brink of being revived. It reminds me of the changing, amorphous quality of life ... that things can get better even when it looks as if they might get worse.

But it also reminds me of the fragility of life. Because one of those girls I went to Florida with died of skin cancer a few years ago. She was barely 35 years old.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 22 - Your Choice?

I've never liked the idea that alcoholism is a disease. I don't want to go so far as to say this theory is a cop-out - but the "experts" have a vested interest in continuing to make us believe that alcohol addiction is a medical condition that needs their supervision. Maybe it's my innate suspicion of authority (I just don't like people telling me what to do!) but long before research started surfacing supporting my own instincts, I viewed alcoholism not as the disease itself, but as an addiction which causes diseases.

And it is true. The over-consumption of alcohol can cause many diseases: Cirrhosis, Pancreatitis, Hypertension, Osteoporosis, and a brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a vitamin deficiency that causes loss of memory, blurry vision, confusion and mobility problems.

Despite the connection between chronic alcohol abuse and physical illness, some experts, like Dr. Gene Heyman of Harvard University, are on my side, even calling the condition a choice. In his book "Addiction: A Disorder of Choice" Dr. Heyman points out that much addictive behavior is primarily voluntary (we initially make the choice to drink or over-drink) and that these choices don't fit the clinical boundaries of illness. Supporting his theory is mounting evidence that addiction treatment responds to reward, incentives and information - behavioral therapies that conventional diseases are immune to.

I believe I'm living proof that at least some forms of alcoholism are not diseases, but conditions that can be improved with incentives - and without clinical supervision. My incentive of course is to not have to quit drinking forever. And it's a big one for me.

But more than this specific advantage, I know that with every cleanse cycle I get healthier, happier and more in touch with my own body and motivations. Every cleanse I learn more about alcohol and its effects on my health, both good and bad. And this information helps me make more intelligent choices for my overall life.

As you start cleansing, you too will come closer to who you really are and begin to understand how the smallest decisions affect your whole life. Moving through a cleanse with consciousness, you can't help but learn to start caring for yourself in a way that maybe you never have (after all, at its core, alcohol abuse is a form of self-abuse whether we are aware of that or not).

But even if you haven't gotten the nerve to start cleansing yet, just the idea that the possibility is there for you is a step in the right direction because you're arming yourself with the knowledge you need to make more loving decisions for yourself.

I know that starting to cleanse is one of the most positive physical and emotional decisions I've ever made. I have not only a healthier respect for alcohol (which is vital for problem drinkers), but I've also gained more respect for myself. It makes me feel more confident in myself overall - because when you get control of the Dopamine/Depression Cycle through cleansing, you won't feel so powerless over alcohol - or anything - in your life again.

Having said that ... guess who's looking forward to her first glass of wine? ;)



Sources:
The Globe and Mail, December 18, 2010, by Jessica Warner
ehow.com, by Dana George
"Addiction: A Disorder of Choice" by Dr. Gene Heyman, 2010, H.U.P.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 21 - Sprung

It's the first official day of Spring today! And the second last weekend of my own "spring break" is behind me. Always a welcome milestone. When you get to this point, focus on the confidence and sense of accomplishment you have - really be proud of yourself. You're almost done!

When it comes to tracking my cleanse and making it seem as if it's going by more quickly, I start playing with fractions on about the second day. It starts out like this: 2 days down? Only 14 more of these to go! Meaning only fourteen more "two-day blocks" to go. Then I get to four days: Only seven more of these to go! And so on and so on. (Okay, it's not algebraic geometry, but it still helps ...)

Now, at Day 21, I'm 3/4 of the way through. This last week feels like it will crawl by, because by now you're really looking forward to your normal life again. Allow yourself to enjoy anticipating drinking again. Pasta dinners with wine. Drinks with friends. Actually getting the wine list in restaurants. Being able to take pleasure in drinking is why you cleanse in the first place, so enjoy the anticipation.

Believe it or not, the last week is actually one of the fastest. You might even find yourself on a natural buzz with a momentum all its own. Take advantage of it. If you're like me, you probably haven't gotten quite as many of those chores done as you wanted. With only 1 week left, I've only de-cluttered my office - and even then, there's a closet full of books that needs tending to.

And after that, there's still the hall closet, my dressing room, under my bathroom sink, the wardrobe, my dresser, a couple of sewing projects ... you get the point. Plus I've scheduled a dentist's appointment for this week. Keep as busy as possible, but savor the anticipation of the end of your cleanse - and watch the days melt by.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 20/20

When you're on a cleanse, you'll probably find that your eyes and skin are clearer. That's because alcohol is inflammatory and you haven't been exposed to it for days, even weeks at a time. Inflammatory substances have long been associated not just with red eyes, but with causing cancer. So it's really important to manage how much of them you're exposed to.

But alcohol is also a diuretic - meaning it's dehydrating to your body when you indulge too much. The reason you have a headache when you're hungover is because the amount of liquid in your brain has decreased, effectively "shrinking" it away from the skull.

When you're cleansing, you'll definitely appreciate waking up without a modicum of a hangover and the experience will put you in touch with the potentially damaging effects of even a "normal" night of drinking. Cleansing is all about working alcohol into your life in a healthy, enjoyable way - and the first-hand information that you'll get through regular cleansing will help you become aware of the real effects of it on your system.

Here's a great natural anti-inflammatory tea. It's always fun to find delicious, new substitutes for my wine consumption that are sugar-free because sugar is also very inflammatory and there's no use exchanging one problem for another. This recipe is really easy too:

Heat a cup of water to about 100 degree F. (Tea water doesn't necessarily have to be boiling)

In a tea ball or fine strainer add:

5-6 black peppercorns
5-6 whole cloves
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
1 stick of cinnamon
4-5 dried cardamom pods

Let the ingredients steep for 15 minutes or more in the warmed water. Remove the tea ball and enjoy. I got this recipe from a book published by the National Ballet School where I started taking adult ballet lessons this year. These particular spices have been used for hundreds, even thousands of years, in many cultures not just for their flavor, but for healthy benefits as well. This tea is also anti-inflammatory - and the ginger is great for settling your stomach - so if you do have a hangover, it's an easy, delicious tonic as well.

You can also put the tea in the fridge and drink it cold. I sometimes like to pour it into a stemless wine glass when it's finished steeping, rather than a cup. It makes it feel more special. If you need a sweetener, stay away from refined sugar and use agave nectar instead. It has less of an impact on your blood sugar.


Sources:
theconsciouslife.com
"A Dancer's Guide to Healthy Eating" by Alyson Yamada and Rebecca Dietzel (National Ballet School: nbs-enb.ca)
Wikipedia

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 17 - St. Paddy Whacked

The pubs down the street flutter with Guinness ads like flags at a used car dealership. A teacher in a big green hat collects her students in a tight bunch on the subway. Shamrocks are so abundant they seem like the national flower.

Ahhhh, St. Patrick, the most common patron saint of Ireland (and getting wasted), he allegedly taught Christian doctrine by using a shamrock to symbolize the Holy Trinity. To honor him, 1600 years after his death, the normal restrictions of Lent are lifted - and indulgence allowed for a day.

Tonight our street will be filled with students from the nearby university stumbling around with red eyes and green tongues. Because I'm cleansing in March, this is my first dry St. Paddy's in a while. Not that I've been into the green beer tradition since my twenties ... but it's funny green wine has never occurred to me before. Sounds like a great idea.

I'm over halfway done my cleanse and for the first time I've succumbed to some sweetish treats - dark chocolate and fruit twists. I'm getting better at normalizing my energy levels during cleanses - they really don't affect me that much, nor will they you once you're in the swing of things. But if you're just starting out, you might find yourself needing a little extra carbs, especially a few weeks in. Enjoy yourself, but be reasonable. Try some healthy snacks before you order in deep-fried cheesecake with pizza on the side.

70% dark chocolate, full of anti-oxidants and energy, is an excellent choice for cleansing. Plus you get the extra boost of caffeine. But don't overdo it - at about 300 calories for 60 grams, this ain't celery. No use getting discouraged during a cleanse by packing on pounds - in fact, it's probably more likely that you'll lose a few.

The fruit twists I bought are President's Choice but Del Monte makes them, too, in bite-size pieces. There's no sugar, just fruit juice, and they've got a nice chewy texture like licorice or Swedish berries that's very rewarding. And each twist has a full serving of fruit.

Only 11 days to go ... :)




Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 16 - From July 2003

I want to include some journal entries that I wrote back in 2003 when I started my first long cleanse. Just in case you're in a long cleanse - or even a 28-day one - and are starting to feel disheartened, I want to share some of the challenges and problems I had when I cleansed. It really helped me to know I wasn't alone when I read Caroline Knapp's book - and I hope to show other people that they're not alone, too. So if you're finding your cleanse not quite as easy as mine now are, here are some words from the dark side of 2003 ... just a month before my first novel came out. By the way, it really helps to write about your feelings, whether in a private journal or in a public blog. And you'll love looking back over them and seeing how far you've come ...

July 18, 2003

I'm going shopping today. Looking forward to it. Want to start thinking about the wardrobe for my book tour (isn't this hilarious? And I want to be taken seriously as a writer? Ha!) Plus I need a kettle to really get into this whole new ritual of drinking tea.

I was pressing a shirt for Mark (ah, domestic drama indeed!) and thinking about my shopping list when all of a sudden, once, twice, three times, as hot and steady as the steam in my iron, came the urge to have a drink. Lots of drinks!

I wanted one of those days where I poured the first glass of bubbly at around 9am and then didn't stop until a couple of bottles of wine were gone. Those nothing days. Those days where hours slipped by. Where the odd telephone call was made. Where old songs were listened to and sung to and danced to. Those sloppy days that would find me running out, half-drunk already, to the liquor store during the middle of the day to replenish my stock. One of those days where I bought a plastic bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade and carried it around in my tote bag, following the stick figure signs to ladies' rooms where I could sip quietly in a stall. I know where practically all the women's washrooms in every mall within a ten mile radius are. And if teh washrooms were busy, a fitting room would always do. Slurp, slurp, giggle. Watching my eyes get redder. My balance get unsteady. Giggle, giggle, slurp. Trying on things I knew for a fact I wouldn't wear. Or sometimes trying on nothing at all, just snapping the elastic of my bra or unzipping my jeans or crinkling shopping bags - to cover the click, hiss! of the plastic bottle opening and the glug, glug of my greedy slurping.

But it'll just be me and my sobriety carrying around a tote bag of Evian today. Wandering from store to store, aisle to aisle, rack to rack. I wonder what it will be like.

I suppose those days were over anyway. I knew they were drawing to a close. I had been making (unkept) promises to myself to stop drinking in public for months. I don't know how close I came to getting caught. Who smelled liquor on my breath - or in my bag for that matter. Who heard me. Who suspected me. After Knapp's book, though, I know that liquor stores are at least partially designed for alcoholics who sneak drinks. Those little liquor bottles by the cash registers? I've always suspected they were for people who had to duck somewhere and down a shot. But I didn't know that for sure. I've never done that, you see. I hadn't quite got to that point yet. Thank God. I never liked the idea of drinking hard liquor anyway. Thank God again. I just don't think it's good for you. They've been drinking wine for millennia though. There seems to be something wholesome, even sacred about it. But what I meant to say is that liquor store clerks see it all. Did they know when I bought my little Henkel Trocken piccolo's that one of them would get popped in a fitting room somewhere? Or that the bottle of expensive French wine I bought was just to cover up the fact I was really there for a portable bottle of Mike's Hard? So easy to drink. So light to carry. So yummy. But then, poor me, I'd end up having to lug around full wine bottles for hours and hours, my shoulder aching, my feet getting sore, just so I wouldn't be too obvious to anyone.

Did they know those times that I showed up first thing in the morning? It happened only a few times, and just around the end. I made sure it coincided with a trip to the grocery store. I bought lettuce and bread and fruit - big healthy things - that stuck up out of my shopping bags. I made a big deal of flopping it all out onto the counter when I dug for my money (cash, always cash, never a paper trail of credit!). I wanted them to think I was just out shopping. See my healthy groceries? I didn't really venture out before 11am for this wine. But I saw the others. The rubbies and the homeless people right outside the door, some of them selling those "Outreach" newspapers fora buck. Sometimes I'd leave two bucks, just because I felt I owed it to the gods. They had red noses and dirty fingernails and beards. "Thanks, sweetie!" they'd say. "Thanks very much, sweetheart! Have a nice day!" And then they'd flash me a yellowed smile, gums red or blackened or bare in places. They were so skinny, except for their guts. They could wrap their thin legs around each other several times like the stripes in a barber shop pole.

And then there were the women: the older women with their silver push carts and their shopping bags. They bought big magnums of wine or forty ouners of vodka or rum or gin, a cheap brand, usually. They carried on chipper conversations with the clerks (all of whom recognized me I'm sure, regardless of which hat, pair of sunglasses or makeup technique I used). "How're you this morning?" "Just fine, dearie. How much ya say? 18.45? Let me just see if I have the change." They always had the change.

That's me in twenty years, I'd think, watching them. And the clerks all know that. I may not look like the winos sitting out front begging for change. Yet. I may not look like the old ladies with their shopping carts. yet. But I'm one of them. I'm part of their club. And the clerks know. I'm sure they do. I wonder if they get curious? "Why doesn't the blonde ever come in after 5, like most of the other young women? She's married. See the ring. Never any children. Doesn't have any I guess. What about a job? Student? Housewife? Unemployed? But a drunk for sure." That much they knew.

There was that bleach-blonde woman with the deep voice at the store at Yonge and St. Clair. Then the friendly dude at the one at the grocery store who once (gasp) called me his best customer if I heard right. Or what about the check with the long faded highlights, a former headbanger for sure, now making a decent wage, who always wore her hair pulled back in a barrette, who never talked or smiled, just did her job. What about her? Yikes. I almost died when I saw her not at her usual store, but at the one up at Yorkdale when I went in one time (I had to always use different stores so people wouldn't see me EVERY day). I was sure she "knew." She saw me down at her regular store all the time. And I use this one too? She must've known that drunks go to different stores all the time not to get found out. They must learn about this when they get staff training. There must be statistics, newsletters, conferences about such things. Or maybe just gossip. If you see them more than a couple times a week, you can bet they're going to other stores, too. And that day, I proved it to her. If she recognized me, which I'm sure she did, she didn't say anything of course. But she never does.

I'd buy different kinds of wine, too. A nice red was always a good cover up if I was feeling particularly guilty - so that it seemed as if I was just getting ready for a party. Sometimes, when things seemed really suspicious, like when I trotted down to the Wine Shop a block away in the middle of day (many times!). It was always quiet. The same clerk worked just about every day. He had long, curly hair. I think his name was Peter. I hated running into him because I saw him so much. It was just so damn convenient to have a wine store less than a block away. Even going to other shops all the time, I still saw him too much, I know that. I would walk in, hopefully not too drunk already, and say things like: "A friend's coming over for lunch. What would you recommend with seafood salad?" Seriously. And then he'd recommend something and I'd hem and haw as if really considering. "Is it dry? She really likes dry." Or maybe I'd mention something about a celebration or ask for advice. "My husband likes a heavy red. We're having pasta. What would you suggest?"

When I cut down last year for a while (and then finally gave in again) and started showing up regularly again, he actually said "Long time, no see." Just so I wouldn't bump into him I often phoned before I trotted down. If he answered, I'd either hang up or disguise my voice. An English accent was best. "What time are you open until today?" I'd ask. Then because I knew he was there, I'd have to change my plan. Shit, I'd think. Now I have to walk all the way over to such and such.

If I was really desperate, I wouldn't bother. I'd just bite the bullet and make up a lie about having that seafood salad with my friend for lunch. Or whatever. I wonder if he knew. Probably. I wonder how many times I stumbled just a bit, or fumbled too long with my money, or smelled, just a hint or even a lot, like stale wine? I wonder how many times I went in at odd hours or during a bad storm that kept most people locked up inside. But sleet, snow, rain, hail, it didn't matter. If I needed wine, I was as dependable as the daily mail.

It's over now. I knew it was over the last time I saw Peter. He had a cold, poor fella. And his nose was running like crazy. It ran, in fact, straight into the till while he was getting my change out, a big, long, slimy, clear line of mucous, two feet down into the cash drawer. He was so embarrassed - I'd be, too. But I knew it was my chance with him, whatever happened with the drinking, I knew I had to cut him out. He'd know too much when the book came out. I knew it was my escape hatch. "The reason I'm not coming in here anymore, Peter, is not because I'm on the wagon or afraid that people will know I'm a lush, but because you really grossed me out with your swinging snot last time and I'm so embarrassed for you, I want to spare us both the pain of seeing each other again."

He was in the bank yesterday when I went in with Mark. Just ahead of us, at the nearest teller, doing Wine Shop business I guess. He and the teller chatted with each other. I wondered what would happen if he saw me. Would he say: "Hey, sorry about that cold the other day. I was feeling like hell." Or worse, "What did you think of that chardonnay?" I kept my back turned to him and he walked out without seeing me, or at least without saying 'hi.' Probably still embarrassed about the booger incident.

(*note March 16, 2011: Funnily enough, the Wine Shop - open for years in our neighborhood - closed up barely a couple of months after I started my first long cleanse. I guess without me going in all the time, they went out of business.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 15 - Downhill From Here

I'm not going to have to tell you to appreciate the halfway mark of your cleanse because you are going to feel it in every fiber of your body. The peace, joy and self-confidence that comes from knowing you've crossed the two-week point is probably going to be all you need to slide through the rest of your cleanse.

I like the idea of cleansing in March. It's a beautiful, mild sunny day outside. Because the clocks jumped forward, the days will be noticeably longer and it's already feeling like spring. It's a much kinder way to deal with a cleanse than depriving yourself in February. I think March will be my winter cleanse indefinitely.

It will effect my summer cleanse, of course. I don't think I'm going to want to be cleansing again in a measly four months. Besides, cleanses should really be spaced about five months apart on a regular basis. So I'll probably start my summer clenase during the last week of August and take it through to the last week of September - or the first day of fall. Cleansing at the equinox. It seems fitting.

But if spring and fall make more sense to you and your life, go for those. Just make sure you keep the cleanses about five months apart.

By the way, I was completely mislead (or maybe didn't pay enough attention to) that furniture store going out of business ad, because in fact, they were open on Monday and will be for several more weeks. What's more, that white sideboard that I thought was the last of its kind is actually only one of nine. There are eight more new ones in stock that will be shipped to the store next month.

It made me really think about how I view my life - and the "lack" of things in it. I know this is not necessarily drinking related, but as I said, my cleanses are not the sole purpose of my life. In fact they are only there to support the rest of my life - which is to find more joy and fulfillment in every moment. And for me, part of that journey is spiritual growth.

So if I'm looking for spiritual lessons in the nightmare of Daylight Savings Day 2011, I won't have to go far to find it. It's so simple ... so clear ... and it applies to all things. My perception of the situation on Sunday was only in my mind. I thought that sideboard was the last one of its kind. I thought the store was closed forever. I thought we had lost the piece de resistance in our living room.

But that was only my interpretation of the situation. It had nothing to do with reality, which was this: I had plenty of time. And I had plenty of sideboards. In fact there was a surplus of them and I could have my pick. If I had just relaxed and thought about the possibility of more positive outcomes when I was standing in front of those locked doors, I would've had a more enjoyable day. Instead of beating myself up for making so many stupid mistakes.

Our perception of lack in the moment has nothing to do with actually what's out there waiting for us. Keep that in mind the next time you feel undervalued or ripped off. Great abundance is right beyond the limits of your what you will allow yourself to imagine or what you think you deserve.

So open your eyes and your hearts to abundance, don't think of "lack."

Funnily, only last week, the day before I saw that sideboard, I had gotten so sick of staring at the blank wall in the living room that I went on-line and decided to order a $29.99 floating shelf from IKEA. We have a black one by the door to the apartment and its very handy and sharp. You know how odd some of the names of IKEA items are? This shelf was called "Lack."

Ironic, isn't it?

What's more, the last line of Abraham's quotation from today reads (as you may know, I'm a follower of Abraham-Hicks): "A state of appreciation is pure Connection to Source where there is no perception of lack."

It all applies to drinking, too. Because, I may be living in lack right now when it comes to my yummy vino, but because of regular cleansing I don't have to live in lack forever - not like those poor 12-steppers. When my cleanse is over, there isn't a life of abstinence waiting for me. But one of abundance. And there's less than two weeks to go ...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 14 - The Battle of Midway

The battle of Midway is considered the most important naval battle of WWII. It was six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and it found the US Navy causing "irreparable damage" to the Japanese navy. One thing Wiki doesn't say about the battle of Midway is that there was another one this year - and it took place yesterday, midway through my cleanse.

I mentioned that we had a great Friday night and Saturday and night. Measuring the joy of a cleanse weekend is really important to me because with each cleanse I find non-drinking weekends easier and more fun. And all was going really well ... until yesterday when we decided to head back downtown to pick up that white sideboard we saw at that expensive furniture shop we never go to.

The place was going out of business and the sideboard I saw on Friday - then visited again with the hubby on Saturday - was on sale for half price. It also fit just about every need we have in the living room in terms of dimensions, design, storage space, etc. It was still a bit more than we were expecting to pay, but it was a high-end designer piece and maybe it's time we stepped out of our IKEA/West Elm/EQ3 comfort zone.

However, my hubby wasn't 100% convinced when he first saw it and needed a bit more time to think. Plus we both thought there was one day left of the sale and on the very last day, we'd probably be able to haggle a bit and get a couple hundred bucks off - especially since Sunday would be their last day in business.

So we went home and measured and moved and imagined all the problems that this piece solved: it would clean up my husband's office area and de-clutter the whole living room, which is a bonus seeing as I'm de-cluttering my life along with Oprah.

So Sunday morning I got up first, as usual, relatively early (especially for a non-hangover morning! Ah, the bliss of non-hangover Saturday and Sundays! Almost worth the dry nights! Almost ...) However, it was March 13th and Daylight Savings Time had begun. Our clocks had "sprung forward" and, as is always the case this time of year, we were "losing" an hour of our weekend. Never a good thing. I don't know why I secretly resent it: this stealing of an hour of a weekend every year. Even though it's refunded in the fall.

On top of that, the St. Patrick's Day Parade was on - starting at noon and marching for two solid hours ... directly ... and I mean DIRECTLY ... in front of the windows of the furniture store where that white sideboard was. In fact, every shamrock-cheeked cutie who might've glanced in the shop window on the west side of the street would have actually seen our coveted white chest.

On top of losing an hour and fighting the crowds for the parade, I had PMS which I have to be honest, has very rarely been easier when I'm on a cleanse. :(

Driving was now out of the question because of road closures and traffic, but I didn't like the idea of fighting the parade crowds on the subway, so I figured if we could get down there and back while the parade was actually on, it would be our best bet.

I started waking the hubby up a little earlier than usual because we'd planned to head down to the store when it opened, we thought around noon. My hubs is NOT morning person. Repeat NOT. If ever there was an understatement in the world it would be that: my husband is not a morning person. Waking him up early - especially when he was getting up an hour earlier anyway - takes the kind of courage and prowess that only 18 years of partnership can give you. To make matters worse, our Sundays are usually sacrosanct. Except for a load of laundry or two, we really try to keep things relaxed and low-key on Sundays.

I suppose I was already a bit ratcheted up because I now so wanted that sideboard ... the clocks had changed, stealing that hour ... the parade was screwing up the convenience of the plans ... and the PMS was roaring. My husband sensed it immediately when he woke up but he seemed to be dealing with it quite well. We decided to leave right after coffee and the Sunday Times. I don't think he even took a shower.

Off we went to the subway. And yes, it was crowded. Full of parents with kids with temporary shamrock tattoos on their cheeks, grown men and women in green felt hats, and various other Sunday shoppers. Unfortunately, we missed the train by about two seconds, getting to the platform just in time to see the lights of the back window pulling away into the black tunnel.

Because it was Sunday, the trains were running on a slower schedule - even though it seemed as busy as any weekday on the platform. Each minute that went by saw more people cramming next to us. My husband started grumbling about being on the subway 'seven days in a row.' I started feeling resentful that this great purchase we were so looking forward to was starting to become a drag.

We had to switch trains, which meant dealing with the schedule and the crowds again - and we barely said a word to each other for the whole ride. Keep in mind we are both preparing ourselves for only two eventualities: 1) we were going to have a great new sideboard; or 2) someone else got it and we had both agreed that we were okay with that. If that happened, we weren't "meant" to have it we decided.

We got off the train and made our way through the glorious old art-deco mall where this furniture shop is located. Just as we were heading down the last marble hallway, my husband said: "I hope it's gone. That way we can get home earlier." I felt myself roll my eyes. I do a lot of eye-rolling during PMS I think.

So we turn the corner to go into the shop and ... the doors are closed. The store is dark. There are big "Closed" and "Going out of Business" signs on the doors.

The store is closed. Permanently.

I felt a sick thud in my chest. Then a spreading anger. I'll make a long story short because we spent the whole day quite miserable, fighting and complaining and regretting and wondering why, oh, why, when we were both wandering around that store so much - going for lunch in that market resto downstairs - going back to see the thing again, picking up another little knick-knack (a fake Boston fern that looked so damn real my lack-of-a-green-thumb mind couldn't resist it!) - how was it that in all that time, with all the clerks we talked to, we didn't once ask if they'd be open tomorrow, Sunday. It was totally unlike both of us.

Worse, we were chastising ourselves all day for being so "cheap" to think that waiting another whole day and planning an outing on Sunday was actually worth the slim possibility that they'd give us another markdown. It went on and on ... and on.

Neither of us like going through crises of any sort without coming out with a "lesson" we can use for the rest of our lives. We're both into self-improvement and our lives are usually fun and easy-going. When we hit a snag, we really want to learn something from it. And yes, we took away many, many lessons, not the least of which was having a little more respect for time (interesting on a weekend where clocks and the very nature of time change randomly), a little less tension on the purse strings, and for myself, the ability to say that I want something, so I'm going to get it. Now.

But that's the great thing about cleansing. It's not the end of the road. Cleansing helps put your drinking in a place in your life where it's not the most important thing anymore. Your entire day isn't spent trying to figure out which liquor store you're going to go to so they don't recognize you, where you were going to hide the bottles, when you were going to plow back those extra glasses, etc. After cleansing, you have a basically "normal" life where the potential for self-improvement and joy is endless ... because self-improvement and joy are actually possible. When you're addicted to alcohol, they simply are not.

It's unreasonable to expect that you won't hit any snags on a cleanse. Chances are, in a 28-day period, you'll hit at least a few. And you're probably going to want a drink because of it. But don't have that drink.

Follow these seven steps for getting through cravings instead:

1) Breathe deeply.

Yes, yes. I know it sounds facile, but it's true. Your lungs will be your best buddies when it comes to working your way through cravings and crises - especially on a cleanse. I discovered the soothing comfort of deep breathing my way through cravings on my very first long cleanse. It's not quite a drink, I know that, but it will help relax you tremendously and it will feed some deep down desire in you that feels almost primitive. It will link you back up with a sense of well-being. It will help put things in perspective. It really will soothe you. Take at least one long, deep breath ... or several ... until you feel your blood pressure start to drop and your head stop pounding.

2) Find the lesson.

Think, really think, what you personally have to learn from the situation. Because no problem materializes in your life without also giving you a great opportunity to improve from it. Maybe it will be one big lesson, or a series of small ones, but be really honest with yourself. You know yourself better than anyone and you (probably) know exactly the lesson you have to learn from the situation. Honesty and courage are important. Don't resist the lessons set before you. Embrace them. This plan wasn't just about fixing my drinking - because my life is not just about drinking. At least ... not totally. ;) This plan is about normalizing your life in terms of drinking so that you can continue growing every day, every year, so that you can continue improving your life and finding more joy in it. And that is all about embracing the lessons you have to in order to improve everything around and inside of you.

3) Breathe deeply.

I can't state it enough. If you meditate, try that to work through cravings or snags in your will power. If you don't meditate, start. There is plenty of information about how to work meditation into your daily routine. I meditate for 15 minutes a day, following the Abraham-Hicks meditation guide. I find it relaxes me and makes me feel more joyful and centered, whether I'm cleansing or not.

4) Listen to some music.

Music soothes the savage beast. Isn't that what we say now? Only according to Dictionary.com this proverb originated in the play "The Mourning Bride" by British author William Congreve, and the original wording was "Music has the charm to enchant even the roughest of people." Despite the fact this idea has evolved over the years, it still applies: listening to music will calm you. Better yet, dance. I've said it before, but I find it really effective to put on some headphones and dance for at least a song or two by myself when I'm dealing with a craving or an issue of any kind. So put on some tune (new or old) that fills you with joy. Something simple and upbeat that means something to you ... be silly, go crazy, DANCE! In ten or fifteen minutes you'll feel 100% better.

5) Breathe deeply.

6) Write about it.

Whether you're blogging your way through a cleanse or keeping a private journal, writing about your feelings is always a tremendously therapeutic process. Get it out. On paper, on screen. You'll feel much better when it's over and chances are you've put yourself in the headspace to really identify the lessons you have to take from the challenge, no matter how big or small it is.

7) Breathe deeply.

You get the point.

Strangely, in all our discussions of the ordeal last night, my hubby and I did come up with an unusual insight in favor of a life of drinking. If we had actually gone to the charming pub on the other side of the mall for burgers and a real drink, instead of just hopping downstairs to that food court-type establishment for rosti potatoes, sausages and H20, not only would we have had at least an extra half an hour to talk about the purchase of said sideboard, but we'd also be relaxed from the drink. We both feel that we would've made actually wiser decisions "under the influence" of a glass of wine or a beer. We would've been more relaxed in general. We would've had more time to chat about the sideboard and how it would work, and we probably would've just decided to get it - rather than cinching the purse strings so tightly and deciding to wait it out a day to haggle down the price.

We're both 100% convinced that if we'd just gone to a real restaurant and had a drink - me a nice big glass of wine and my hubby a brew - the whole day would've been more successful. And we wouldn't have wasted all that time Sunday getting up and fighting the beer-drinking St. Paddy's Day crowds on the subway, only to find the damn place closed. Worse than anything, we didn't end up with the sideboard at all.

Another check in the "Really why I love to drink and why I don't want to quit drinking forever" which is why I cleanse" category is this: we had a yummy spaghetti and meatballs dinner last night. If we'd had a nice bottle of cab breathing (there's that breathing again) for a couple of hours, we would've sat across the table from each other, lifted our glasses of red wine, stared at each other over the flickering candle, toasted to a day of challenges, but many lessons learned. We would've sipped the lovely ambrosia - and yes, as you know, about seven seconds after the full-bodied red hit our tongues, you'd feel yourself relax, you'd feel a smile lift your lips, and the wine lift your spirits. Which would make you take a nice deep breath. Or two.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 13 - Lucky Numbers

A good suggestion when you're cleansing is to sometimes do things or go places you don't normally the rest of the year. It's unfair - and not a hell of a lot of fun, especially early on in a cleanse - to sit down at a restaurant where you're such a regular that they'll probably drop your drink order off at the table before you've taken off your coat. For instance, there's an Indian restaurant down the street that we frequent regularly and they know us so well that food order is placed and our drinks poured (pinot grigio for me, Kingfisher beer for the hubb) almost the moment they see us coming in the door.

In fact Friday night we both had a craving for chana and tika and we had made plans to go to the Indian resto for dinner. But it hadn't stopped snowing all day (or night) and it felt more dozy to stay in - especially because we wouldn't be drinking at dinner. (Mind you, I have had a glass or orange juice or cran and soda with Indian - or any regular restaurant meal - and it's fine!) So instead of venturing into the cold, we phoned in our order and the hubby braved the elements to bring it back in a paper bag. Yum. We lit a candle, set up the kitchen table and enjoyed our regular Indian dinner in a new way: sans alcohol. And it was delicious and great!

Then yesterday, rather than heading out the pub across the street where we usually go about once a week for brunch (not to mention their huge 10-oz glass of wine!), we decided to take a look at a sale at a great furniture stores that was going out of business. It was a completely different environment and neighborhood for us on a Saturday afternoon which helps when you're cleansing because you're less likely to be reminded of what you're missing.

Afterwards we visited a small courtyard restaurant downstairs - a place we've never been to before and that didn't seem to foreground the booze (though they did have a cooler of beer and wine), so again, it was a new experience we didn't associate with drinking. It really makes everything easier - plus it gets you out of your routine! And a change is as good as a rest.

It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who first introduced the idea that a change (of work) was as good as rest in Lippincott's Monthly in 1890. And the idea of a "change" applies to cleansing, as well ... only I could probably rephrase it: A change of restaurant is (almost) as good as a drink.

So try to do get out and do different things, see different places, when you're cleansing. Not only will you be less likely to miss drinking, you'll be expanding your horizons as well.

By the way, we found a great sideboard that will be perfect in our living room! We've been looking for one for ages and it's half price. It's still not cheap so we've taken the night to think on it - we're going back today to buy it. Fingers crossed it isn't gone!

It's Day 13, by the way ... a very lucky day, actually ... my cleanse is almost half done. :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 12: Subject: Wine?

I got an email from a friend yesterday who's just moved into the neighborhood. She wanted to know if we could go for a glass of wine and catch up. And, yes, the subject line was simply: "Wine?" (See? Now that's what I call a friend!) I wrote back to her telling her I'd love to, but that I'm on a cleanse and I'd see her in April.

I'm at a time now when most people in my life know that I take these cleanses. And I'm always perfectly willing to explain why I do it. Because you never know when someone needs the tips themselves - or, just as important, knows someone else who could use them.

I understand what it's like living with an alcoholic who dominates your mood and life. Not just because I used to be one - but because I grew up with one: my mother. I sometimes think that if she had an inkling of the understanding about what her drinking was doing to her brain - and that it was possible to heal herself - we all would've had a happier childhood. So I talk openly about my former "problem" and how I've reversed it because a) someone might be able to use the info; and b) because I'm not ashamed anymore. I'm proud.

I love that people accept my cleanses. And I love that "cleansing" in general is becoming so common that people don't really think twice about it. I feel fortunate that - as far as I know - nobody judges me harshly for it or shuts me out of their life. Especially those people who don't drink heavily. Because cleansing is a great time to catch up with them.

Which is just what I did on Friday: I had lunch with a friend who's a bit of a teetotaler. Teetotalism was a 19th century British movement that promoted the act of abstaining from alcohol except for medicinal reasons (whatever that means). Wiki claims that the term originated because Joseph Livesay, the founder of the Preston Temperance Society, was a stammerer and when he required "total abstinence" from the members of his group, he pronounced it: "tee-tee-total abstinence." I thought that was cute - if possibly not 100% accurate.

Cleansing is the best time to keep up with your teetotalling friends and family. They'll appreciate it - and you'll be delighted at the opportunity to catch up with them without feeling awkward for drinking 3 glasses of wine to their one glass of ginger ale. It's amazing when you get to the point where you can actually have fun with a person - actually enjoy yourself! - when you're not drinking. And as hard as it is to believe, trust me, it really does happen. So far my cleanse has been the most pleasant one of all. In fact, every cleanse gets better and easier - thank God.

Of course that doesn't mean that I'm not looking forward to getting together with my "Subject: Wine?" friend. :) Because that's what friends are for. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 10 - Double D's

I'm into the double digits. Always a really important milestone in any cleanse. You really start getting a sense of the time you've put behind you. You start feeling hopeful, proud. And chances are you've accomplished some things you've been putting off.

I started cleaning my office yesterday - a job that won't be over for a while. But I bought "O Magazine" this month and it's all about "decluttering your life." Getting rid of the stuff that doesn't "enhance" your life.

Cleanses are an amazing time to declutter - with or without help from Oprah and her experts. You shouldn't be a drill sergeant with yourself, but if you've got some spring (or fall or winter or whatever) cleaning that you've been avoiding, you'd be surprised at just how rewarding those kinds of chores are when you're cleansing.

Especially if you're going through older things: sometimes a trip down memory lane is just what you need. I remember one time several years ago, I was doing a few chores on a cleanse (my initial 6-month cleanse) and I came across a little black bottle of Friexenet. I'm a big fan of Friexenet - maybe too big, that Spanish sparkling wine that comes in the black bottle. Back before I started cleaning, I used to always make sure there was a big bottle of it on the door of the fridge because, certainly I enjoyed it, but even more than that, the opaque black bottle hid how much I was drinking. I could trot down to the kitchen for something (usually another glass of wine!) while the hubby was watching TV or whatever and while I rattled around making a bit of extra noise to cover the sound, I slug back a few extra swallows of "Frizzy" as I call it. Because the bottle was black, my husband never knew how much of it I was polishing off every night ... in addition to whatever else we were drinking.

Anyway, I was on my first long cleanse, tidying up the dresser in our extra room. I lifted up the edges of some old clothes and there it was, an unopened bottle of Frizzy. The foil had been ripped off it but it had not been opened yet.

I felt this dull thud in my heart. It was as if I had found some old murder weapon I'd hidden away years before. I just stared at it for a while. I had some vague recollection that it had been part of the downward spiral of the very last weeks of my worst drinking binges. But I seemed to remember going to open the bottle, but then stopping at the last second for some reason. Maybe my husband was home and I was afraid he'd hear me. Or maybe I was just trying to practice some sad semblance of self-control.

Whatever the case, there it was. Evidence of all my old habits. The hiding. The lying. The cheating. The self-abuse. I hid bottles just about everywhere, chugging back whenever I got the chance.

But after that wave of nausea past, I suddenly felt so free. So relieved. So proud of myself. I'm not sure what I did with that bottle. If I threw it out, kept it for posterity for a while, or eventually broke into it when my cleanse was over. But it's something I've never forgotten. When I think of it now, it warms my heart. Because it was such a breakthrough for me. To see the physical evidence of the dire situation I was in - and to know it was behind me. It still makes me feel proud of myself.

If I'm ever feeling really down about something and I just can't seem to shake it, I try to remember cupboard underneath the kitchen sink in our old apartment. It was a dusty, dank place - an old building with ancient plumbing and the kind of holes and shadows that seem to hide anything. And they did. Including several of my empty wine bottles at any given time, hidden back behind cleaning supplies or buckets or stacks of rags. Every time I opened that cupboard to get out the dish soap or whatever, I would feel a shriek of fear, guilt and self-hatred. I knew I had a recycling run to do before they started to overflow, but for some reason I'd let them pile up down there, almost as if to torture myself every day.

As I said, if I'm ever feeling really down, I just think of those days. How badly I always felt, how guilty and depressed. I remember that sink and all my old secrets and hiding. And I think "No matter what, at least I'm not there anymore."

And ever since, one of my major Wildcard Rules has been to never hide bottles.

18 days to go ...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Giggle Room

Okay, I feel guilty about something else. I just dragged out Caroline Knapp's book to double-check the wording of those questions when I came across another question that I occasionally answer 'yes' to. Do you sometimes not remember everything that happened when you've been drinking, even though you didn't pass out?

Well, to tell you the truth, yes, there are occasions when I've been drinking that don't remember everything that happened the night before. It does happen sometimes (frankly, it's not a party if you remember everything, goddamnit!)

But as my recovery has progressed over the years, this question has troubled me. In fact, for many years I considered that I answer 'yes' to 3 of those questions, not 2 (which was still an improvement on 13, btw!)

So in my painstaking dedication to honesty about my drinking, I set out on a course to right this wrong, this inability to ALWAYS remember every little thing that happened when I'm partying (particularly on girls' night).

And this is the resolution that I found: HELL, I DON'T REMEMBER EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED WHEN I'M PERFECTLY SOBER.

The truth of the matter is, I "zone out" several times a day, thinking about a book I'm working on, a problem, a trip, a fantasy, a memory, a movie, a song. There have been many times where my husband - or someone else - will reference something from the day or night before that either slipped my mind or never got lodged there in the first place. Even though it was a night "off" and I hadn't been drinking.

Learning that my little memory "dropouts" are not all alcohol-related put my mind at rest. Because it's not a drinking thing. It's a personality thing. Maybe I have to focus more in the moment (I'd like that). Maybe I need some mnemonic devicoes. Or maybe I just need a more interesting life.

Whatever the case, the great leap forward I've made in terms of these drinking "dropouts" is this: at least I don't wake up in a screech of panic because I KNOW I did something terrible the night before, but I'm not sure what it is (i.e. I didn't start a soul-crushing savage fight with my husband - which hasn't happened in years).

In fact, just last night, he had some random praise for the plan: "You're happier now, I'm happier now, we're happier now. It works."

To me that's progress. Incredible progress! Considering I used to have vicious blackouts three or four times a week. Even then, it wasn't the memory loss that bothered me as much as the fact that I knew I was out of control and that blackouts usually signaled my having done something that I'd regret and that I didn't want to face.

Now if I have a memory "dropout" this is what it amounts to: I see a text I don't remember sending - at least not at first, then the pieces fall together. Or maybe I've forgotten someone's name or whether or not the divorce is finalized or something. To me, that's just life. It's always been that way for me and probably always will be. (By the way, my husband knows about my "yeses" and he says that they're so common and general I shouldn't even count them. I'm being too hard on myself.)

But that's okay. I'm not afraid of the truth anymore. Because I'm learning to accept imperfection. In fact, I'm trying to embrace it. Because we will never be perfect. Not even this plan is perfect. But that's part of why it works so well for me. It allows me to be imperfect. It allows me to flirt with "bad."

I think alcoholics and problem drinkers - addicts of all kinds, actually - enjoy riding the edge a bit. There's a part of us that likes being bad sometimes. At least that's the way it is for me. I don't want to be one of those squeaky-clean, 12-step, Big Book-thumping zombies. I want to continue to be a layered, complex person with free will - even if it means I'm not perfect.

So I don't take my imperfections as seriously anymore. Which is another reason this plan works so well for me: it allows for wiggle room. And, more importantly, giggle room.

Day 8 - Feeling GR8

I was grocery shopping and remembered my own advice: treat yourself after your first week of cleansing. (Hell, treat yourself whenever you're cleansing!)

I decided my "treat" would be new suction cups for the tile in my shower. The ones I have must be ten years old and not only are they yellowed and grubby, they're always falling off, sending shampoo bottles, foot files and soap dishes crashing into the tub day and night. It sounds like someone's breaking into the apartment through the drain pipes.

But when I opened the packaging, one of the hooks was bent. It looked so imperfect on the tiled wall of my shower, one loofah mitt hanging askance. I considered bringing it back and exchanging it for a perfect one. But then I remembered some advice I'd read years ago that still comforts me now and again. It was from the late Richard Carlson, the author of "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff." He said that one thing we have to do as humans to be happy is to accept imperfection. It's helped me many times in the past and it helped me again this morning as I shampooed my hair and stared at the crooked hook.

Accept imperfection.

Speaking of imperfection, Mark asked me the other night what my other "yes" answer was on that alcoholism quiz I took from "Drinking." If one was that I was occasionally anxious if I didn't know alcohol would be available at an event, the other was this: Do you sometimes feel guilty about your drinking?

And the truth is, I sometimes do. When I'm waking up absolutely ravaged from a girls' night, having to steep ginger tea, swallow aspirin, lie on the couch and wait for the world to stop spinning. When I drag home friends unexpectedly and all of us are plastered, stumbling in the door while Mark's at the computer working - thank God he doesn't wear underwear around the house. But sometimes I feel guilty just because CAN still drink.

We're all taught that this should not be so. If I was truly an alcoholic, I would not be able to quit like this, occasionally, on and off. And I know that the only viable method of treating alcoholism for decades has been total abstinence, whether through counseling and rehab or with A.A. or another 12-step program.

Maybe the guilt is just survivor's guilt. Because here I am. Not perfect, but better. And accepting it. Gladly.

1 week down. 3 to go.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 7 - 7th Heaven

The first week is almost behind me! This was one of the easiest first weekends on a cleanse ever! I'm convinced that cleansing gets easier with each cycle and this time was no different.

Friday night we stayed in and caught up on some favorite TV shows. I steeped a small pitcher of David's Tea Xanadu, a fruity concoction of rasperry, cherry and rosehips. With a lovely Kool-Aid red color, it feels like a special treat, especially served in a wine glass, which is what I do. It also tastes great hot or cold. Make sure you have some delicious, low-cal herbal teas on hand for a cleanse. Experiment as much as you like. Caffeine-free is always good, but if you need a little boost, pick a nice green tea. With all the anti-oxidants, your heart will thank you.

If you want to add a teaspoon of honey or agave, it would make the drink even more rewarding. But I like to forgo the sugary substances unless I absolutely need them. I know as the cleanse goes on, sometimes my energy ebbs a bit and I don't want to start on the excess calories before I know I actually need them. And on Friday night I didn't.

Saturday night was a bit more of a challenge. Again, we made it a quiet night, which was fine. But it also meant that I had to miss girls' night. The first Saturday of every month, about a dozen of us get together at a restaurant somewhere and eat and drink to our hearts' content. But when I'm cleansing, girls' night is a no-no. I'd just sit there and stew all night watching the pinot come and go. I missed the interaction (I'm a writer and I've lost touch with my old work friends), but that's okay. I'm looking extra forward to next month. Though because it'll be in the first week off my cleanse, I'll be taking it easier than I usually do. Which as many a nasty post-girls' night Sunday morning hangover has proved, is a good thing. :)

But that's the good thing about cleansing. It's not a lifestyle that demands you only have two drinks a day. As you start progressing with your cleanses and learn your new tolerance levels, there are definitely occasions when you can actually get drunk! Just don't overdo it until you know exactly how your body is reacting to alcohol.

By the way, Week 1 is the hardest. It always seems to go by more slowly than any of the others. When you get it behind you, reward yourself! Chocolate cake. A movie. A massage. Something new to read or wear. Enjoy it! You deserve it!

By the way, Lent begins today, "Clean Monday" as it's known this year, instead of Ash Wednesday which is when it usually begins. Already a week into my cleanse, I don't think I'm going to have to give anything up for Lent this year (I'm not a Catholic, so I never do - even though I was baptized Lutheran - who also should follow Lent - it probably won't surprise you that I'm not giving anything else up this year.

Besides with only three weeks ahead of me I've got it easy compared to the Catholics. They're staring down a long, cold stretch of forty days ...

Day 3 - Swan Drought

I mentioned that doing things on a cleanse that you don't necessarily associate with drinking is a good idea because it keeps you busy without having to endure an empty wine glass waving in front of your nose.

So on Thursday, my husband and I went to the ballet for the first time - to see the world famous Mariinsky-Kirov ballet performance of "Swan Lake". (I started taking adult ballet lessons this year and my husband got the tickets for me for Valentine's Day. I know - he's a keeper.)

I dressed up in my sexy, black tuxedo suit and put out a good suit for him, too. We decided to take the subway because it's a busy part of town and on a cold night you could wait for eons for a cab. We got there only a few minutes early because for a change we wouldn't have to seek out the bar for a drink before the performance, as we usually do when we go to plays or other performances with intermissions.

We checked our coats, got a bottle of water, my husband got a Starbucks coffee (Starbucks is everywhere, which is good - cuz if there's anything my hubby is addicted to it's the java from Bucks!), and took our very nice seats in the orchestra.

I didn't "miss" going for a drink beforehand at all. We wouldn't have had time anyway, so that's another good hint if you're going out to a performance you might personally associate with a little tipple beforehand (after all, we might be the only peasants in the world who don't drink at the ballet; maybe you've never seen a ballet sober in your life!). If that's the case and you're cleansing, leave less time before the show so you don't have to stand around twiddling your fingers without a drink. Hit your seat and read the program, that way you'll know what the hell is going on when the curtain goes up.

I couldn't say enough about the ballet itself. The music for "Swan Lake" was composed by Tchaikovsky and performed by the Bolshoi ballet (the predecessor of the Mariinsky) in St. Petersburg more than 125 years ago. Although other ballet companies have performed the piece, the 250-year-old Russian ballet is renowned worldwide for its superb rendition. And I can see why! It was spectacular! The costumes, the staging, the dancing itself. Breathtaking! Flawless. Tears came to my eyes several times. (Incidentally, just a couple of nights before, Adele brought tears to my eyes with her performance. So it ended up being a great first week as it turns out! I definitely recommend awe-inspiring outings when you're cleansing!)

But there are two intermissions in "Swan Lake" which would normally mean that my hubby and I would venture out into crowded lobbies and up packed staircases all in search of those too-scarce catering tables snaking with long lines full of other well-dressed, but antsy guests waiting for a splash of that cheap vino poured by unemployed actors who probably apply sunblock faster than they pour a glass of wine. With two intermissions we would've had to do that twice - all for that unimpressive 4-oz glass of second-rate drek they usually serve. We probably would've been rushed, especially if we needed to pee, which we would have if we had a drink beforehand, so that would mean we'd have had to slug down the wine quickly, hit the lineups for the can, then get back to our seats probably late and definitely out of breath - twice. I can't tell you how many times I've been caught with my panties down in a stall somewhere while the gentle "bong" for the end of intermission started getting louder and angry. It's a drag!

Instead, the hubs and I stood up to stretch our legs and stayed close to our seats talking about the performance, which even he loved. And he's a hard sell. I didn't miss making a b-line for the bar, even though many years ago you couldn't take me so much as shopping without booking a pit stop every two hours for a drink. Otherwise I'd get in an irretrievably bad mood and there'd be a fight. But that's the way it was when I was addicted: I needed a drink not just to be happy, but to feel normal.

But I did NOT miss drinking that night. Not in the least! I didn't feel loagy or foggy-headed afterward either, which can happen when you've had a couple of glasses of wine in a hurry with a long wait in your seats in between. Plus I didn't have to deal with a post-wine energy crash at the end of the night. On the way home, we were fresh and clear-headed, if a little vicariously drained from just watching those dedicated dancers on the stage.

It was so pleasant not having to fight the crowds for the bar that I'm not sure I'd even have a drink next time we go when I'm not cleansing.

Though I probably will. :)

But it'll be interesting to note the overall difference in the experience next time. I'll keep you posted - though I honestly don't think it could've been better. Besides, with only a few regular sips of water instead of all that wine, I didn't have to use the busy bathrooms once! Another bonus that gave me time to read the program. If you ever want the synopsis of "Swan Lake" let me know: I've got it down pat.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 2 - New Traditions

I'll be honest with you: the first day of a cleanse is not necessarily a fun one.

Don't worry if you're feeling anxious or uneasy. It's perfectly normal! It still happens to me on the first day of a cleanse and I've been doing this for eight years.

In fact, if you're on your first long 6-month cleanse, you might even feel very depressed. Depression can be a sign that your brain is no longer producing dopamine on its own - because of the effect of alcohol on your system for too long. But the research is in and your brain will heal. Your dopamine will start pumping again. And a sunny day, even without booze, will make you feel good. Because I feel very good, very positive, even joyful today.

But yesterday? I was antsy. Plus we had a concert to go to last night AND I was invited to birthday drinks with a friend. But it's not often I book social outings on the first night of a cleanse. But my husband runs production for a TV network and Adele was performing (the London girl with the voice of an angel, the beauty of a goddess and who, at 21, is already touring her second chart-topping album, named for her age). I'm such a fan, I didn't want to miss her. But I also knew that venturing out to the concert hall would mean that I'd have to bump into several of Mark's co-workers and friends - completely sober. Which isn't a serious problem once I'm into a cleanse. But on the first day? Annoying.

But I couldn't miss Adele - and I didn't. She was marvelous. 700 adoring fans packed into the Masonic Temple and she mesmerized all of us. There were literally tears in my eyes.

But - yes, I did have to meet a few new people. It was perfectly fine! My husband said I was in good spirits, that I seemed happy and engaged. Once I was there, I felt that way, too - but anticipating it can be a bit of a burden.

In fact, one of the questions that I still answer "yes" to on that NCADD quiz is just that: Do you feel uncomfortable if you're not sure there's going to be enough alcohol at an event. However, that's only one of two questions I still answer "yes" to. When I first took the quiz eight years ago and before I started cleansing, I answered "yes" to 13 of the 26 questions! Which put me squarely in the early-mid stages of full-blown alcoholism.

I know my score - at least on this quiz - isn't perfect yet. But every time I cleanse I feel I get better, more control, more joy in my life. I know that cleansing has at least reversed (if not "cured") my drinking problem so I'm willing to live with whatever vague connection I still might have to my old condition. Because things are just so much better and I know my life has improved not just objectively, but subjectively as well. Going from 13 'yeses' to just 2 is to my mind incontrovertible proof that cleansing can help at least some people reverse serious drinking problems and improve their lives.

However, as much fun as the concert was, birthday drinks at a bar with a bunch of partyers was too much to ask on the first night of a cleanse. I think you would've found me sobbing in a pool of cranberry & soda under a bar chair somewhere before the end of the night. Most of my friends know I cleanse and that it affects my schedule, so she understood. I'll catch her next time!

But there was one other outing last night that I wasn't expecting. Remember how I said we usually take dining out way down during a cleanse? Here's another first: after the concert, I was so hungry (probably from not having the extra calories from drinking) that I couldn't even make it home for dinner. I asked my husband if he wanted to go out, so we did.

We stopped at a great Italian place in Yorkville, Trattoria Nervosa, and I had penne with sundried tomatoes, basil and goat cheese, and the hubs had Spaghetti Gamberi. He drank a Coke (sweet soul is certainly welcome to have wine with dinner when we go out, but he usually chooses something else. It's not bad for his liver to cleanse every now and again either!) and I had plain old tap water, which looked way sexier because of the cute enviro-friendly glass bottles they had for each table.

The food was delicious. The atmosphere was great. We toasted our alcohol-free drinks to a new tradition: no worries about going out for dinner on the first night of a cleanse.

Incidentally, as long as you're following the basic tenets of the plan (i.e. you don't break your cleanses, takes your nights off, etc!) improvising and customizing the plan to work for you is part of why it can be so successful. Changing things up keeps life spontaneous. It keeps you feeling confident and in control of what's happening to you, and not as if you're on some kind of crazy booze "diet" that bores the hell out of you. Abstaining or even moderation can almost feel like a "real" diet with too many rules and restrictions. Maybe the reason 95% of all A.A. members quit within the first year is similar to why so many people "fall off" diets when they're too strict. Your body is starving.

But with alcohol, maybe it's not your body starving: it's your mind. Your heart. Your soul. You love the pleasant effects of alcohol and you want to keep them in your life, but you also want your life back. Cleansing gives you both. Just follow the general guidelines to make it fit your life - and it will work for you.

By the way, we got out of the restaurant for under $50. That's something that never happens when we're both drinking. So saving a bit of cash is another benefit to the plan! Maybe you even want to use the money to buy yourself something nice ... Treat yourself however you can! Be good to yourself. Love yourself. Move into yourself with curiosity, confidence and eagerness that you will find a new core of strength and well-being inside. Because you will.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

*N.B.

If you're starting a cleanse, remember to read the posts from late July and August of 2010. That's when I cleansed and blogged about it for the first time. Although I'll continue putting up ideas and tips here this March, the original information is contained in those earlier posts.

And remember to be gentle on yourself. Don't dwell on the perceived "deprivation" of a cleanse. It's the exact opposite! You're doing it so you never have to permanently deprive yourself of the spirit of spirits! And trust me - because it gives me confidence and hope now - cleansing is a joyful, wonderful, spiritual time and it will help you on so many levels you can't even conceive of it now.

Plus it goes by really fast. :)

Day 1 - March Break

It's Day 1 of the first of my two annual alcohol cleanses. I've never cleansed in March before. But it's a beautiful, mild sunny day out there and that's always a nice way to start.

Remember as you're coming up to a cleanse to plan some fun outings. Visit with your party-head friends or family, go out to your favorite restaurants. For me, a good part of the joy of eating in restaurants is the wine so we don't eat out nearly as much when I'm cleansing (saves $ too!). But to make up for it, make that last couple of weeks and especially the weekend as much fun as you can.

But here's another tip that I'm just learning myself. If it's important to plan special events before a cleanse, it might be just as important to have things to do that first week. As it happens, this is going to be a busy week for me and I'm looking forward to having a couple non-drinking things to do at night. A concert tonight - the ballet on Thursday.

But don't overdo it during that first week. Because it will probably be the "hardest" on you. Your energy's not what it is and you might feel at a bit of a loss when it comes to having fun. So make sure there's something for you to look forward to: something that's not usually drinking related.

Btw, this is a Tuesday. I usually start my cleanses on a Tuesday. Monday just seems too damn depressing. When I woke up, the first thing I thought about was the fact I was on a cleanse. A month feels like such a long time when you're on this end of it. But I know how fast it goes and I know how much it helps me. Cleansing not only breaks up the physical addiction of alcohol on your body and brain, it also breaks up your own psychological dependencies on it, no matter how strong or mild they may be. And as people who've had drinking problems, that's a very important thing.