Archive for June, 2010

I consider myself pretty mature.  I don’t really think of myself as naive or wide-eyed with childlike wonder.  But every once in a while, something reminds me that the world is an awful, dark, and terrible place. Suppose there is a scale of this sort of event.  One would constitute a minor discomfort-inducing revelation, like that your aging parents still have sex, and Ten is a life-shaking crisis that leaves me changed, shaken, and questioning all of life’s basic assumptions.

For example, on the low end of the scale, a couple of weeks ago, I was on my way to work enjoying my in-car entertainment of choice: an audiobook.  In this case, Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.  This book is pretty dark in general, a veritable litany of suffering.  But in the first quarter, there is a graphic rape scene that lasted pretty much my whole drive.  Talk about a shitty way to start your day.  It’s 8am and I’m already bitter at the powerlessness of women in society, angry at men in general, and pretty much ready to take it out on the next man that looks at me funny.  Suck, right?  So, that would be like a 2 or a 3 on the scale of Naivete-Destroying Badness.

Then, today, I learned about the existence of that which I was previously, blissfully unaware.  I miss the world I used to inhabit, where such things did not exist, even in abstract thought.  You just don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.


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Don’t have a helluva lot to say today, except that I am feeling at peace and content after my evening walk with Nick.  It really is a good way to wind down after dinner.  Especially if dinner has involved delicious bacon that needs walking-off.

Have decided to start wearing more dresses lately, particularly after reading this cool gal.  I generally am more of a mix & match separates kind of person, and a conflicted in-betweenie, size-wise.  But her links & sense of style have inspired me to branch out a little.  I’ve been lusting after Igigi for the longest time & bemoaning the fact that they just don’t make as many gorgeous tops as they do gorgeous dresses.  But hey, maybe I should just quit my bitching & buy a damn dress, right?

So Friday, I went out to TJ Maxx at lunch and walked around the store muttering “What would Sarah from Return to Sender do?”  But not in a crazy way.  Okay, probably a little crazy.  And damned if I didn’t find 2 dresses I absolutely loved.  I wore one to the barbecue on Saturday.  And it was SLEEVELESS!  Scandalous!  And I rocked it hard.

The other dress, however, was more of a Career sort of thing.  I don’t typically wear dresses to work.  I used to have to be prepared to go to a dirty factory or take something apart, but I’ve been more desk-bound as of late, so the hangup is purely psychological.  I’m an engineer, I think to myself, all the boys will all stare & ask me why I’m all dressed up today or something more obnoxious.  So I get myself all psyched up, rehearsing cool one-liner responses for every patronizing or sarcastic comment I can think of, put on my dress & charge into work, loaded for bear.  And you know what happened?  Nothing.  No one said anything, nasty or otherwise.  You know, maybe once I stop looking for a fight, I’ll stop finding one.

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Wagon? What wagon?

Yesterday I had a few drinks.  Scandalous, I know.  But this isn’t one of those “I fell off the wagon, now I have to give back my pin *sob*!” kind of things.  In truth, I have been planning this for some time.  I went to a friend’s barbecue & planned to have a couple of beers.  For lots of reasons.  Some of the people there knew that I was an enthusiastic drinker & would have asked some uncomfortable questions if I stuck with the diet coke.  Also, Nick was planning to have a few & I would have found it hard to abstain.  But mostly, a barbecue is a perfectly acceptable venue in which to have a couple of beers.  So I did.  And the sky didn’t fall.  I didn’t make an ass of myself.  Nothing bad happened.

Also, I think it was an important part of the process.  After almost 2 weeks of sobriety, I had built the booze up in my head to this island of paradise from which I’d been exiled.  But, having had a couple of drinks, I found it didn’t meet my expectations.  It just didn’t seem all that interesting.  So, when we got home, I had a couple more drinks.  I know how this sounds.  But I was trying to see what I had liked so much for all these years.  What kept me coming back day after day.  I felt fuzzy-headed and dull and oddly…discontent.  Like after all the buildup, I felt cheated.  Like I might as well just skip it.

So this morning I woke up with a hangover and the feeling that it was all just a waste of calories.  Most importantly, it isn’t this lofty untouchable privilege I resent having taken away.  It’s just…another bad choice, another counter productive way to stave off boredom.  Another self-destructive crutch to keep me from fully engaging in the world at large.  And I won’t spend another evening in mourning for it.  I probably will have a drink or two in the future, on my birthday or at a 4th of July party or something.  But I won’t spend every weekday evening longing for it.  And I think that’s an important part of this little journey.

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I have a very sedentary job.  I do a lot of desk-sitting & computer-using at work.  The most likely on-the-job injury I’m likely to sustain is carpal tunnel.  So I’m pretty eager to get a little more movement in my life.  This isn’t really a weight loss thing, it’s more like an “exercise is good for you, let’s do more of that” kind of thing.

So I’ve been walking at lunch with a group of coworkers.  The engineering department at my job is made up of a bunch of men and me.  Therefore, all my walking buddies are men.  Some of them are little bitty speedy men and some of them are big, tall giant stride-taking men.  I?  Am neither of these.  I?  Am busting my ass trying to keep up.  Their pace is pants-crappingly fast.

Also, Nick & I have started taking a walk each night after dinner.  Neither is this a weight loss thing, or even a health thing.  This is an “if I’m out walking, I’m not sitting around thinking about how much I want a drink” thing.  At least, it started out that way.  Now it’s sort of a habit I’ve come to like.

Nick & I have a habit that some people envy, and I have to say I like it a lot myself. Every night, we make dinner together.  I cut vegetables and/or make sauces, he does all the meant-cutting and work at the stove.  Some women tell me that I’m really lucky and they wish they could get their husbands to make dinner for them.  But it isn’t really like that, neither of us is making dinner for the other one, or both of us are.  We talk and recap our respective days, and it’s generally a good time.  Years ago, we would open a bottle of wine, or make a shaker of martinis and that would get us cooking, literally.  For me, as recently as two weeks ago, dinner-prep began with an adult beverage.  Not so much anymore.  I was never the sort of drinker who stayed drunk all the time.  I’d start in the evening & carry on until bedtime.  So now that that isn’t part of my life anymore, it’s important to me to keep myself busy during the times that booze is the most tempting.  So, while we make dinner, I drink soothing tea.  But after dinner, the time seems to loom.  I like to stay busy so I don’t start brooding.  Brood brood brood.  Hence, the walks.

Anyway, Nick is quite tall also, and he really moves fast if left to his own devices.  So on our evening walks, it’s just a little hard to keep up.  When this sort of thing used to happen in the past, with Nick or the guys at work, I would get pretty pissed off, and I’d pretend that it was because I thought they were being mean to me and deliberately leaving me behind & giving me the cold shoulder.  But I didn’t really think that.  I knew that they weren’t even thinking about me, they were just doing what they would be doing if I wasn’t there.  I was lying to myself because I didn’t want to admit that the problem was me: I was out of shape and couldn’t keep up.  And then I’d make some excuse to not do it anymore.  But the way I see it now, I could quit and say, “this makes me uncomfortable, I’m not doing it anymore,” but then I would be in the same place I am now, out of shape and just hoping it won’t come up again.  But it will, it always does.

So this time around, I’m doing something different.  I’m taking on the challenge.  I’m going to huff and puff and move my feet faster.  I’m going to keep up and not complain….much.  But most importantly, I am going to show up.  I once heard courage defined as being afraid of something, but doing it anyway.  So what’s it called when you know something is going to be a giant pain in the ass, but you do it anyway?  Stupidity, probably.

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First of all, I am very proud to say that this is day 7.  Concluding my first week of complete sobriety in over 10 years.  Yay me!  I’ve said before that it isn’t my intention to stay stone sober for the rest of my life, so this isn’t one of those “First week of the rest of your life” things.  I don’t want a keychain or anything.  But completing this week gives me a sense of power over my destiny that I haven’t felt in a long time.  I suppose you could say it’s intoxicating.  I mean, you could say that if you wanted to be a dick.

But I also want to talk about something else that’s been on my mind in reference to cutting booze out of my life, at least as a daily indulgence, and that’s my health/weight.  I consider myself a pretty healthy person.  I exercise daily, I have a very healthy diet (especially now that I’ve cut out the alcohol,) my medical stats are quite good.  Also, I am fat.  I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, to myself or anyone else.  I mean it as any other descriptor, like short or brown-eyed, which I am also.  My fatness has been a part of my life for pretty much ever.  When I was a teenager I was at the high end of sizes at the mall stores, and thought I was hideous, but don’t all teenagers pretty much think that?  Oh the angst, it burns!

For a brief period, when I first got to college, I had a very active lifestyle and the pounds seemed to melt away.  But it wasn’t too long before I discovered parties & beer in kegs and big oceans of booze and the pounds returned.  And they brought friends.  I’ve bounced back & forth from the high end of the normal size range to the low end of the plus-size range my whole adult life.  When I was about to get married, I tried a half-assed attempt at dieting, but I’d never really had a clue about nutrition and didn’t really know what I was doing, so voila, it worked about as well as you’d think, and I wound up getting married in a size 20 wedding dress.  But in my defense, bridal sizes are like dog years or something so that’s probably only about a 16 if it were some other dress.  I wasn’t weighing myself regularly in those days, but I think my highest was about 240, and I’m 5’3″.

In 2005 I decided to try Weight Watchers, and I learned a lot about nutrition that I didn’t know, like what fiber is for example.  At that time they were doing this thing called Flex Points where you got a certain number of Points for the day and then some (I think 35?) free Points you could distribute throughout the week or use in one go for a splurge.  When I started, I weighed 223, and that meant that I got 26 Points per day.  Woo hoo!  Being an engineer and thus mathematically oriented, I immediately sat down & began the calculations of how many of my precious points I would need to allocate for booze so that I could structure my meals with the remaining points.  Priorities, right?  So, I figured out that to drink as much as I felt I needed, I would need to reserve 12 Points.  Every.  Day. And those 35 Flex Points?  What did I use them for?  Well I just saved them for the weekend, so I could have even more booze then.

Some of the people reading this are going to think Jesus Christ!  I don’t think you can do that.  But you can.  And you’d be surprised how easy it is.  I had 2 Points for breakfast:  a granola bar & black coffee with Splenda.  2 Points for lunch:  a green salad with 2tbsp of lowfat ranch dressing.  And 10 Points for dinner, which was typically some lean meat with vegetables and some sauces or high fiber tortillas or something.  Nick & I came up with all kinds of great low cal meals.  And it worked.  When I quit going to the meetings, I was at 182.  I lost about 40lbs.

And the exercise, well.  I found that I could earn myself 5 extra Points by working out on an eliptical machine for 70 minutes.  Yep.  An hour & ten minutes.  Sometimes I would drink the extra points, sometimes I would just reserve them & my numbers looked even better that week.  The best part?  When you’re all tired & starving, you get REALLY wasted.

Ya, healthy, right?  I know, I was the picture of health!  Hungover, starving, tired all the time.  Yes, you’re probably thinking that I was abusing the system, that it isn’t meant to be used like that.  Yes, I know.  I knew it at the time too.  But I had priorities and getting drunk was just more important than getting thin.  And, hard as it is to believe, you can do both to some degree.  But I felt like crap.  I felt cheated.  Which is why, eventually, I stopped counting.  And the weight came back on.  I continued to eat healthily, just in amounts that my body needed.  Plus the booze.

I’ve been working out & eating a healthy diet pretty regularly for several years now, but my emphasis hasn’t been on losing weight.  It isn’t really about that for me.  It’s more about getting properly fit & properly healthy.  Because your body needs fuel, no two ways about it, and dieting is stupid, frustrating, and doesn’t really work in the long run.  In my opinion, it’s unhealthy.

So now I’m about 210.  The way I see it, cutting the booze out of my life is saving me about 400 calories a day.  That’s over 2000 on the weekdays alone.  I’m thinking that I’m probably going to lose some weight.  If I don’t, that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure it will show in my athletic performance, even if it doesn’t show on the scale.  Running faster & longer is a much higher priority for me than the size of my booty.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s just one of the perks of sobriety.

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My name isn’t really Nora Charles.  Obviously.  My pseudonym-sake is the martini-swilling, wise-cracking socialite from The Thin Man series of movies, portrayed by Myrna Loy.  I’ve decided to blog anonymously because – I know this is going to sound crazy – I don’t really want my friends and coworkers knowing about my drinking problem.  I know, right?  Nuts!

But you all (ya right, like anyone is reading this) can just go ahead and call me Nora.  In real life, I’m a product development engineer in the automotive industry.  I went to a major American university & got a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering.  While in school, I met my husband.  Let’s call him….Nick.  Somebody stop the obvious train, I need to get off.  We have been married for 9 years and live in the Detroit metropolitan area.

I am an avid reader and aspiring writer.  I even wrote a book and made a half-assed effort to get it published.  Part of the problem, I confess, was that I wasn’t all that confident that it was any good because I was drunk for 95% of the writing and editing.  That wasn’t an accident, I authentically felt more creative when I was drunk.  And it’s probably true, but not the way it sounds.  It’s not that I actually WAS more creative when drunk, it’s that my inhibitions were buried and I was more confident.  I wouldn’t second-guess myself like I would when sober.  While drunk, I was sure that what I was writing was brilliant.  BRILLIANT!  And if other people don’t get it, well then fuck them.

The down side of that was that I would wake up the next morning, hung over, and cringe myself inside out thinking about what I wrote.  Sometimes it was total crap, sometimes it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.  But the cringe was always waiting.  You know, there’s a special word for that feeling:  when you wake up (hungover) after a night of drinking and remember what transpired the night before with mortification, that is called The Horrors.  Can’t take credit for that one, it’s Marian Keyes’.

A slightly more embarrassing thing to admit is that I needed the buffer that booze provided between the work and myself.  I consider my writing an intensely personal thing, so much more personal than, say, seeing someone naked.  More like if you could turn a person’s skin transparent & see their organs.  I guess I was secretly afraid that if I took a good, honest look at my writing, at myself beneath the skin, I’d see that I was just a cheesy wannabe, a no-talent pretender, a hack that never even was.  But I couldn’t NOT write, I couldn’t NOT tell stories.  So I’d put a thick layer of boozy cheesecloth over the lens before delving into the story.  That way, I’d never really fail.  Well, I might, but it would never really be me that was failing, it would be the booze, or the silly part of me the booze brought out.  And we could all just pretend it never happened.

Well, here we go.  I’m sober as a judge and writing about me.  Me & my fake name.  Let’s see if I regret it in the morning.

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Hi, I’m Nora

Hi, I’m Nora Charles and I have been sober for 3 days.  That’s the longest I’ve gone without a drink in 2 years.

I don’t think my story is all that unusual.  You probably know someone like me, or maybe you are someone like me.  I wouldn’t go on week long benders and wake up in jail or a stranger’s bed.  I never got a DUI.  I didn’t drink in the morning or hide my drinking.  I didn’t “hit bottom” or “have a moment of clarity” or any of that other stuff the AAers like to talk about.

But I did drink every day, and it was never just one.  I’d spend all day looking forward to that first drink in the evening.  I’d start as soon as I got home from work and I wouldn’t stop until bedtime.  I woke up with some degree of hangover every morning for several years.  It’s amazing what you can get used to.

I was even worse on the weekends.  Nothing was more fun than a nice cocktail hour in the evening.  Sometimes I’d go to bars with friends or out to dinner with my husband, but really?  The most fun thing I could imagine was sitting home with some takeout and as much vodka as I wanted.  Some Saturday afternoons, when I was out doing something that was supposed to be fun, I’d check my watch & think, “hmm, it’s 3pm, only 2 more hours.”  Sometimes I would take down almost a half gallon of vodka in a weekend.  All by myself.

A drink was my answer to everything.  Depressed?  I’ll have a drink, that’ll cheer me up.  Happy?  Good for me, let’s have a drink to celebrate!  Lonely?  A drink will keep me company.  Stressed?  I think I’ll chill out with a drink…..and so on.  That’s how I came up with the name of this blog.  Just like that old adage:  When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.  My hammer was booze.

So one day I started thinking about whether I wanted children and, before anything else, the first thing that occurred to me was that I didn’t think I could stay sober for 9 months to gestate the thing.  That thought lay dormant for a while, but I started thinking about my drinking habits in general.  The thought of sobriety, even for a day or two, terrified me.  I wanted no part of that.  A day without wine was like a day without sunshine as far as I was concerned.  And if you could drive to the corner & pick up a bottle of sunshine on a cloudy day, wouldn’t you?  Especially if the darkness was really, really scary.

It started to become apparent to me that the sauce was controlling my life.  Not in the sense that I was drunk all the time, I wasn’t.  It’s just that the thought of an evening without a drink was so terrifying.  Oddly, that wasn’t the day that I quit.  That was the day that I started feeling guilty about my drinking.  I wouldn’t quit until much, much later.

Anyway, here I am.  My last drink was Sunday evening, May 30, 2010.  My first sober evening in 2 years was Monday, May 31, 2010.  Memorial Day.  I’m not saying I’ll never touch a drop again.  But I don’t ever want to have that love/fear/dependence relationship I once had with booze.  And now that I’ve gone 3 days without a drink, that is starting to seem like a possibility.

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