Rabbit Hole:“A metaphor for something that transports someone into a wonderfully (or troublingly) surreal state or situation.
While I never fell down the white rabbit hole of addiction, I teetered close enough to its edge to peer into the darkness and have compassion for those who have fallen.
My drug of choice wasn’t even a drug. It was, in fact, a very legal substance conceived by the union of potatoes and brewers’ yeast. Once in a while, the child of fermented grapes was a guest at my dinner table. Sometimes there was actually food at that table.
My trip to the edge of the rabbit hole had a benign beginning … as do all things that are eventually taken to the extreme. And although the men on the chessboard never got up to tell me where to go, I did occasionally hear the white knight talking backward. And many a morning my head felt as if someone had followed the red queen’s orders., “Off with her head!”
But at some point, stories of addiction began to resonate with me. The online ads and memes that were supposed to be funny no longer made me laugh. Nights of overdrinking were followed by mornings of regret.
Meanwhile, studies came out trying to justify all types of drinking. Wine is good for you, they boasted. Look at the French. They eat rich, fatty foods, and they don’t have a cholesterol problem!
One study went so far as to boast that people who drank more than three drinks per day had a decreased risk of contracting dementia. This led to a plethora of online reactions, most of which were a variation on the “I’m way behind on my drinking” theme.
The fact that alcohol companies that stood to gain the most financially were sponsoring those “studies” did nothing to stop the spread of misinformation.
The rabbit hole beckoned louder and louder, and the rabbits ran faster and faster as I tried to contain their enthusiasm to get me to jump.
Even though the potatoes and grapes often made me feel 10 feet tall, I realized that if I kept chasing those rabbits, I was going to fall. And no matter how hard the caterpillar tried, it would never turn into a butterfly.
And so, I stopped. Drinking, that is.
Logic and proportion never fell sloppy dead. I just stopped.
There was no fanfare, no rehab, no physical withdrawal.
With the support of my guides — both human and spiritual — I JUST STOPPED.
That was more than two and a half years ago.
“What’s your secret for staying sober?” people ask me.
It’s simple, really. I stopped drinking alcohol. And the benefits far outweigh whatever pleasure alcohol seemed to provide.
Will I ever drink again? I don’t know.
Perhaps Alice knows. You should ask her.
If there’s one thing I know for sure after all my years on this planet, it’s that we should never say never. Just when you think life’s your bitch, she slaps you upside the head with an unexpected blow and says, “Who’s the bitch now?”
In the meantime, I’ve learned to feed my head with things the dormouse would approve of.
Will you do the same?
“White Rabbit” — Words and music by Grace Slick, Performed by Jefferson Airplane
Holy wars have been around since holy first became a thing.
We think of them as something right out of the dust-covered books of ancient history. But holy wars are very much with us, and you and I fight them every day.
Holy wars prompt visions of dying for the sanctity of religious beliefs. But since life itself is sacred, every war —whether within or without — every argument, every disagreement, every difference of opinion, is a holy war. It is an invitation to die for the beliefs we cling to emotionally, no matter how absurd the rational mind considers them to be.
Whether you believe a political or spiritual figure is a god or a demon, you’re right. Because your experiences gave birth to the beliefs that grew up to be your truth. Your truth stirs emotions that can’t be explained away.
But beliefs are not truths. And your truth is not the truth.
Yet we confuse speaking our truth with convincing someone to make it their truth. Therein lies the problem.
It’s the spark that ignites holy wars.
By all means, speak your truth. Choose your armor. Defend your beliefs. But pick your battles wisely, and fight them like a peaceful warrior, not an absolute tyrant.
Never surrender without being heard. Never allow someone else’s voice — no matter how loud or how silent — to speak for you.
But allow your “enemy” the right to do the same. Respect others. Listen. Then let the Universe take it from there.
Feel what it’s like to wear the colors of your opponent’s country. Retreat to compromise, to create a Universal truth greater than your own.
Because when you don’t — when you stubbornly stand your ground like a toddler having a ‘Me, me, me!’ fit in a toy store — everyone loses.
What does all this have to do with conspiracy theories? Absolutely nothing. Yet if I had titled this article Holy Wars (as had been my original intent), I may not have lured you to pay attention.
In that respect, this piece has everything to do with conspiracy theories. Because when you are lured into battles that engage your emotions, you are thrown into the front lines of half-truths that lead to holy wars.
Nearly 16 months after it began, the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 shows signs of loosening its grip on what we once called normal and allowing us to return to how we once were.
But do we really want to go back? Do we want to retreat to the comfort of what once was and risk losing the possibilities of what can be?
A pandemic is defined as an “event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.” Finding a cure for that disease is a noble cause. However, to “cure” a disease by forgetting it existed is to plant the seeds of its return. And once it does, it can be deadlier than it once was.
If we look beneath the surface and consider COVID-19 as a symbolic representation — a metaphor — of the challenge we call life, we find the cure for the virus known as living.
Hidden within the challenge of that virus is the whisper of its cure. But are we disciplined enough to quiet our minds and pay attention to the still, silent voice within that is patiently waiting for us to listen to its cry?
The new normal awaits
Once vaccines became widely available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the world moved one very big step closer to “normal.” And while this brought much joy and celebration, it comes with a huge dose of bittersweetness, one that even a spoonful of sugar won’t counteract.
The normal we are now entering is nothing like the normal we once knew. Hopefully, many of the habits we adopted to keep us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19 will stay with us long after herd immunity has been reached.
Regardless of where in the science vs. conspiracy theory side of the aisle your opinion on the virus and the world’s response to it fall, some things should stick around post-pandemic.
Curbside pickup: Nothing quite compares to dining inside a restaurant, but there’s a lot to be said for popping your car’s trunk and having someone put your meal order inside. Not having to get dressed for the occasion is like eating dessert before dinner.
Instacart grocery deliveries: Enough said.
Sanitizing surfaces, especially when dining outdoors: You don’t realize how much dirt is still on a table at your favorite restaurant until you’ve wiped it down after your waiter “cleans” it.
Making sure our hands are clean: How many times did you sing Happy Birthday during the past 15 months?
Working from home: It doesn’t get much better than this.
Unexpected visitors during Zoom meetings: Cameos of cats, dogs, and humans in pajamas reminded us that important work meetings lose their importance when the Zoom squares on your screen utter a collective “Awwwwwww!”
These things might stay with us post-pandemic, but unless we remain vigilant, others are in danger of fading into the distance, making us forget the gifts living in quarantine brought us.
The gifts of quarantine
Although living in quarantine had its share of challenges, I chose to look at the opposite side of those challenges.
For example, making sure my 93-year-old mom was well taken care of and entertained was a struggle, to say the least. But praying for those who were kept from their parents and families because of the inability to travel or because the places where they were living forbid them face-to-face human contact, kept me thankful and humble.
I may also have temporarily lost the ability to socialize with friends, but I got closer to my immediate pack of family members, the people who will stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to make sure I am well cared for — and for whom I will stop at nothing to do the same.
I learned to appreciate the meaning of home. Coincidentally, or not, I was at Miami International Airport ready to board a flight to Buenos Aires when we went into lockdown. I never left Miami. I could not be more grateful for having made that decision.
Throughout the pandemic, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. I mean, seriously, when nature calls while you’re out enjoying a drive through the empty streets, and the closest thing to a public restroom is a porta-potty left behind by a construction crew, you have no choice but to get creative. I now know of at least a half dozen places in South Florida to do your business outside without the risk of being seen by a security camera.
I learned that bras, shoes, work clothes, and most of the items in my wardrobe are not necessary. Combing my hair is an option that can be left for Zoom calls. And if I can’t get to a comb in time, saying my computer’s camera is “acting up” is an acceptable excuse.
I learned that staying in on a weekend night, alternating between binge-watching and napping through the Netflix series du jour and eating takeout right out of the box, is a luxury I will never be able to live without.
I experienced small-town living in a big city; no people, no chaos, no distracted drivers to run me over during my morning bike ride.
I discovered the beauty of masks – because when all you can see are people’s eyes, you are blessed with a glimpse into their souls.
On the lighter side of the mask mandate, now that I have a facial covering to go with just about every outfit I own (thanks to my life’s traveling companion), I’m finding it difficult giving up this wonderful fashion statement.
I also continued my journey into the road less traveled known as sobriety. (You can’t drink socially if you’re not socializing.) It was a road that began with a 30-day no alcohol challenge nearly 900 days ago, and one on which I have chosen to stay.
While so many people struggled with addictions or chose to drink away the pains of the pandemic with a glass — or six — of their adult grape juice of choice, seltzer with lime was — and continues to be — my go-to beverage.
COVID-19 may fade into the background of history, but like any great teacher, the lessons it taught us, and the gifts it left behind, will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Sharing those gifts with others is the greatest gift of all.
It’s the one time re-gifting is not only an option, but a necessity.
On Jan. 30, 2019, at 11 p.m., I unceremoniously finished a glass of wine, said goodnight to the friends with whom I had been having dinner, and went home. That’s how my journey into “I’m not drinking today” began. There was no big announcement, no fanfare, no idea that my dry spell would keep going, and going, and going.
On the eve of that date’s 2-year anniversary, the dry spell continues.
Although I don’t have many filters, I have been relatively quiet about my journey into sobriety. I hate that word and all the other words used to label those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to hit the pause button on their alcohol consumption. Whether that choice is for one day, one month, one year, or one lifetime doesn’t matter. The labels and connotations are the same.
But until this new cool becomes “so last year,” the word sobriety will have to do to describe this very private and personal journey. While I have shared a few details now and then through the pages of this blog, it’s not something I have discussed in great detail, mostly for the same reasons others like me don’t like to share their sobriety stories.
“Oh, you don’t drink. You must have a problem!” is the conclusion to which most people fast forward when you tell them you have chosen not to drink. But if someone told you they no longer eat jelly beans, I doubt you would think they have a jelly bean problem.
Then there’s the other side of the coin.
“Wow, you don’t drink! That’s amazing. Good for you!”
I’m no a superhero. I just stopped putting alcohol into my system because I didn’t like the way it made me feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That’s it. End of story. There’s nothing good or bad about it. It just is.
But two years into this AF thing (for the purpose of this article, AF is an acronym for alcohol free, not the other thing), some of those who have heard of my choice to go AF are approaching me with questions about how to do the same. Some of the questions are subtle, some not so much.
At first, I brushed them aside, thinking there were enough experts out there whose stories of sobriety were much more interesting. I am not an authority on drinking. I hate giving advice on the subject because I have no idea how or why other people drink. The reasons are as varied as there are people.
I only know why I choose not to drink, and how I am able to continue on that journey.
I also hate the “I will never drink again” prediction. One of my concerns has been that giving advice and then drinking a tiny sip of anything with as little as 0.5% alcohol will somehow negate what I have accomplished and invalidate all the advice I have given. (News Alert: Orange juice has 0.5% alcohol, so there’s that.)
Most of all, I didn’t want to be THAT person. You know, the one who breaks a habit and then becomes a holier-than-thou, judgmental bitch who turns her nose up at those weaklings who aren’t as evolved.
Slurring isn’t sexy, but neither is self righteousness.
But more and more people have started asking me about my choice to not consume alcohol. And the questions have come from those whom I least expected. I feel I owe them an honest answer.
So, on the eve of my 2-year sobriety date, I share with you how I stay on my current AF journey, and my why for doing so.
My decision to share is also because in the past pandemic-challenged year, the memes and jokes on social media about drinking—especially about women drinking—is cause for concern. The 5 o’clock Mommy Juice hour is starting earlier and earlier, and there’s nothing cute about it.
Among the most dire post-pandemic predictions is the one that says people may survive COVID-19, but will be left with addictions they acquired to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.
A few weeks ago, a friend who was celebrating a milestone birthday posted a photo on Facebook showing a bottle of Grey Goose in the center console cupholder of her car as a sign that she was ready to celebrate.
How is this even remotely funny?
The comments cheering her on underneath her post were even more disturbing.
No Labels, Please
Before I tell you a little bit more about my story, I have just one request. Please drop the label. You know the one — alcoholic, and the stigma attached to it. That blanket term which has been attached to anyone who drinks too much or too often is inaccurate most of the time. At best, it is outdated.
I often wonder how many more people would chose to go alcohol free if the label did not exist … if the judgmental looks they get when they tell the waiter they won’t be partaking from the bottle of wine everyone else at the table will be sharing didn’t scream, “Oh, you poor thing.”
I have a plethora of handy comebacks for those looks, most of which are NSFW. 😉
Most drinkers don’t fit the stereotype of the alcoholic, a disheveled person on the street, begging for money, sleeping on park benches. The fact is that the majority of people who drink too much are professionals with jobs, families, and good salaries. They dress well and have money to buy name-brand wines and spirits and travel all over the world to sample the latest vintage from the winery of their choice.
Important Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject, but according to what I’ve read, alcoholics are physically and emotionally addicted to alcohol, and they can no longer control their drinking. There are lots of in-betweens, which you can research on your own. It’s not my intent to provide medical advice or rehash what a Google search will reveal if you’re interested in finding out more.
This is my story. Any resemblance to the stories of people living or dead is purely coincidental.
If you are an alcoholic, or if you even suspect that you will suffer physical withdrawals by going cold turkey, this article is NOT for you. Please seek advice from your doctor, your therapist, or someone who can help you detox safely.
But if your drinking has escalated to the point where happy hour is no longer as happy as it used to be, or it has become so automatic you just reach for a cocktail without even thinking whether or not you really want one, then maybe my journey can help answer some of the questions you might be asking yourself.
In other words, if you’re sober curious, read on.
This Is How And Why I Do It
I do it by just doing it. No therapy, no doctor, no detox, no rehab. I just stopped. The support of my life’s traveling companion and my mom were instrumental in keeping me stopped.
I do it because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a dryness in my eyes and mouth that would be the envy of the Sahara Desert.
I do it because waking up with a clear head is more fun than a hangover.
I do it because a 6 a.m. 25-mile bike ride before the world is up on a Saturday morning is much more exhilarating than that first sip of Amarone ever was.
I do it because even though I love rituals, there are other rituals besides opening and aerating a bottle of wine.
I do it because the clarity is amazing. I am much more creative sober than I ever was attempting to imitate Hemingway in his prose and his drinking. Contrary to popular belief, drunken angst kills creativity.
I do it because drowning my emotions — whether happy or sad — in alcohol doesn’t make the bad ones go away, and it prevents me from being fully present to enjoy the good ones.
I do it because my relationships are stronger, and my emotions are under control. Alcohol-fueled disagreements can escalate into relationship-ending arguments very quickly. I no longer choose to engage in arguments that are going nowhere. I pick my battles, which are fewer and fewer these days.
I do it for a host of reasons. But the reasons themselves are not important. Like brushing my teeth, being AF has sewn itself into the fiber of my life, and the why no longer matters.
It Wasn’t Easy Until It Was
Now, at the risk of having you think my first journey into the AF world was all no wine and roses, think again. I tried going alcohol free many times before it finally stuck for this long.
Why did it stick this time?
Because somewhere along the line, there was a shift from “I can’t have a drink and I’m missing out on something” to “I don’t want to have a drink because I don’t want to miss out on anything.”
This lifetime nerd is officially one of the cool kids. Call me cool AF. And this time the acronym does not stand for Alcohol Free. 😉
The ending of a relationship is one of the hardest things we humans will ever experience. If it has been a long-term relationship, the pain of ending it can be excruciating.
But there comes a time when you accept the fact that ending a relationship that is no longer working, ripping the band-aid off quickly, will ultimately be less painful than gently prying off what’s left of the glue that once held it together, hoping things will get better.
When you finally end it, you find that the anticipation of its demise was far worse than the actual break-up. It is then that the pain of paralysis ends and the healing begins.
You and I had a good run. But there were also those not-so-good times when I was so seduced by your passion and promises that I lost all sense of control and relinquished everything to you.
You empowered me and tore me down simultaneously.
I broke my rules for you and you broke me.
Don’t get me wrong. We laughed a lot together and for that, I will always be grateful. But the laughter no longer feels genuine. We used to snuggle up together after a long day at work and you would give me a warm fuzzy like none other. But the warm fuzzy began to fade when I started “needing to be with you” instead of “wanting to be with you.”
You completely intoxicated me! You weren’t an addiction, but you certainly were an obsession. And you always looked so damned good!
But then came the lies. At first, they were subtle, nearly imperceptible. But in time, they increased to the point where you were constantly lying to me. And even though I could no longer deny that truth, I stayed, hoping things would get better.
But they didn’t.
You hypnotized me into thinking that doing things with you was the only way I would achieve genuine happiness. Without you, life would not be worth living. But you not only stole that happiness, you also robbed me of time … time that I will never get back.
To make matters worse, some of my dearest friends encouraged me to stay with you. They enabled our dysfunctional relationship, turning a blind eye to what was really happening between us.
Because of you, I sometimes acted like a complete and total ass around my friends and the people I love.
You lured me away from the things that mean the most to me and completely stripped me of my creativity, leading me to believe that you were the muse who inspired me.
The day my father died you conveniently made your way into his hospital room. You promised to take away the pain, but all you did was distract me from facing the feelings I would eventually have to face without you.
He knew you weren’t good for me. He worried that you would one day destroy everything he and mom had given me. But I was so convinced by your promises to quickly take away the pain that I didn’t listen.
It was then that I began rethinking our relationship. It was then that I started to get pissed off.
But the more pissed off I got, the more control I gave you!
We tried short-term separations, but those didn’t help to make things between us any better. When we fell back into our typical patterns after the temporary separation, we were off and running on another round of lies, deceptions, anger, postponed dreams, and resentment.
I know that breaking up before the holidays will be difficult. After all, it was during the holidays that we had our best times! We made some amazing memories, but most recently, those memories have been well, not so good.
And that’s why the holidays are also the perfect time for us to separate. Because otherwise, we’re in danger of going backward, trying to recapture a past that we can never get back.
It’s time for me to move forward.
I’m not doing this for anyone. I’m not doing this because I have lost control. I’m doing this for me because I choose to exercise control over my own life.
Can we ever be “just friends”? Can we ever have the casual relationship that once made us feel so good around each other? The kind of relationship that empowered us rather than tore us apart? I have no idea. But at this juncture, it’s best if we part ways altogether so I can reflect and heal.
This is not about you. This is about what’s best for me.
This is also not a judgment.
I’m not suggesting that anyone who is in a similar relationship follow my lead. My solution is not everyone’s solution.
But I do pray that anyone feeling even the slightest tinge of recognition in these words, anyone who has felt the abuse that relationships like ours enable, finds the courage to away walk away from the dysfunction.
I can only hope my story unlocks someone else’s prison.
I’m not saying we will part forever. But right now, the clarity I’ve gained by releasing you feels a hell of a lot better than even the best of times during our last few years.
I will always cherish our time together. It was not lost time. But if we stay together, it will be. And regrets are not something I care to live with.
And so, my dearest Chardonnay, it’s time for me to publicly say so long to you and all your icy cold relatives. I deserve unconditional love. And that’s not something found at the bottom of your bottle.
Sunrise in Henderson Point, Mississippi. — Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni
… you realize that glass of wine you just poured yourself is just a band-aid on your broken dreams.
That moment when you remember there are no quick fixes. You want results? Do the work.
That moment when you surrender to the fact that the most productive thing you can do when things appear to be at their worse is to stop and give thanks. Because when you force your overactive mind to its knees, the Universe steps in and says, “I got this.”
That moment when you recognize that jealousy and envy are poisons keeping you from enjoying the bounty that God created especially for you.
That moment when it finally registers that your heart is smarter than your head, and you start listening with your soul instead of your mind.
That moment when the line between right and wrong is obliterated because you notice that your internal moral compass is much more accurate than that of the one set by society.
That moment when you stop feeling guilty for being “selfish.”
That moment when you relinquish your need to be right.
That moment when you take back control of your life from those who “mean well” and are only “looking out for your best.”
That moment when you awaken from the hypnotic spell of the list of things you should be doing and start doing those things whose only merit is that you like doing them.
That moment when you comprehend that fitness and health are not the same. Because when you stop forcing your body to fit the unrealistic mold Madison Avenue has created for you, you finally achieve the healthy body you were meant to have.
That moment when you accept that you may never achieve fame and fortune by worldly standards. But you will inspire people in more personal ways and doing so, you will fulfill your purpose for being here.
That moment when you remember less is more.
That moment when you discover your prayers are constantly being answered.
That moment when it hits you … you’re not going to live forever.