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
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. 😉
Her royal blue robe was anything but majestic. Her feet were dirty. Her face and hands were worn. Her pedestal was chipped, and her heart was broken.
It was time to fix that.
Fourteen years ago, Mary had been rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina by my father-in-law, a man whose rough exterior poorly hid the gentle soul who was capable of the detailed work required to revive Mary.
Mary, who had traveled 801 miles from Kiln, Mississippi, in the trunk of an Acura TL to our home in Miramar, Florida, to grace a corner of our yard and protect us from Hurricanes Wilma, Bonnie, Rita and countless other mini-natural disasters that had littered our neighborhood with downed trees, broken roof tiles and left us in the dark for days.
Mary, who, six years ago, made the move to our new home with spectacular sunsets in western Broward County and has shielded us from the ravages of Hurricane Irma and (and now Dorian) and the creatures that call the Everglades home: snakes, frogs, raccoons, alligators, and humans who prowl through our neighborhood at night, unafraid of the hundreds of security cameras watching and recording their every move.
For years, I joked that nothing bad ever happened around our house because Mary was protecting us. But I was only half-joking. Her body was a warehouse of miracles waiting to happen. The storage capacity in her 2-feet, 9-inch frame could put an Amazon fulfillment center to shame.
But Mary was looking worn and tired.
She was still creating her miracles each day, but she needed a fresh coat of paint. We had gone as far as buying the paint and brushes, but they had been sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, waiting for someone to move “Paint Mary” up on their to-do list and finish the job.
But that someone never seemed to raise their hand to say, “I’ll do it.”
Meanwhile, Mary was sending signs that she wanted to shine a little brighter. It was as if her never-ending storehouse of strength was charged by appreciation, love and care, as much as the humans she protects depend on a little bit of reinforcement every now and then to keep them motivated.
But I didn’t pay much attention to the signs. That is until Mary’s insistence became a little louder.
I had never seen a snake in my yard in the six years we have lived here. My neighbors see them all the time but not me. I spend a lot of time outside, so by now, I should have seen my share of them.
A few days ago, I walked out my front door and right there, out of the corner of my eye, just inches from me, was a 3-foot-long southern black racer. That was about three feet too long for me, despite Google’s assurance that it was harmless and useful for keeping insects away. (I’ll take the fly swatter, thank you very much.)
Then there was the frog in the garage. (Anyone who knows me, knows that even the tiniest fake frog makes the hair on my body stand like a full-body Mohawk haircut spikey enough to be classified a weapon.) I had turned on the light to put something in the recycle bin, and there it was, all cute and cozy (to some people) and smiling at me. The fear rose from my solar plexus and turned into a blood-curdling scream that sent the frightened froggie out of the now open garage as I ran inside to monitor its departure through my security cameras. (I digress, but I assure you, I’m not making any of that up.)
Finally, there was the guy standing in our front yard with what looked very much like a rifle when we came home a few nights ago. We made it inside safely while the guy disappeared to who knows where. The police nonchalantly dismissed it as a neighbor out shooting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know,” but it was Mary’s loudest sign that I should pay attention to her.
She wanted to shine again, and sooner rather than later.
But who would paint her? I was absent the day God gave out painting talents. So, I scratched my name off the list and went about the business of finding other to-do lists to conquer. But the paint cans sitting in the garage were too much of an eyesore to keep ignoring.
“Hey, Barb. Why don’t you paint me?” Mary whispered.
I looked around, and the smiling face of the frog in the garage popped into my memory.
“OK, Mary,” I’ll give it a try if you promise to hit the delete button on that frog vision from my brain,” I responded.
And so, I opened the paint cans, tentatively picked up a brush and trusted Mary to guide me, just as I trust the Muse when my hands hover over a keyboard and a blank page on my Macbook and the words flow like water from a broken dam.
Mary was restored to her shining glory.
Three days before South Florida was placed in the cone of Hurricane Dorian, I placed Mary back in the corner of our yard that she calls home.
My little statue was once again ready to pour her love and miracles on those willing to believe in her and trust her guidance.
It was a reminder that sometimes all it takes is a little “paint” and patience to make someone’s day brighter … to bring out the love hiding beneath an exterior that has been dulled by life’s elements.
Is there someone in your life who needs “painting?” Grab your brush of kindness and bring back the brightness that time has eroded.
“Carbs make you fat!” said the woman who had been proudly sharing her carb-free diet with another woman at the Publix checkout line. She was going on and on about the meal she planned to prepare that night, a meal which included NO CARBS AT ALL!
I glanced at the slab of ribs the size of a newborn piglet in her grocery cart. My pearls threatened to launch an assault on her swine theory. But the wisdom of Matthew 7:6 held me back.
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” – Matthew 7:6
A few months ago, I would have engaged in a conversation with that woman, telling her that all diets come down to one thing: simple math. Calories in, calories out. As my friend Scott Wilson so eloquently put it …
“Eating more than you burn makes you fat. Simple math. All else is noise.”
One thousand calories of steak will take as much time and effort to burn as 1,000 calories of spinach.
I would have told her that eating for health is a lifelong process, not one that will help you shed a few pounds, deprive you of your favorite foods, slow down your metabolism and send you back to pasta faster than if you had allowed yourself the gift of moderation.
But that was months ago. That morning encounter at Publix reminded me that sometimes it’s best to keep my mouth shut and let my computer keys do the talking.
Even the Facebook post in which I shared the details of my grocery line encounter with the pig in the basket prompted a few castigating comments from friends who have had success with the latest diet du jour, the Keto diet, which (in my humble opinion), is nothing more than a repackaged Atkins Diet.
But this article is about so much more than the battle between carbs and protein. It’s about the bigger picture of trying to educate someone based on the lessons your life experiences have taught you.
The bottom line is … you can’t.
You can’t tell someone that shedding pounds while their body struggles to adjust to the radical changes it is being forced to process is good for them.
You can’t tell them that if they are drinking a glass of wine every night for health reasons, they would be consuming perhaps a third of what they pour into their glass, and stop at that amount.
You can’t tell them that 15 minutes of meditation each day will give them the extra time they wish they had to do all the things they want to do.
You can’t tell them that exercise will do more for their mind, body and soul than any pill or powder ever will.
You can’t tell them that living in the moment is all there is.
You can’t tell them that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.
You can’t tell them that their to-do list will outlive them.
You can’t tell them that surrendering the outcome to God, the Higher Power, the Universe, or the Source from which they came is always the best action plan.
You can’t tell anyone who drinks the presidential shade of orange Kool-Aid that perhaps it’s turning a bit too red.
You can’t do any of those things because the conclusions you’ve reached based on the lessons that life has taught you are precisely that … YOUR lessons … Lessons that have touched the deepest parts of your soul and stirred passions so strong you can’t help but want to share them.
But when the passions stirred by a life lesson are involved, you shouldn’t, well, throw your pearls in front of swine.
You can’t learn anyone’s lessons for them. You can only teach by example.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But no one will imitate you if you preach to them.
However, my friends, I can’t live without pasta. And neither should you.