Well, it’s been 3 months and 2 vacations since my last post.
I have also – spoiler alert – had 3 lapses since my last post.
I’ve worked hard to examine these failures, or stumbles, or whatever you want to call them, and to use them to strengthen my recovery and teach me about myself. Yes, I have felt frustrated that I seem to have to learn the same lesson over and over, but I also knew that obstacles were to come and I am glad to have faced some of them and to have learned that the journey doesn’t just implode on itself from one mistake. Things don’t automatically go back to the way they were because I have not been 100% successful at my goal of staying 100% abstinent.
I have noticed a pattern in 2 of these lapses, which were both on vacation. I know that vacation is a more vulnerable time for me than normal life, so I try to prepare and commit to sobriety ahead of time, put plans in place, decide ahead.
I start off strong with no desire to drink, even when around others who are drinking. I wake up glad to not be hungover and feeling great and healthy. I even usually squeeze in a workout or two in the first few days.
But then vacation wears me down a bit. I am a homebody and an introvert so being away from home and my usual routines does tire me, even though I love traveling and seeing new places. I have to remember that.
The first lapse happened on a vacation where I knew very well that I was worn down and frankly exhausted, but felt I had no way to restore myself. I had no internet access on that vacation, limited options for non-alcoholic beverages, was surviving on little sleep, and had very little time to be alone. I started to feel the effects of all this and wanted to feel better. I made the choice to have a beer, and then decided to double down on the exception and “make it count.” I had a shot of the national alcohol that I had prepared myself to miss out on entirely.
And then it spiraled from there and I couldn’t control my drinking the way I thought I could when I decided to have that first beer. Of course, at home, it is easier to remember that I can’t control my drinking the way I would like to. But in my weakened state, it was easy to entertain the wishful thinking.
It didn’t ruin that first vacation. In fact, we had a lot of fun, and I don’t think I regret the choice I made. It showed me that I can slip and still get back on track. But it also opened my eyes to the fact (which I thought I already knew) that I cannot just slip a little. Once I let myself slip, I tumble allll the way down the hill.
I got back on track again after coming home from vacation. But then when a strong urge hit me the next weekend, it was easier to tell myself it was ok, because look, I was able to allow myself this indulgence before and still get back on track.
Well, that lapse, which happened at home in regular life, also spiraled. I couldn’t contain it to the one drink I planned to have, or even to the one night I planned to drink. A whole weekend was wasted on that lapse and I regretted it and hated myself for not learning the lesson I thought I had learned on vacation. I got back on track and promised not to make that mistake again.
The third lapse happened on my next vacation, a work trip. This time I had more of my regular comforts – internet, TV, air conditioning, all the food and beverage options I could want. I was at a work conference and again, I started off strong. I was not tempted to drink during the conference itself and made sure to take plenty of time alone to restore after all the networking and socializing I was doing.
It was only after the 4 days of the conference that I found myself again tired and worn down, despite my alone time and sleeping well. I started comparing myself to the more successful people I saw at the conference and to the colleagues I saw networking so effortlessly. I started to feel bad about myself.
I had two more nights after the conference ended to enjoy the city. The first night and day I stayed strong and found other ways to enjoy myself rather than giving in to the desire to drink and numb out the bad feelings I was having. But that second night, I just wanted to check out. And I did.
Again, I thought I could contain it. I bought a half pint of vodka, which would surely be enough, but would keep the drinking to only one night and not leave me toooo hungover.
Honestly it really didn’t do what I wanted it to. It didn’t numb me as much as I hoped, but I guess I didn’t feel quite so morose.
The next day I was only slightly hungover, and walked around while waiting to head to the airport. Every beach side restaurant had huge cocktails on offer, and there were many takers, even at 10 am. But I resisted.
And then I got to the airport and was stuck in a tiny terminal with nothing to do for 2 hours. I was still doing the comparison thing and feeling like the conference was a failure (the after effects of the alcohol had definitely made this feeling worse). I decided to have a bloody mary.
And again, it spiraled out of control. I drank a LOT at that airport and on that plane. I spent a LOT. And I continued drinking for a few days after that. It was a mess.
Again, I felt horrible for thinking I could contain it, and for having to learn the same lesson over and over. For knowing one thing in one part of my brain, but for the other part of my brain, telling me a drink would feel so good, winning out, again.
Since then, I’ve gone on one more short vacation. I was very tempted, again, to have a beer. I had done the preparation before and even though that one part of my brain really could not imagine camping without drinking, the rational part of my brain knew it would be a bad idea if I did and was prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable to achieve the goal of staying sober.
And this time, I didn’t take that drink. That was both a small and a big victory. I felt great about it. I rewarded myself in some small ways.
So here I am, post vacations. Post lapses. The holidays are coming up but we have nothing planned. We’re staying in town and won’t be seeing family. There will be some work parties, and some days off. So there are challenges ahead, I know.
But for now, I’m focusing on what works for me and remembering what doesn’t. I’ll be writing some posts soon about some of the things that have helped me with my recovery.