Week 19: How to relax?


E and I shared a romantic Valentine’s Day in bed, both of us sick. Actually, he was on the couch and I was in the bed.

Even though it was a sick day and I wasn’t feeling well, I couldn’t relax. I kept checking my work email, trying to put out little fires. Work plagued my thoughts for most of the day. This was my day away from the office, and I should’ve been away. I specifically took this time to heal so that I could fire back the next day, but I still was chained to my phone and my responsibilities.

In the U.S. we never fully take breaks. We bring our phones to dinner and our laptops on vacation. We hustle because it’s how we’re programmed, and we have this innate belief that something glorious is waiting for us at the finish line. We don’t really know what that is, but when we get there we are tired, stressed, a little unhealthier and lacking all the joy we surpassed to get that far.

I’m not a good relaxer – I can barely watch a movie without pausing it to wash the dishes or put away the mail. I’m addicted to lists and chores and goals and making everything perfect. People with that kind of nervous energy don’t have the skills to relax.

My two years in Lesotho aided my anxiety a bit, and I’ve maintained a pretty strict boundary about not bringing work home. I also take sick days when I needed them.

Yet, I’m hardwired with the idea that relaxing is being lazy and lazy is failure and failure is the worst thing you can be. So, I check my work email while drinking Emergence C and taking naps.

Drinking is how I used to relax. I am not alone in that, and I think the pressure put on us to do so much is why we have massive addiction rates, whether to alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication, in our country. My reward after a long hectic day was a bottle of wine. When things are going haywire, my instinct is to get a beer. It’s a relaxer and a treat. How many jokes do we make about someone who is stressed out “needing a drink?” It’s what we’ve defined as letting loose.

Things didn’t bother me when I am drunk. I could let everything roll off of me, just like I had hoped I could be when sober. I’d pay for that carefree attitude the next day, with sever guilt trips, but drinking was relaxing. It’s was a brief time when I traded aliments for ales. I’d have a beer after work and then decided I deserved another and then a third because it had been a really rough one. I could justify drinking based on all the stress building in my shoulders, and it was never questioned.

Now, I need to figure out how to relax without alcohol. Before I gave up drinking, I took baths, exercised, read books, treated myself. I can do all those things now, but I don’t drink. And I am not sure there is a way to fill that void with something else. Actually, nothing really matches drinking, so instead of replacing it I just do more of the other things.

Alcohol was a great relaxer, but only for a few hours. Eventually guilt about drinking too much, spending a lot of money, or doing something stupid would outright undo any comfort that the binge brought. And, essentially, that’s why I quit drinking. The calm drinking brought me wasn’t worth all the anxiety.

The hardest part about being sober this week: Those Friday night cravings for a beer after a long week just don’t go away. I can practically taste the beer sometimes.

The best part about being sober this week: Instead of drinking that beer, I ran eight miles after work – the longest I’ve run since the Chicago Marathon in 2015. My knees and hips  hurt, but my goodness did the city sparkle. So worth it. Plus, then I got to indulge at dinner.

Week 18: The journey is not the end point


2017 is going to bring more humans into this world than any other year.

This is my theory based on how many people I know expecting babies this year. From family to co-workers, friends to casual acquaintance, I venture that 50 percent of people I know are pregnant.

Outside of my own hyperbole, I am sure this is just a thing a woman in her early 30s notices, just like the splurge of marriages in my mid-20s. But, to be honest, the weekly pregnancy announcements hit a nerve. Why I am not to the child-rearing phase of my life yet? When will it be my turn? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere? 

I feel left behind in 2017’s race to populate the Earth. I am so lucky to have a wonderful partner, the ability to sleep in on Saturdays, and a stable bank account, but I still get sad when I see that yet another person is expecting. Why is my journey different?

This is not a new question I’ve posed on this blog. nor new to my psyche. Baby bellies aside, my internal dictator hounds me daily about why I am not further along on the path, whether it be my career, my writing, my retirement, etc.

I’ve been to a lot of therapy, prayed, journaled, meditated,  drank from bowls of , Cheryl and Elizabeth, and this is may just be something I live with, until I near the end of my life and don’t give a hoot anymore. I will always interrogate myself as to why I am not further in all the journey’s that make up my life. I am just not sure I can change that about myself.

Even so, I try to approach acceptance of the path in those moments I’m engulfed in self-pity. When I am upset that I am not further with my writing, I think, “But look where you are. Can you be happy here? Can you recognize the accomplishments that have brought you this far and basque in the length and energy this journey has?” Sometimes that’s enough I am content and jump to the next worry waiting in line for my fixation.

But, as I write this from my bed, before my day has really begun, I wonder, can I be OK with my sober journey? As I’ve mentioned before, I thought that there would be more tangible results from not drinking that I could sink my teeth in and raise above me as a prized trophy to prove to everyone that I wasn’t crazy in doing this. That hasn’t happened, and so I am left with daily urges and wondering if this was really necessary. Even this blog isn’t enough, I had hoped to grow it into a community for other people trying to be sober and the numbers slowly decline each week.

I don’t know how to do sober any different. With the other things I question about my life, there are things I can change along with things I can’t. I can’t be better at being sober (I could maybe invest a bit more into this blog, though) so my journey will be what it is. And the tricky thing is knowing it is not less special than anyone else’s because there is something great challenge to overcome or shiny reward at the end. It’s special because it’s mine and because itself is not an end point. There is so, so much more.

The hardest part of being sober: I picked the wrong administration to not drink in.

The best part of being sober: Training for the Chicago Marathon starts in a few months and so I am trying to slim down a bit before then and I am really watching what I eat. It’s super nice not to add empty calories from umpteen pale ales.


Week 17: What I haven’t figured out about sobriety


It’s Friday night and I am planning on a happy hour with co-workers. We’ll go to a swank Loop bar with Laguintas on tap and an updated version of an Old Fashion. The place will be so loud we’ll barely be able to hear each other. Men in jeans and button up shirts stand over women in leggings and boots. They are here for only a drink (or three) before heading off to a dinner of small plates in Logan Square, or maybe pizza in Lakeview.

I’ll be hungry by the time we part and I head back north. I’ll be too smashed to cook anything, so we’ll have to figure something out easy and quick. A book and early bed time sounds good, but that never happens when I am drinking. Instead, I’ll pick up a six-pack on the way home and will watch old reruns of “The Office” until I am solidly intoxicated and pass out.

Oh, I hope that’s not one of those happy hours that extend into the late evening, I worry before it’s even noon. I always say it will just be one, but it is never just one.

And then I remember that I am not drinking. I won’t spend more than $8 and I won’t need to purchase a fried appetizer to coat my stomach. I’ll remember the entire train ride home and I’ll have the consciousness to edit my manuscript or grocery shop. My sleep will be restful, rather waking up at 3 a.m. throbbing with guilt.

I keep forgetting that I am sober. My thoughts are engrained into thinking how to pick up the pieces from my drunkness, and it takes a moment to remember that I don’t do that anymore. Several times I won’t remember pieces of a conversation or a show I watched and I will think, I must have been drunk. No, I must have a poor memory.

Four months into sobriety and there are a few things I haven’t quite figured out, like that going out with friends won’t result into me being a drunk pile. Another struggle I still have is explaining this decision. “Oh, it’s just something I decided on doing.” I feel like I need a clear cut this-is-why-I-stopped reason and there just isn’t one. So, I waffle as I explain why I am ordering lemonade and not a beer.

I also don’t know what to drink. Last night at the happy hour I ordered two lemonades and I felt worse than if I had had four beers. Too much sugar. I also don’t really like soda or juice, so that leaves few options when at bar and socializing. I do not be want to the one who only orders water because, well, that person sucks. I have ordered non-alcoholic beer before with mixed reviews. The first time, at a hip arcade bar, the first few sips tasted like some of my favorite beers and it felt familiar, like an old favorite sweater. By the fifth swallow, it was skunky. Most places don’t have NA beers, nor La Croix (my favorite non-water drink). I’ve come to really like kombucha, but again not really a bar menu kind of drink. I once ordered tea while my friends drank two bottles of wine. I felt 95.

It’s been a long time since my last drink, or at least it feels like it, and yet sobriety still feels new. I wonder if it will ever become my normal.

Hardest part of sobriety this week: Looking at a beer menu and knowing that I could order a beer and it would not hurt anyone.

Best part of sobriety this week: The confidence that sprouts from self-restraint and not ordering that beer.


Week 16: Too much


Hi, friends,

We’ve almost elapsed into another week without a post, but I wouldn’t do that. I am a consistent person; I hate when people start new blogs or podcasts and can’t keep up with the schedule. I promised you a post a week and I am here to deliver, if only brief.

It’s been a long week, loved ones, not only with what’s happening in our country, but in general life. Between work projects and extra commitments, I’ve filled my days to the brim. I’ve also spent so much time writing – pieces that I hope to show you one day here, pieces I hope you’ll read in print, piece’s that may never go further than my Documents folder. We are in a scared time and I am filling my days with as many words as I can. You could say, I’m writing like I am running out of time.

Everything feels urgent now; so many things need my attention. Big things – like protesting and calling my lawmakers. Small things – like going to my favorite coffee shop before it closed this weekend. I want to do all and be all. When I can’t reach that perfection, I fall.

I often wonder about my life right now and how different it would be if I was still drinking. Maybe it would be exactly the same, I don’t know. What I do know is that now when the car is turning in a direction I can’t control and the steering wheel is far from my hands, I don’t reach for a drink. Instead, I find my running shoes, I take a nap, I write. I don’t know if that’s any better, but it’s where I am.

This is all I have this week, but I am going to ask you all to do me a favor, OK? Be in the real world. Yes, read the news and be informed, but don’t let the toxins of each breaking headline and social media make you hard. Put your phone down and log off for a while. See a friend, take a walk (even in the cold), read a book. Drink water. Do things that bring you joy, even if small and seemingly insignificant. We can’t change the world if we are broken.

The hardest part about not drinking this week: Walking past a bar and knowing that, even though I have never been there before, I would belong.

The best part about not drinking this week: Hungover writing is awful. Seriously terrible.


Week 15: Be that person


“Let it be true that we wrote the world in each other back to life, that we didn’t die. Let that be the new book.” – Lidia Yuknavitch

On Saturday morning, I joined the estimated 250,000 people at the Women’s March in downtown Chicago, a sister event to the Women’s March in D.C. Attending the D.C. march crossed my mind for an instant, but when I heard local organizers were planning a Chicago event I made the decision to attend that one instead. For months, I planned to go to this march and in the last week I’ve made plans with friends, read pieces on what to expect and ransacked ideas for poster slogans. I knew it was important for me to be there.

The morning of the march, before I left home and while drinking coffee, I sat down with my journal and wrote the reasons why I was marching. Because I believe that women’s rights are humans rights, that climate change is real, that black lives matter, that immigrants make America great, that love is love, that we are stronger together, that love still wins. I’ve represented those views at my polling place in November, so why did I feel the need to march?

It comes from this tiny place inside that says, “Who do you want to be?” This is not a voice that demands I accomplish arbitrary goals or earn specific accolades, rather that I act on the things that matter to me.

It’s the voice that gets me up at 5:30 a.m. to write.

It’s the voice that encourages me to give up my seat on the train when I see an pregnant woman or an elderly person.

It’s the voice that guides me to check on a friend when it’s been awhile.

I went to the march yesterday because I want to look my children in the eyes and tell them I stood up for what I believed in, that in a critical moment I didn’t stay silent.

It seems to me that I am hearing that voice more and more, the more I follow it the more I like myself. I think this in part because I am not drinking, because I can see a few things clearer in sobriety. For now, I know that I want to be a sober person and each day I don’t drink I feel the confidence and glory building under my feet.

So, I keep following that voice, trying to be that person I want to be.

Hardest part of not drinking: While getting ready to go to a friend’s house last night, the urge to have a drink washed over me. I could have just one. Everyone would understand. It seemed impossible to go to that party and not a have a drink. Of course, I didn’t drink and had two La Croixs instead, but in the heat of a craving I wasn’t so sure I could beat it this time.

Best part of not drinking: I’ve been swamped at work and in my personal life lately, all good things. Drinking tended to slow me down a bit,  so it’s been nice to wake up fresh and hit the to-do lists hard.

A sober hangover

fullsizerender-1My last night of heavy drinking was the housewarming party E and I threw to welcome our friends over to our new home. I am not sure how many glasses of wine I had that night, but I assume it exceeded a bottle’s worth. One of the last people to leave kept refilling my glass, trying to empty bottles because she knew I wouldn’t need them in a few days.

The hangover came strong and determined the next morning. Fewer glasses of red wine lead to hangovers in my 30s and this one kept me in bed until 2 p.m. The only times I got up from bed were to throw up and answer the door when the delivery man arrived with Jimmy John’s, my favorite hangover sandwich. I stayed under the covers for most of the day, bing watching “Brooklyn Nine Nine” and removing myself from all responsibilities that day.

Despite the headache, vomiting, and general body pain, it was nice to spend the entire day in bed, doing whatever I wanted. When I have hangovers I let myself reel in the recovery, feeding my body what it wants, sleeping as much as I need. It was sort of a reward I gave myself, the time to heal and rest.

As a sober person, I found much to fill my mornings. I go to the gym, I write, I have coffee with friends, I clean the apartment, I grocery shop. I rarely let myself sleep in, relax, recover. There isn’t the urging need when my head isn’t pounding. As last year closed, with the business of the holiday season and our heavy travel schedule, I kept longing for that Sunday morning of lying in bed and letting myself do absolutely nothing because it’s what my body needed, what I needed. One day, I opened my calendar, and picked out a weekend day each month, blocked it out in pink, labeled it “Heather Day.”

My main resolution for 2017, as I’ve told friends, is to take one day a month to do absolutely nothing. I wouldn’t make plans with friends, I wouldn’t shove chores onto that day, I wouldn’t decide on anything to do that day until I woke up that morning. From there, I would do whatever my heart wanted. Shoulds, responsibilities, they have the other days of the month, but that one would be for me only.

Today is my first Heather Day, or sober hangover, of 2017, and it’s been everything I’ve wanted to be. Leading up to this day, I made sure that the laundry had been washed, the apartment cleaned and the groceries bought. I told friends that I was busy today and couldn’t meet up, and any running or writing I know I needed to do this weekend was either taken care of or I accepted it wouldn’t get done until Tuesday. However, if I woke up Monday morning and wanted to edit my book or organize my underwear drawer, I would. The plan for the day was simple: only give in to the wants.

Besides handling chores, the only pre-planning I did for this day was I asked E to make himself busy for a few hours so that I could have the apartment to myself. E is a homebody and is quite content spending his days without ever leaving the house. On weekends, I am usually out doing this or that while he is at home. While I have no qualms about this, I sometimes am jealous that he gets the apartment to himself when I am gone. It occurred to me that, while I love being in his company, the only time I am truly alone, including the commute downtown and back and at work, is in the hour after he has left for work and before I leave the apartment. I wanted a couple of hours to take a bath or write in my journal or watch a movie, none of these things that I couldn’t do with him here but I still really craved some alone time. I was nervous to ask him because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, or force him out of his own home, but I also needed to take a chance on my enjoyment. Of course, he agreed and made zero fuss about it. All I had to do was ask, he said.

This morning I slept several hours beyond my normal wake up time and then I didn’t get out of bed for another two as I finished reading a book. It reminded me of all those lazy mornings in Lesotho, reading and listening to the cattle shuffle outside of my window. When I finally did get up, E and I went to brunch, something we rarely do these days in an effort to save money and because I am usually off to doing other things. I love sitting across the table from him, sipping coffee, watching him jab his fork into fluffy pancakes.

After brunch, he dropped me off at home and went off to do something (I do not know what) while I took cat naps on the couch and watched a documentary on food (I love food documentaries and always looking for suggestions). Then, I went out into the rain and ran. I didn’t run because I needed to, I actually planned on a rest day, but it was rainy and the steam rising off of the cold pavement was an invitation. Four miles later, my socks and shoes were dripping but I couldn’t care less. It was exactly what my body, heart and soul needed.

Then I came home, took a hot shower, and decided to write. Candles burning, a record playing, tea steaming. When E comes home, we’ll make dinner and giggle before turning in to prepare for a long, busy week.

We get hungover because we’ve treated our body a little too harsh, and it’s asking for some time to recuperate. Our bodies do the same when we overwork them, put them through too much stress, yet those signs of wear aren’t as immediate as a headache or vomiting. We forget to rest.  We keep going and going until the body signals a much louder siren.

A hangover (or when I am sick) shouldn’t be the only reason I take time to rest, to spend the day watching movies and reading in bed. But, I have to have the courage to put myself first and remind myself that these days are not only my reward but they are the charge I need to go out and be the person I want to be every other day of the month. Some months, it will be harder to get in that Heather Day, but I am committed to this. It’s what my body needs, it’s what I need.


Week 14: Keeping the good and the bad

sunsetHalfway through my Peace Corps service, my group held a conference to talk about our first year as volunteers and then discuss goals for the second year. In an exercise, there were statements written in marker and tapped to the walls. These sayings were general attitudes about how we felt about our services thus far, and we were to stand next to the sign we most agreed with. They ranged from “I’ve done all that I can and my projects are successful” to “My projects are failing but because of challenges outside of my control.” I can’t remember the exact phrasing on the poster that I stood next to, but it was something like, “My projects are not where they should be and there is more I think I should be doing.” I was the only one at that sign.

After the session, our deputy of programs and training pulled me aside. He is a kind, gentle man that I had had several conversations with before this point. “Heather,” he said in his soft South African accent, “you need to know that you are a good volunteer. I am afraid that you don’t know that.” I stared crying, of course, partly because I didn’t believe him and partly because this is something I’ve heard my entire life.

You are too hard on yourself. Most people who are close to me would tell you that this is true, and it’s always bothered me a bit because I don’t really have a response. I don’t know how to change the fact that I beat myself up constantly. I’ve read books, been in therapy for years, recited mantras. I’ve just assumed I will always be someone who is not good enough in her own eyes.

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve noticed a slight shift in my thinking. It has less to do with not ostracizing myself when I’ve made a mistake and more to do acknowledging my triumphs. A few examples:

A few days last week I’ve straight up killed it. I’ve been efficient and have produced quality work. There are days when I am off my game and things fall apart, but I don’t see those one or two lack luster projects to define my work as an employee. When I take a honest look, I know that I am good at what I do. That sentiment hasn’t always been there and it  doesn’t come from a place of cockiness or self congratulations, but rather taking myself in at eye level.

Also, in writing. Sometimes I write things that I know deep down to be really, really good. I can feel the writing pop out of me and I know it has potential. For example, years later, I can look back at this post and still think it’s really good and not give a shit what someone else thinks because I know it to be true. There are other times when I know what I wrote is garbage and it will never see life outside of a buried Word document. Like, this morning, when I wrote for an hour and produced 600 words of dribble. I am learning to accept those strides of writing and that because I produce bad writing sometimes doesn’t mean I am a bad writer.

I am not entirely sure where this clarity comes from;  it could be maturity or a fleeting sense of enlightenment. However, I have an inkling that sobriety has helped reroute some of my self doubt.

I often drank to drown out my insecurities and anxiety. In those few hours guided by $7 craft brews,  those voices of not being good enough and who was I really to believe I earned success were quieted, and I could forget for a small amount of time that they even existed. Yet, when I sobered up, those voices raged back, making up for lost time. Consequently, when I shut out the negative voices, I also kicked off the positive ones.

In sobriety, I do hear those “I am not enough voices’ louder and I felt powerless for a bit without having drink to use as a temporary reprieve from them. However, I also hear the confident voices more now, and without booze I am getting better at listening. I have more confidence in my ability to ignore those statements that matter and dig my heels into the ones that do.

Being hard on myself is part of my make up, and no matter how much I grew into my own self there will always be that self doubt. I am OK with that, I accept that. However, I also have a side in me that is confident and lustrous, and I can feel her coming out more and more. Again, that may just be part of maturing, but I think removing the numbing of drink helps too. It doesn’t bother me when the hard voices come, because I know the good ones will too. With both of them present, I am a living a more whole life.

Best part of being sober: I met up with a friend this week and she suggested tea. She knew I wasn’t drinking, and it was just really thoughtful that she picked a place without the temptation of booze for us to catch up.

Worst part of being sober: I had a whiff of beer when I was out on the street, where it’s not common to smell beer but also not unusual. The craving hit hard and fast, then disappeared.