A Sunday Morning Blog

Week 44: Acceptance, Part 2

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On Saturday mornings, when I was living in Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer, I often sipped tea from the stoop of my hut made of thatch and brick and dreamed about the life I would have when I returned to the States. It involved long runs on the weekends, a job that allowed me to write but didn’t take over my life, living in a city with a population greater than that of South Dakota’s, nights with friends in trendy locals sipping craft beer, a young man that made me smile uncontrollably, and the occasional jaunt across the ocean.

Two years later, in the summer of 2015, the fantasy life I concocted came pretty close to fruition. My friend K and I had recently returned from two weeks in New Zealand, I was training for the Chicago Marathon, working at Peace Corps’ recruitment office in Chicago, drinking pint after pint of Zombie Dust and Anti-Hero, and I had just started dating E. It was everything I had wanted.

A piece of me hoped that I could recreate that summer when I registered for the 2017 Chicago Marathon. Something had been off in 2016; I felt unsure in many of my friendships, I questioned my professional ambitions and strongly considered a career switch, and I scolded myself each time I drank more than just one beer. I tried to refocus on that dream life I had in Lesotho, and the only thing I could clearly grasp was running. In those daydreams, I was running ultra marathons through the mountains, running every Saturday morning with a treasured running group, and crossing off a different race each Spring and Fall. Despite lingering knee issues and a new, shaper pain in my right hip, I signed up for the marathon as an attempt to recenter myself.  I hadn’t been running much at the time, mostly focused on finishing the second draft of my fiction novel, but I figured that I would do as much writing as I could and then ease back and let running become more of a focus.

The pain in my right hip worsened. After an eight-mile run on a scary-warm day in February, I couldn’t get up from a seated position without wincing in pain. My primary care physician referred me to a sports medicine doctor, who put me on a four-prong path to recovery. Along the way, I kept asking her if it was possible for me to run the October marathon, and she seemed optimistic. If we could get an answer by late May or early June, I told myself, I’d be able to pick up a training plan and run through the summer to get to the start line in the fall.

Physical therapy helped for a couple of weeks, until the pain came right back like nothing had changed. The next step was an MRI, which revealed a hip impingement and labral tear. “So, I should just give up my goal of running the marathon?” I asked my doctor. She shook her head and said not necessarily. Runners must be awful patients, because most doctors I’ve seen are hesitant to give me an definitive yes or no, as if they are worried I’d lash out them if they didn’t give me the answer I wanted. My doctor prescribed a cortisone shot and said that, while it wouldn’t fix the tear, it could ease the pain enough for me to train and run the marathon. And, that became my plan: shoot my hip full of steroids, obtain my finisher’s medal, and then consider surgery to fix the tear.

At this point, it was spring. I had run some, but not a ton. I was consumed with finishing the draft of my book. I woke up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and worked for at least an hour. Instead of running on Saturdays, I sat at my kitchen table and typed fast enough to beat out all the doubt in my head.

The cortisone shot didn’t relieve the pain but added to it. The night I got the shot, I had to lean on E as we walked a few blocks to a restaurant. The steroids were not going to ease the pain and the only way to truly fix my hip would to be have surgery. Two weeks later, I scheduled the surgery for October, three days before the Chicago Marathon.

Waves of acceptance have hit me over the last few months. The first was recognizing that I wasn’t in the physical shape to train for a marathon, and not just because of a bum hip. My knee pain has mostly vanished, but I have not put in the miles to build an acceptable and safe base on which to begin training. By June, when I got the cortisone shot, I wasn’t even up to 20 miles a week, and that was partly because of the hip pain but also because I was spending a good deal of time writing. I could do greater harm to my body by trying to force into marathon mode, so I resigned to letting it heal.

The second lesson in acceptance came when I let go of my dream of running marathons and ultra marathons and filling my free time with running. It’s not a goal I have to completely abandon, but for now it’s not possible. There is a high chance I could return to running post surgery, but my marathon days may be over. I can’t know until after the procedure and I’ve started to run again, so I won’t worry about it now.

This week, I accepted something bigger, something I didn’t think I could fully admit to myself or to the handful of people who read this blog: I don’t want run a marathon. I love running and it brings me absolute joy, but right now I have got to put my writing and healing my hip first. I will carry regret in the pit of my stomach for the rest of my life if I don’t try to put my writing in the world. And, because I have a full-time job, a social life, and volunteer with two non-profits, I don’t have the energy and time for a marathon. It’s taken me a long time to say this, but that’s OK.

When I was in middle school, I went out for the cross country team because most people thought running was too hard, and I loved that I was the only female in my grade to run four years of high school cross country. I wanted to be the person that could do things others couldn’t. I chose to run the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon over the half because I didn’t want to be consider as someone who choses the easiest option (half marathons, by the way, are not at all easy). Marathons are grueling and they aren’t for everyone, and I wanted to be a marathoner because I wanted to prove to other people and myself that I am different from the masses.

On a running podcast, I heard woman say that she only runs to get something out of it, that she is at a point in her life where running needs to give her more than she gives it. That’s how I feel, too. I do run now, with the approval from both my sports medicine doctor and surgeon, but only three or four miles a couple times of week. I monitor my pain, and when it hurts, I don’t go. A big goal of mine this year was to be able to call myself a writer. I write every day, therefore, I am a writer. No other qualifiers matter. The same goes with running. I don’t need to be marathoner (and technically, I am because I have run marathons) to be a runner. I do run, so I am runner. Again, no other qualifiers matter.

As the wonderful Cheryl Strayed says, dreams change and we hurt ourselves by chasing ambitions we no longer have for the sole reason that they once they met something to us. I wanted to spend my weekends running 20 miles and drinking beer, and I do neither now. I have other goals, and maybe less defined as the detailed dream life, but I owe it to myself to move in that direction. Doing so means letting go of other things, but it also means the possibility of discovering opportunities I didn’t know to exist before.

I am not running the 2017 Chicago Marathon, I’ve accepted that, and even though I had to turn a corner, there is still wonder to this path. I don’t know what it is, but I believe it is coming.

Week 42: Restricting

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When I was in was in high school, I regulated myself to one Zesto visit a month. Zesto is an ice cream shop in my hometown that serves magnificent concoctions of candy, syrup, fruit and ice cream and offers a new flavor of homemade sherbet daily. One goes there to celebrate a birthday, after a softball game, to cap off a day at the beach.  I set my my monthly limit for a couple of reasons: too much ice cream makes you fat, I didn’t deserve ice cream but once a month, and to see if I could do it. This is good for me, I told myself, as I watched friends eat from plastic ups of peaches, caramel and vanilla ice cream while I sipped water. Yes, I did want ice cream, but I also like the satisfaction of restricting myself, knowing that I was in control.

Since then, I’ve gone on dozens of “challenges,” in which I remove something from my life for an insignificant amount of time. I’ve given up shopping, TV, gluten, Facebook, eating animal products, chocolate – anything that seems to extravagant. My nearly 10-year status as a vegetarian began as a year-long test that I just kept doing.

A friend and I were talking on the phone the other day, and I mentioned to her that I am currently on a vegan diet. I didn’t tell her, because I was a bit embarrassed, that I am actually also not eating gluten or sugar, and I recently gave up coffee. She linked the diet (or maybe I did) to my sobriety and said that I holding on to my power to control what I can. I told her that I might start drinking in a few months when the sober project is up. She said that it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t, what matters is where my head is and what my intentions are. That conversation stayed with me for a few days, because I hadn’t thought about my sobriety as being another challenge, although it very much is.

I like restricting, removing things from my daily life for no other reason than to prove that I can. I like being in control and having control, so when I  say, “Well, I haven’t had sugar in two weeks,” it doesn’t matter that I am miserable and constantly thinking about sticking my face in a vanilla shake. I have proven to myself, and others, that I have impeccable control. I often don’t care if my limiting is unhealthy or crazy, because withholding gives me a balance that I am not finding in my normal life.

When I feel stuck or unsure of myself, I start restricting. I throw out things because I can, because I want to show myself I do have good self-control, which is a reassuring quality to me. I am constantly terrified of being a gluttonous, lazy person, but I can calm my anxiety by reminding myself that I am currently not eating eggs, cheese, meat, wheat or sugar and not drinking alcohol or coffee. My confidence isn’t totally reclaimed, but it gives me a sense of obtainable perfection, which is something I know not to exist and yet I chase it every day. Restricting feels sort of like an addiction, it gives me a high I can’t find elsewhere.

My friend is right; at some point  I am going to have to look below the exterior of control and deal with what’s underneath. But I am not there yet. I can’t control when people text me back (seriously struggling with this lately) or if what I put into the world is not liked or well received, but when I give things up, I feel in charge and that gives me enough to get through.

 

Week 41: Urges

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Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who have quit smoking. Many of them started young, as teenagers, and realized decades later that they couldn’t continue with the habit. They told me that they tried to quit once or twice before, but they’d get stress at work or something would happen in their life and they lit up. Once they quit for good, though, they had to arm themselves with tools to handle those cravings. Chocolate, gum, guzzling water – anything that helps them get through the next five minutes until the craving is gone.

As I’ve listened to their stories, I feel my head nod along. It’s a different habit, but since I’ve quit drinking I’ve had to learn how to ride a craving. In that moment, an urge can feel like someone is standing on your shoulders and all you think about is the thing you aren’t supposed to do. However, you also know that if you can just hold on, keep your grip firm, the craving will wash away.

Although I’ve been sober for nine months now (woah, I didn’t realize that until now), the urge to drink still comes at me – maybe less often than in the first month or so, but the familiar feeling arises at a constant pace. Just this past weekend, I went to a friend’s art show and free wine (my favorite kind) was being offered. I was very careful not to look at it, but I could smell it as others near me sipped from plastic cups. Drinking with friends at art shows is part of the reason I moved to a vibrant city like Chicago, and it felt silly to keep filling my glass with water from a plastic jug. I wanted wine if for no other reason than it was a good environment for one.

Other times, the urge to drink comes because I’m anxious or scared and I know drinking will make it better in the short term.

Sobriety has been difficult, and there have times I’ve tried to rationalize one drink. “Now one will care,” I think as I eye a bottle. But, no matter how pulverizing that craving is, I can last it. I drink lots and lots of water. I promise to reward myself with ice cream later. I pick at my nails or get up to use the bathroom. I look at E and say, “I want a drink.” I tell myself, that when I wake up without a headache tomorrow, I will go for a run and then have a big breakfast. I start talking to the person next to me. I reach for a handful of a tortilla chips. I drink ice tea. I think about how I will have to blog about it and how embarrassing that would be. I do whatever I can to get through the moment, because it’s only a moment and eventually the craving does go away.  No matter how much I wanted a drink a minute earlier, I am happier that I didn’t give in.

Even this far into my sobriety, those cravings can feel crushing but I know that I am stronger. I’ve beaten every single one of them in the last nine months, sometimes easily and others barely, but I’ve won.

Week 40: Feathers

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The last time I wrote to you all, I said I missed posting a week because my computer broke and I was busy entertaining visitors. Would you believe me if I told you the exact same thing happened again?

Well, it did.

Two weeks after I paid Apple more than half my rent to fix a few things on my computer, it had the exact same problems and I returned to the store. Good news is that I didn’t have to pay again, but the bad news is that they replaced my hard drive and I lost piles and piles of writing.* When the Apple clerk delivered the news, a four-letter word not safe for children’s ears boomed from my mouth. “Yeah, that’s the appropriate reaction,” he said.

I rode my bike to work, and on the way home from the Apple Store, I cut across Lincoln Park to hop on to the Lake Shore Path. While in my head trying to recount what I had lost and how I would recover it, I turned to my right. What I saw is the picture above this post. The evening breeze hit my face and reminded me to breathe.

My computer crash is another bead in a string of recent bad news, and losing a bunch of writing is actually the best of it. Over the last few weeks, I have thought about drinking, how I could just have a couple and forget for a second that something didn’t go my way. I could justify it, I know, and maybe try sobriety another time. But then the urge vanished and I was looking at the problem in front of me. I can either let frustration, disappointment, and unfairness consume me, or I can accept it and start working through the matter.

Sobriety, and personal growth, have given me a clarity I hadn’t had before. Typically, in situations like my computer, I wouldn’t initially be upset, but the more I’d think about it—ruminating how others may react to it, what’s at stake, calculating what kind of sympathy (attention) I could garner—I worked myself into a panic. I saw myself as a victim of life’s everyday ups and downs, and the only solution I could come up with was becoming perfect enough where nothing bad ever happens to me.

When I don’t reach fit level 10, I notice how I am really feeling. Staring up at the skyline and biking through the park, I realized that it’s just writing. My writing has become such a source of stress and panic lately that I have really enjoyed the times when my computer was broken, meaning I didn’t have to write because I read somewhere in a book I am supposed to write every day.

Back at home, locking up my bike, I thought about my empty computer and all the words I wrote that are somewhere in an electronic disposal bin. In my bag, as I shuffled for my keys, I found two feathers. My mom and I had collected them on the beach two days ago. I have this image of her, so sweetly watching this feather and bending down to pick it up. She missed it as the waves knocked it back and forth, but I was able to get it for her. She told me that feathers mean someone from above is looking down on you. I love this memory of my mom, and I hope it stays with me for years and years. I also love that this is what I thought about when I ended my day, not my dead hard drive or anything else stressing me out.

That image makes me believe in how all the pluses and minuses of life work together to teach us things, to bring us together. Matching the littlest joys to great devastations, I can see what matters most. I will take a split second image of my mother on the beach and two feathers or pages and pages of writing any day.

*Thankfully, a few weeks ago I got a whim to send a PDF copy of the fiction book I wrote to a friend. That PDF is still in email and so I at least have that. 

Week 38: Normal in sobriety

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I know, I know – I missed Week 37. I had intentions of writing a post for Sunday but then my computer broke and I had an apartment full of guests. The time to write a post just didn’t come, and I knew it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t get to it, so another week lapsed. I am calling it a lesson in “letting go of perfection.”

Anyway.

All of my drinking life people have said, “I love Drunk Heather. She is soooo much fun.” I’m not a mean drunk or a real a sloppy one. I’ve done silly things, but mostly for laughs and stories that are told over decades.  I was scared that when I stopped drinking, I would lose the side of me that others seemed to like so much.

Drinking has always been a great way for me to make friends. After a few cocktails, my whole personality sparkles. I’m funny, witty, interesting. I often think people don’t see the real side of me until there is a beer or two in my system. They so often seem surprised by how much fun I can be (and, usually, how much I can drink).

This week, I attended networking events that included drinking. Several times, someone offered to get me a drink from the bar. I was tempted to say yes, more than once.  It wouldn’t hurt anything, I rationalized, and it would help me slip into charming Heather. I wanted to win people over and she was good at doing that. Or, if I wasn’t going to take that drink, I could at least explain why, going into the story of my sobriety and then tempering the mood with some crazy drunk stories from the past.

I didn’t do either, though. Instead, I said no thank you and returned to my conversations.

This probably won’t surprise you, but the cool Heather appeared even without the coxing of wine. I told stories, I laughed at others’ jokes, I connected over silly interests. All of the things I liked about myself when I am two beers in came out, and I didn’t have a drop.

I’ve been treating my sobriety like it’s a “big thing,” and calling attention to it as some kind of way to justify why I don’t have a drink in my hand. This time, though, I never once said, “Oh, I don’t drink” or “I am taking some time away from alcohol.” I simply didn’t drink and never explained why, much like I didn’t feel the need to justify why I don’t eat meat or wore an orange sweater one day.  I looked beyond the need for alcohol  and decided to take the moment for what it was. I introduced myself to new people and tried to connect with those that I didn’t know as well. Sure, I said some dumb things and maybe didn’t come off exactly how I wanted, but all of me was there. Once I normalized my sobriety, I could be normal in sobriety.

In many social situations, I control what I allow people to see, and by hiding my flaws I also lock away the glowing pieces. Alcohol was the key that undid those chains, but I’ve come to learn that I don’t always to wear them.  What I saw this week, which I hadn’t been able to before, was that it wasn’t the alcohol that convinced people to like me, it was me.

 

Quick fun fact: I have officially lived in Chicago three years! This is the longest I have lived somewhere since graduating college. Chicago, I am more in love with you than I ever thought possible.

Week 36: Black

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A friend and I went to a concert in Millennium Park Friday, a must-do on the list of Chicago activities in the summer. You are allowed to bring food and drink into the pavilion for concerts and movies, and nearly every time I’ve gone I have had some type of alcoholic drink. Not this week. My friend and I munched on snacks and conversed more than we listened to the music.

On our way to the train, I ran into a former co-worker on the street and we talked for a few moments. She told me the office’s staff retreat is coming up soon and that I should stop by.

This morning, as I was thinking about my day and week, I had a brief remembrance of that interaction with my co-worker on the street, but the memory was fuzzy, as if it didn’t happened. Had it been a dream, I thought? Or, more likely, I was drunk and don’t really remember?

But, I wasn’t drunk.

There are chunks of alcohol-induced nights that I don’t remember. Sometimes it’s the car ride home, but most often it’s text messages I sent or food I snuck when no one was looking. Fortunately, I’ve never brought any real harm to myself or anyone else in these moments of black, but it’s unnerving to think there are snippets of my memory cut out.

One of the added benefits of sobriety, I assumed seven months ago, was that I would be able to see the previous night clearly.  I would know what stupid thing I said or if I did eat that extra cookie or if I really ended up crying over that one thing. I’d have full control over my mind and know exactly what I did.

But, like a lot of my assumptions for sobriety, that didn’t really happen.

Like the memory of seeing my co-worker on the street, many times I have thought back to a night and tried to remember a conversation or an event and the details are hazy. It takes a few moments for me to realize I wasn’t drunk then, but rather my memory is a bit faulty.

This realization makes me a laugh a bit. I had often thought the reason I don’t have clear visions of the past was because I was too drunk, and while that probably doesn’t help, it’s a bit reassuring that they are also sober memories I can’t easily recall either. Maybe I wasn’t drinking has much as I had thought.

Last summer, I went back home to clean out my childhood room and was sorting through some pictures from high school. As I looked at myself posing with classmates outside of math class or at band camp (don’t start), I realized that maybe I wasn’t as friendless and fat as I seem to recall myself being in high school. Maybe more people liked me than I thought.

It’s funny how in hindsight we, or just me, tends to look only at the bad. I see myself far worse than I probably was, and the same goes for my drinking self. Sobriety has been a tremendous learning experience and there were parts of my relationship with alcohol that were likely unhealthy, but maybe I wasn’t as out of control as I thought I was. When I noticed that I don’t always remember my nights so clearly in sobriety, I start to understand how I used alcohol with less shame and guilt. I give myself more of a break and that fees like progress.

Week 35: The Asterisk

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There has always been an asterisk attached to my year of sobriety – 365 days of without alcohol, except for my spring vacation to Europe. The plan from the very beginning was to swear off booze for a full year, but allow myself to have a glass of wine in Italy and a beer in Ireland. It was a reasonable compromise: do the hard work of staying sober through happy hours, holiday parties, and relaxing Friday nights, but sip smooth red wine with pounds of pasta and tip back a Guinness to my ancestors.

About a month before my vacation, I hit a stride with my sobriety. For the longest time, I had leaned on the vanity benefits of being sober – weight loss, saving money, chipper mornings – to push me forward, counting down the days until my self-imposed restrictions were removed.

With therapy, self-help books, and internal perspective, I started to pay attention to my cravings and noticed when the urge for a drink was the strongest. Sure, I wanted a cold beer on a patio during the first nice warm day of spring, but more often than not I wanted to guzzle alcohol when I was feeling anxious or stressed, like when attending a storytelling event and feeling completely inadequate to everyone else in the room or after a stressful day at work and rethinking through each email exchange. Most of the time, I wanted to drink when uncomfortable and jittery emotions buzzed under my skin so fast and furious that I thought they would consume me. Alcohol could calm them, and I knew this to be true because it had for years and years. Being sober though, I had to bite my lip and face my guilt, shame and loneliness without alcohol’s numbing powers.

I haven’t quite established healthy patterns in the lieu of alcohol, eating endless handfuls of whatever snack food is closest or picking at my nails until there is nothing left, but I do recognize those feelings as they a rise, and that’s a start. I know there is more work to do in how I process these difficult feelings, and so I was quite nervous about the temporary break from sobriety and allowing myself to drink. I had even brought it up to a few friends during Sunday brunch a couple weeks before, wondering out loud if I could be trusted not to over correct after months of ordering water and sugary sodas. I debated staying sober throughout the vacation, as not to abate the progress I had already made, but I also really wanted that frothy beer in a dingy European pub. I put off making a true decision until I had to make the choice: wine or water.

The reason for our vacation was to attend the wedding of a dear friend from Peace Corps Lesotho, who met her now husband, a Belgian, while we were vacationing in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, one New Year’s holiday. It’s a really charming story which lead to a charming courtship and a charming wedding. E and I decided to turn the wedding into a 10-day vacation, adding stops to Scotland and Ireland.

The first time I thought about taking a drink was in the Chicago airport. I was officially on vacation time, having left work an hour early and switching my responsibility button off. I love airports, and I especially love airport beers. I know that they are a bajillion dollars, but when you are in transit nothing matters. It’s no longer real life, and while you are traveling from point A to B you can engage in behavior that you wouldn’t normally. Read a trashy magazine. Eat fried cheese. There are no rules in the middle. I decided against the airport beer, still unsure if I wanted to drink at all while on holiday. I also turned down the stewardess with the bar cart, know that a glass of wine and a sleeping pill could help me slumber on top of the lumpy airplane chairs. If I was going drink, though, it needed to be in more significant place.

My true test of whether or not I would drink came once we got to the Italian village where the wedding would be. The couple was hosting a welcome social hour for wedding attendees – all coming from somewhere else – and I knew that a drink would be offered. As E, my friend K and I got ready, nerves rattled in my stomach. I wanted to have a glass of wine like a normal person, but I wasn’t entirely sure if that was possible, not at this point in my sobriety project. I told E that I was undecided about drinking and asked if he would make sure I drank water and had no more than two drinks. “I am not going to count your drinks,” he said, “but I will make sure that you don’t get out of hand.”

My hands were shaking when we walked up to the outdoor seating of the bar. I knew that I wouldn’t know most people at this event, or any other throughout the weekend. I like meeting new people, but only after I’ve had two or three beers. With a drink in my hand, to sip it when the mood gets too awkward, I let the alcohol hush down voices who are convinced this person thinks I’m boring. Under a dizzy buzz, I can make friends with anyone and it’s become my crutch in most situations, gulping at least two glasses of whatever in the first hour. That’s how I summon fun, charming Heather, and the night sails on with laughter and insightful conversation. I’ve haven’t found a channel to that uninhibited version of myself without alcohol, and being in this place with these people I knew there were would be the temptation to throw back a few long-stemmed glasses to get to her, for the sake of me and everyone else there. But, I didn’t want to drink that much because, again, I know that it rarely stops there.

As soon as I gave the bride a hug and sat down next to her friends from North Carolina, the waitress approached us. “Would you like a glass of prosecco or a beer?” E asked for water, while K added that she’d have the wine. I took a deep breath. I knew what I wanted. “Prosecco please.”

We met their families, asked basic details (where are you from, what do you do, how did you get here) of the other wedding guests and then welcomed another Peace Corps friend who had flown over for the occasion. I sipped my glass slowly, watching K’s drink and forcing myself to match hers as to not go too fast. When it was empty, I stared at it, sometimes not listening to the conversation around me, thinking about what I do next. I wanted another, and maybe another, but the sun hadn’t even gone down yet.  I waived the waitress away once before I eventually ordered a second glass, making it last as long as I could so as not to be talked into a third.

Once the party died down, a group of us went to dinner at a small restaurant off the main path. There was no question that wine would be ordered, and I didn’t stop the waitress when she pulled my glass to her body and filled up. A second bottle came around and I enjoyed that one as well. After a delicious meal of pasta, we went to a bar with ship wheels for tables and ordered musty beers that came in thick clay steins. With a mid-range buzz, I fell asleep easy that night.

The next morning, I felt guilty about how much I had drank. It was way more than the plan, and with the wedding still ahead of us, I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t push my limit further. I asked E if he was upset with me about how much I had drank, four glasses in total. “Why would I be mad at you? You did nothing wrong. You weren’t obnoxiously drunk and you didn’t do anything dumb. You were having fun with your friends. There is nothing bad about that.”

Again, I debated about not drinking at the wedding, but I was less nervous this time. I didn’t refrain, drinking two glasses of prosecco during the reception, wine with dinner and a couple of beers on the dance floor. The drinks were well spaced with time and water, and by the end of the night, at 4 a.m., I was fairly sober. I drank more than two drinks, but it certainly could have been more, especially since there were constant Italian men at my shoulder with fresh bottles of white wine.

I had come out of the wedding weekend having dipped my toes back into drinking, but never overdoing it. I enjoyed, yes, but I also managed my liquor in a way that seemed unusual for my typical drinking habits, or at least what I make of them now.

For the rest of our trip, I ordered a beer when I wanted one, in Irish and Scottish pubs over small stacks of chips. I didn’t deny myself, but I also never leaned on excess. I could have one or two, and then walk away.

There were times I didn’t order a drink, even though the permission slip had been handed out. I didn’t want to drink just because I could. If I was going to order an alcoholic beverage, and pay for it, I made sure there was a real want. A few times, even after I made the intention of ordering a drink at dinner, I sipped sparkling water throughout the meal instead, and then convinced E to find the nearest ice cream shop.

As the trip came to an end, I wondered about stopping this project. There is a long summer ahead of weddings and dinners on patios. I could say that I gave sobriety a try, and start a new healthier relationship with alcohol. I had proven to myself that I can stop at one or two drinks, and so why not sip the ales of the season and return to happy hours with friends?

I’m not going to do that, though. I am resuming my year of sobriety, after the asterisk, following the plan I had made seven months ago. There is still more for me to learn about myself in this sober state, and I want to stick it out. I can’t say for sure what will come out of these 12 months, but I don’t need those answers yet. The journey is still continuing.

It’s only been a week since we’ve got home, and I haven’t had too many temptations for alcohol. As E and I enjoyed dinner al fresco last night, I did want a drink but the urge didn’t haunt me more than a few moments. I thought that maybe, after the trip in Europe, it would be harder to pass up booze and there will be plenty of times this summer when the temptation will be great (including two more Peace Corps weddings). But, I also know that I do like the sober version of myself. That, even though the glass of wine in Italy and beer in Ireland was delicious, I am still comfortable ordering just water. I can be around others and pass up drinking, I know how to do that now. What I learned from our trip is that I feel better about myself when I am not drinking. I don’t always need it to be me, and no craft beer or 40-year-old wine tastes that good.