I had two days in a row without drinking–Monday and Tuesday–which is a real rarity for me, especially for the past two or three years.  It helps that I had doctors’ appointments and errands to run both days after work, so by the time I got home the seroquel was in effect and I was ready to go to sleep.

I didn’t have night terrors these two nights, but I did wake up Monday to a drunk man screaming at a woman on the sidewalk outside my window about how he’s going to die alone and lonely because she won’t leave her husband for him even though they’re already having sex.  Stay classy, Chicago.

Bursts of inspiration and motivation have been hitting me lately, but I’m unable to follow through with my whims due to a lack of money.  I tried to start an e-commerce business and lost money.  I watched a comprehensive bookkeeping tutorial, and at the end I learned the start-up costs were too high.  I’ve thought about learning how to work the stock market, but I still have credit card debt anyway.

Some other whims I’ve had recently:

  • Buy and renovate a home
  • Buy and renovate a house boat
  • Turn my janky stairwell into a welcoming deck space
  • Actually learn how to use my fairly decent camera
  • Learn latchhooking or macrame
  • Blog about my experience with naltrexone and the Sinclair Method (oh hey)

Tonight I’ll probably end up drinking, but I don’t know how much.  If I’m at home cooking and doing chores, I’ll probably drink a lot.  If I go over to my boyfriend’s place, I’ll probably just have a few glasses of wine.

I look forward to seeing how this week plays out.

Drinking yourself sober?

It’s the idea employed by the Sinclair Method (TSM), and it’s my first real attempt to scale back from alcohol abuse to recreational, situational alcohol use, which is the program’s ultimate goal.

I started on naltrexone a little over two months ago, but without any guidance.  I had a vague inclination to keep a drink log, but it was sporadic and not detailed.  After learning about TSM and deciding (hoping) it could be right for me, I’m now starting to keep a better log and a journal about my experiences.

I take 50 mg of naltrexone every day at least one hour before I expect to start drinking.  Of course I’ve been doing this for two months already, but now with TSM, I’m engaging in what they refer to as “mindful drinking,” or really considering and contemplating each drink I take.  How badly do I want it?  What do I like about it?  Was it as good as I thought it’d be?  These types of thoughts, along with the chemical effects of naltrexone, are supposed to work in tandem to reduce cravings and dull the pleasure receptors that make drinking such a rush.

When I was prescribed naltrexone, I was also given the sleep aid seroquel.  On nights when I’m committed to not drinking, I take seroquel before I leave work so that I’m ready to pass out when I get home.  This does help, but I’ve found lately that seroquel has been giving me vivid nightmares.  I had the same problem with trazadone and gabapentin before.  Many of these nightmares center around me being in my bed, aware that someone is breaking into my apartment, yet I’m paralyzed and blind and can’t do anything about it.  After a few of these terrifying episodes, I’m considering switching meds when I see my psychiatrist next week.

But I’m going to stay on naltrexone and continue to practice mindful drinking, with the end goal of deciding that drinking just isn’t as fun as it used to be.  The process can take six months, and I’m more or less in the beginning of month two.  I will post updates as time goes on, or maybe even start a separate blog for this topic.

Travel blogger privilege

As I prepare for my next big trip, I’ve been reading a lot of travel blogs searching for advice on ways to cut costs.  A common theme that exists across travel blogs is the insistence that anyone can afford it if they just try hard enough, and that’s a really ignorant idea that’s dripping with privilege.

I do agree that most people in the Western world living above the poverty line can budget in a way to make travel a priority if they want to.  I’m a lower-middle-class white woman living in a big city who is able to travel, and yes, there are definitely things I could do to be able to afford to travel more frequently.  My rent would be significantly cheaper if I had roommates or lived in a less desirable area.  I’d save money on food if I brought sack lunches to work more often.  I could opt to have really shitty internet that barely works for about a fifth of the price I currently pay.  I could stop going to rock shows.  The fact that I’m not willing to give up those things impedes my ability to budget for traveling.  That’s a choice I make.

But so many people–all over the world and here at home in the US–don’t even have the option to choose whether they want to budget for traveling or not, because their wages are too low and their expenses too high.  It’s not an option for them to cut back on spending, because they’re already only spending on basic necessities.  Suggesting that they could backpack across Europe if they budgeted a little better is insulting and oblivious to reality.

Traveling is a luxury and a privilege.  Even if you’re living out of a backpack and staying in hostel dorms, it’s a luxury and a privilege.  No, not anyone can do it.  I’m lucky that I’m going to have the chance to go to Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin this fall.  I’m lucky I’m in that position.  I recognize that, and I’m grateful for it.  I don’t take it for granted.

Rape culture

I was sexually assaulted again.  A couple weeks ago.  It was a friend of a friend.  It wasn’t as bad this time.  He didn’t pin me down and try to rape me, like the previous guy did, but he did repeatedly grope me as I tried to sleep–while each time I told him to get away from me–and he eventually put his hand in my pants.  And guess what?

It’s my fault.  Again.

I’m making it up for attention.  Again.

I’m making it up to get revenge on him.  Again.

I must’ve been leading him on.  Again.

I must’ve done something to deserve it.  Again.

If it really happened, I would’ve screamed.  Again.

If it really happened, I would’ve called the police.  Again.

It’s my fault again.  It’s always my fault.

And hey, bonus, here’s a new one: I must’ve fooled around with him willingly, then pretended it wasn’t consensual in the morning so my boyfriend couldn’t get mad at me.

These are the thoughts that people have had about me since I spoke up.  These are the thoughts that people have had about me, because a man believed he was entitled to my body, and I told him no.

Again.

My insensitivity toward abortion

Something I’d like to work on is learning to be more sensitive to women who experience negative feelings when they choose to have an abortion.  It’s something I’ve never really understood.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read the tragic stories of women who had to terminate a pregnancy for health reasons when they wanted and loved their coming child.  I understand that’s a devastating situation, and I feel empathy for those women and their families.  What I’ve never understood, though, is women who know they don’t want to or can’t keep the baby, and for some reason, they still feel sad about having an abortion.

Maybe part of it is because I can’t relate to the idea of a “wanted pregnancy.”  I hate kids and never want to have them or even be in the general vicinity of them.  Abortion, for me, is a no-brainer.  But I’ve never been pregnant, never had an abortion.  Hell, I’ve never even taken a pregnancy test, because even when my period is late, I just don’t care.  If I got pregnant, it would just mean another doctor’s appointment.*

Not all women feel that way, though, and I want to become more sympathetic in that regard.  There’s no right or wrong way to feel about having an abortion, and sadness is a very legitimate feeling, regardless of the circumstances.  I recognize this, so I am going to start working to become more sensitive toward the issue.

 

*Privilege check: I have health insurance and live in a progressive, major metropolitan area.  Many women can’t access abortion or other reproductive services as easily as I can.

South Africa, January 2016

Well, it’s been a bit over a year since my trip to South Africa, and I still haven’t written about it.  It’s time, isn’t it?

Back in fall of 2015, at our mutual birthday party, my sister brought up that she was going to South Africa and was looking for a companion.  Turns out that her South African boyfriend Francois had run out of a US work visa and was back home, and she was planning on visiting him and his family in January 2016.  They said she could bring a guest, and I lucked out, because her best friend couldn’t go.  I was next in line!

I put the whole trip on my credit card, having just been to Greece a few months before.  But nearly $2000 in debt later, I still consider it the best trip of my life!

She got there a few days before I did.  I wanted to give her and Francois some privacy (in his parents’ house…) and also, honestly, I was scared about flying with my only sibling, for my parents’ sake.  I got a flight on Lufthansa, which is the best airline I’ve ever taken.  They gave me so much wine I couldn’t have stood if I wanted to, and when I woke up, I was in Munich with a long layover!  I immediately took the train out to Marienplatz.

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New Town Hall

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Streets of Marienplatz, Munich

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From my research, it sounded like Marienplatz was pretty hipster, or kind of the Logan Square of Munich, so that’s where I went because I figured it’d feel like home.  I got a sandwich and fries and a beer at a local pub.  Then I got back on the eternal flight.

From the airport in Johannesburg, I immediately pulled out onto the freeway in a rental car, from the right side of the car but on the left side of the four-lane freeway.  It was the most terrifying drive of my life.  I’m not sure how I made it to Francois’ family’s house in Eloff, but after many a pot-hole-ridden dirt road, I saw my sister again.  We had a nice evening in Francois’ sister’s hot tub, and we spent the night there.

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Driving on the wrong side

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South African countryside

The next morning I had a long drive out to Hazyview, outside Kruger National Park.  I was staying at a hostel in Hazyview and then going on a safari in the park the next day.  It was a four-hour drive (again, on the left) over winding roads through the mountains of South Africa.  I was cruising and playing glam rock on my phone and enjoying the scenery.  Eventually I got to the town of Nelspruit as it was getting dark, and my phone had just died, so I decided to pull over and look for the charger.

And it was gone.  I was in a grocery store parking lot, digging under the seats anxiously, as people started to move closer and closer, circling my car.  I was an easy target.  I couldn’t stay there, so I kept driving as best I could based on the map I’d printed out.  It took me into the woods, and I ended up in a vacant lot.  By this point it was pitch black, and I was certain I was going to die.  I was about to get murdered in the woods of the South African countryside.  I drove in aimless circles through the woods, crying like a maniac, trying to come up with any idea to save myself.

Then I remembered: I drove past a tiny hospital in Nelspruit.  If I could remember how to get back there, that was my best option for a safe place to find the charger and charge my phone.

Even luckier, though, was that along the way I saw a light in the distance and found a restaurant.  The parking lot was lit up brightly, so I felt safe enough to get out of my car and keep digging for the charger.  And I found it!  But this was Francois’ South African charger, and it turned out it wasn’t very compatible with my American phone.  It zapped about 1% battery life into my phone, and then it wouldn’t charge anymore.  That 1% had to get me directions to my hostel in a hurry.

By some miracle I got there.  The room was full of bugs and geckos, and I was afraid to even pull the sheets down on the bed because I was sure there were snakes in it.  But I got drunk at the hostel bar and got a few hours of sleep before my safari.

The safari was excellent.  I booked a group safari because it was more affordable, but it turned out nobody else was scheduled for that day with my chosen tour company, so it was just me in a giant Jeep with a very sweet and incredibly well-informed guide.  Of the Big Five, I saw all but a leopard, as they’re notoriously elusive.  But elephants, lions, zebras, buffalo, hippos, giraffes, various monkeys, warthogs, rhinos, and more all made an appearance!  Kruger National Park was gorgeous and I hope to go back there someday.

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On a safari

That night after the safari, my mom did the sweetest thing.  Because I’d texted her the day before about all the bugs and geckos at the hostel, she booked me a swanky hotel room nearby.  My parents don’t have tons of money, but for a splurge of $100 USD, she was able to get me a really nice, fancy room.  I was so grateful!  The hotel was surrounded by streams, and signs warned of alligators and hippos coming onto the property.  I had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant ($20 USD for a three-course meal and a bottle of wine), and a hippo emerged in the yard!

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I got back to Francois’ family’s house outside Johannesburg the next evening, and the following morning, we got a flight on Mango Airlines to Durban.

Let’s talk for a minute about domestic travel in South Africa.  You don’t have to take off your shoes.  You can bring liquids of any kind and size.  You can fly without your fucking passport if you have a photo of it on your phone.  So yeah.  This is in stark contrast from the time I flew from Greece to Canada to the US, and had to go through an extra security checkpoint in Canada just because I was flying to the States.  Okay.

From Durban, Francois took us to his family friend’s cute little hut near the beach in Hibberdene.

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Passed out on the way to Hibberdene

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We spent the next four days swimming in the ocean, feeding the ducks and other birds, eating veggie pot pies, and drinking from the time we woke up until we went to bed.  I wish I could provide more info than that, but we stayed consistently drunk and in the sun.  It was one of the best times in my life.

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Beach community

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Bridge to the ocean

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My bedroom in the loft of the round hut

On our last day, Francois took us back to Durban, where we went to the combination aquarium/water park, Ushaka Marine World.  It was my first time at a water park in years, and on top of that, you could drink!  We spent the day shotgunning beers between water slides, and then we toured the aquarium.

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We finished off with dinner and drinks on the pier, and the next morning we flew back to Johannesburg.  Then it was back to the US for Laura and me.

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This time we flew together, and again, I was scared for my parents because no one should ever have their only children on the same flight together.  Then again, maybe most people aren’t as terrified of flying as I am.  I have to say, it was nice to have a travel companion for the 21-hour flight.

Needless to say I drank a lot, and Laura imbibed quite a bit herself.  We had a short layover in Frankfurt, where I accidentally left the book Colin had bought me for Christmas.  If anyone has a copy of The Plague, I need to read the last couple depressing chapters.

All in all, my trip to South Africa was amazing.  It was all fun, but my time in Hibberdene by the beach was best of all.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Endless thanks to Francois and his family for their hospitality and welcoming.  I hope to visit again someday.

Next up: Amsterdam and Berlin with my work-friend Julia!

Was the relationship abusive or just bad?

Recently I was put in a position to explain what delineates an abusive relationship from a regular ol’ bad one.  Unfortunately, I can speak from personal experience.

In 2013, I left a bad relationship in California to come back home and pursue one that, obviously unbeknownst to me at the time, would become an abusive one very quickly.  I left my ex, Ken*–who I had a bad, but not abusive relationship with–after 4.5 years, to try to rekindle things with my (unofficial) ex Kevin–who became abusive very quickly.

Kevin was abusive financially, emotionally, and sexually.  He purposely stole from me on a regular basis, he lived off me completely and refused to move out when I told him he had to, he insulted me and set unreasonable benchmarks, he essentially tried to turn me into his estranged wife, he beat me unbelievably hard during sex, and he even forced me down and brazenly attempted to rape me once.  These things constitute abuse.

For those reasons–so many months later, after learning I’m not his only victim–he is currently facing criminal charges.  I wish I had pressed charges sooner, but it’s hard when you’re dealing with a sociopath.  Sociopaths are pure evil, but they’re very convincing, especially when they’re extremely charismatic and also classically handsome.  For well over a year, he managed to pathologically lie to me and convince me that anything wrong was all a mistake.

My other ex Ken*, though, is not a sociopath and is not evil.  We had a bad relationship, after the first couple years went by.  It was unhealthy, punctuated by cheating and lying.  But it was not an abusive relationship.  While he and I both individually did things that could classify as abuse when viewed through a lens, it was not an abusive relationship on the whole.  It boils down to two people hurting each other a lot but also loving each other (platonically), and being too afraid to let go.  I made the move to let go, eventually.  I’m sure that hurt him immensely, and that alone makes me sad.

To this day, any time I’m at a Chicago airport, I still cry.  He travels constantly for business, and Chicago is a layover city.  I cry just knowing he could be there.  A part of me misses him, as a family member.  Not at all as a boyfriend.  I do love him.  Just not in the way he needed.

So if you want to know what separates a bad relationship from an abusive one, I can tell you.  One is full of love and hope, and then eventual disengagement.  The other is full of sadness, resentment, and even violent assault.

There you go.  One ends in letting love go.  The other ends in pure, unbridled hatred.

*Name has been changed but you can also see below.