#wegetup

19 Nov

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The motto on the back of this year’s survivor t-shirts at the Walk to Bust Cancer a few weeks ago was “#wegetup”.  It’s the motto of a dear friend of mine, who inspires me and so many others with her unfaltering determination and positive attitude throughout her ongoing battle.  When she found out that her breast cancer had metastasized to her brain, she signed off on all her texts, emails and posts with #wegetup.  A reminder to herself and others that we will all get knocked down in life, but we have to get back up.  Many times, that is a very tall order.

#wegetup is the motto of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. When the campaign was launched in 2016, U.S. Figure Skating Association chief marketing officer, Ramsey Baker, said “We all fall, it’s how we get up that matters.”  My brave friend Mary reached out to the USFSA and explained why the motto was so important to her and received permission for us to use it for our local breast cancer walk. It was pretty amazing to look out at the crowd and see so many bright pink shirts proudly worn by survivors, those who had been knocked down but got up to fight, walk, support, and encourage others to do the same.

Throughout my journey of sobriety, I’ve known many people who have fallen/slipped/relapsed or “gone out to do more research”, as we like to say in recovery.  Unfortunately, some of them never made it back in.  But so many pull themselves back up, brush themselves off, throw away the bottles or pour the rest down the sink, and start at day one again.  At step one. Sometimes several times.  Progress not perfection.

I remember asking a close friend early in my sobriety what she would do if I drank again.  She said it would depend on if and how I get back up. I’ve made it almost 6 ½ years now, but that doesn’t mean for one second that I am out of the woods.  I never will be.  I can never take my sobriety for granted, get cocky or complacent, or think that somehow, I have this cunning, baffling and powerful disease beat.  When I hear of people who have been sober for decades slipping, it reinforces my vigilance.

I used to figure skate as a child.  That ice is cold when you fall.  And it’s hard and it hurts.  The longer you stay down, the colder you get and the more it hurts.  Same with drinking.  Add darker to that mix.  A darker, colder, harder, and deadlier spiral down.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for a hand to pull you back up.  #wegetup — but we don’t have to do it alone.

We all get knocked down at some point.  By something or someone.  Everyone has their struggles.  If you are lucky enough to have had a hand reach down and pull you back up, be grateful. If you pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps, be proud.  If you were down for longer than you had hoped, be gentle on yourself.  If you’re still down, ask for help.  Remember the brave warriors who have gone before you who told themselves that #wegetup… and did.

“Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.”  — Anonymous

 

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Selfish?

31 Oct

I must have heard it hundreds of times as my children were growing up.  Someone would see them in the stroller or in my arms and comment on how fast the time goes and how quickly they grow.  They spoke from experience, longingly remembering the days that their own children were small enough to ride in a stroller or be carried. They were right.  The time goes so quickly.  As I help my oldest child with college applications, getting ready to send her off next year, I can’t help think that those days of diapers and bottles were just yesterday.

I’m writing this piece, as I usually do, to share my story with others in the hope of helping someone who is struggling.  But today, I’m also writing this as a reminder and help to myself.  On the days when the intense battle to resist the urge of picking up a drink ramps up, it’s helpful to be reminded of the joys of sobriety. The gift of being present is way up there.  I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories about families torn apart by alcoholism and addiction.  People who are estranged from their children or parents.  Older generations not allowed to spend time with their own grandchildren.  Friends cut off completely by loved ones because of their repeated offenses while drinking or using.  I have had it clearly presented to me exactly what could have happened had I continued down the path I was on.

But today, as I read my daughter’s college essay, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the gift of sobriety.  And for the opportunity to understand what that means to her.  While the first line of her essay might suggest otherwise, my daughter has benefitted from my recovery more than I might have thought.  She begins her essay by saying “My mom is selfish.” Yup.  I am.  My sobriety comes first and foremost, and for that I will not apologize, even to friends and people in my life who don’t understand and criticize me for that.  My daughter goes on to say that she has learned that it is not only okay to put ourselves first, it is essential and actually selfless, in order to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and allow us to help those around us. I had shared with her my analogy of oxygen masks on an airplane.  Parents are always told that they should secure their own masks first so that they can then be able to assist their children with theirs.  My daughter describes how she has come to understand that I had to secure my own sobriety first so that I could assist her (and her brothers) in keeping safe on the airplane, or that crazy roller coaster called life.

She also questions her own role and responsibility in my recovery.  I am also grateful to read that she understands that ultimately no one else can stop me from picking up that first drink.  That’s all me.  Not her. Not anyone. The choice is mine.  And I have to do the work and all that I can to not let that happen.  But those who love me, like she does, can be there to support, encourage and ensure that my oxygen mask is still secured.  To tighten it when it gets too loose.  To remind me to put it back on if I get too cocky or complacent.

Her first choice for school next year is my alma mater.  In a corny act of superstition/hope for good luck/acceptance “rain dance”, I put on my college sweatshirt, torn and tattered from so many years of wear, and we pushed the send button together on the computer and submitted her application. Now we wait.  I have told her that it’s out of our hands.  That she will end up at the best place for her, even if it isn’t her first choice.  I remember well what a stressful time it was for me and I am grateful that I am sober and present to ride through this part of the roller coaster with her. And when the ride gets really bumpy, I’ll make sure my mask is on securely and double-check hers.  I am selfish. And so is she.  And I’m so proud of her.

“It is not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority.  It’s necessary.”  –Mandy Hale

Menace to Sobriety

20 Oct

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Menace to Sobriety

I just wrapped up a huge work event that has consumed my time over the last several months. Between that and coming off the heels of being very sick for over a year, I haven’t written much.  Feels good to start typing.

The work event was the Third Annual Walk to Bust Cancer, which benefits the National Breast Center Foundation, of which I am the Executive Director.  This year’s walk drew over 700 people and far surpassed our fundraising goal of $75,000.  I was incredibly blessed to work with an amazing team of volunteers on this event; most of them breast cancer survivors who just want to give back.   The walk is a giant undertaking, with an inordinate amount of logistics, man-hours, details and, yes, stress.

Being sick for over 14 months, without answers or a diagnosis, also created a great deal of stress. Endless trips to doctors, hospitals, specialists, labs, etc. with no concrete results.  Finally, two different doctors came to the same conclusion: fibromyalgia.  An answer, but one with a great deal of mystery and uncertainty surrounding it.  While much is still unknown about the disorder, and the extremely long amount of time it took to diagnosis it left me beyond frustrated, I am relieved and grateful that the medicine that they put me on to treat it is helping immensely. Interestingly enough, one of the worst things and triggers for fibromyalgia?  Stress.

We all have stress in our lives.  At some times, greater amounts than others.  And some people are better at dealing with stress than others.  There are those who go to yoga and meditate and are able to successfully keep their stress at bay.  Others who work out intensely and release endorphins to combat the pressure, anxiety and tension in their lives.   And many others still who pour that glass of wine or scotch or whatever to take the edge off.  I was one of those.  So what does one do to combat stress when he or she can no longer reach for the numbing effects of alcohol?

2336 days ago, when I accepted and admitted the fact that I was an alcoholic, I made a firm commitment to never reach for that glass of wine again.  Well, not “never”, just one day at a time.  But whether it was to celebrate something or to drown my sorrows, or yes, to battle whatever stress factors were attacking me at the time, I knew that booze could no longer be my go-to. Not unless I wanted to continue the downward spiral and destructive path that my disease had me on.

There will inevitably be periods of stress in our lives.  I mentioned some healthy ways to deal with them: yoga, exercise, meditation. But how do we remember to do those things when we are so stressed out? Or how to we make time for them when time constraints add to our stress in the first place??   It’s so clear to me now that I am sober how awful drinking was for trying to combat stress. While it provided a very temporary reprieve, when I threw caution to the wind and simply enjoyed the buzz, the resulting hangover and usual aftermath almost always somehow increased my stress level.

I often spent the morning trying to piece together what I had done the night before, sometimes having no recollection whatsoever. I missed appointments, commitments or meetings because I was too hungover to keep them.  I often had to lie, either to cover up idiotic, drunken decisions or behavior, or to try to hide how much I was suffering from the effects of my drinking. Many times, I would act extra chipper on those mornings when my head was pounding and I fought the feeling of having to throw up.  I didn’t want my husband, children or work colleagues to know how badly I was hurting. Does lying contribute to stress? I’ll let you answer that.

Fast forward to today. During the long period of feeling like absolute crap this past year, now explained by my fibromyalgia diagnosis, many people commented to me about how amazed they were that I managed to stay so positive and keep a smile on my face (definitely not always, but I tried).  I relished in the miracle that throughout all the anger, frustration, exhaustion, illness and disappointment, I had learned, and I knew, that a drink would not make it the least bit better.  In fact, I finally understood that it would have just the opposite effect.  Because it wouldn’t be just  “a” drink.  It would be many.  Once I open that can of worms, it would be all downhill from there.  All the hard work, out the window.

So I am slowly making my way back to yoga, which helped me immensely when I first got sober almost 6 ½ years ago.  I’m better at listening to my body and taking it easy when I have to.   I have also incorporated a daily meditation practice into my routine, which has made a huge difference in how I handle and manage stress. Frankly, a huge difference in how I handle life in general.  Very grateful to a dear friend who encouraged this and walks the walk beautifully.  I’m gradually getting back to the gym and trying to exercise.  All of which will be huge factors in combating my fibromyalgia.

But my one, consistent fall-back and most powerful weapon against stress is the Serenity Prayer. Is it something I can control or do something about?  If it isn’t, I remind myself to let it go.  To turn it over.  And it never hurts to have that simple, powerful reminder:  breathe.

“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” —Oprah Winfrey

 

 

Life on Life’s Terms

13 Sep

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Today marks 2300 days of sobriety.  Not sure if there is any particular significance to that number, other than it’s 2300 days without picking up a drink.  2300 days of not succumbing to temptations or cravings.  2300 days of learning that life is so much better sober. 2300 days of not choosing numbness over feelings, even if those feelings are painful. 2300 days of not relying on alcohol to provide me with an escape from reality.  2300 days of no hangovers.  2300 days of being present.  2300 days, one day at a time. 2300 days stronger.  Basically, 2300 days of living life on life’s terms.

Please don’t get me wrong –while I can honestly say that life is so much better sober, it does not mean that life is by any means easy or all rainbows and sunshine.  Bad things happen in life, whether we are sober or inebriated.  I used to do a great job of convincing myself that it was easier to deal with difficult times by escaping reality and anesthetizing myself with alcohol.  If I simply ignored the things I didn’t want to deal with, perhaps they would go away.  Funny, that never seemed to work. They would still be there in the morning, along with a miserable hangover and pounding headache.

Yes, life is tough. But what I wish I could convey to people who are still struggling with addiction and alcoholism, still smothered with hopelessness and despair, is that the difference when you get to the other side boils down to one simple thing:  hope. Miraculously, recovery has given me the incredible peace of mind and comfort that somehow, someway, everything will turn out ok.  As. Long. As. I. Don’t. Pick. Up. A. Drink. Or, put another way, as a friend in recovery often says, “Not even if your ass is on fire.”

I’ve been dealing with significant health issues for over 14 months now.   To say that I’ve been frustrated is a huge understatement.  For a person who is used to going full-speed (and then some) to not have the energy or stamina to make it half-way through the day has been brutal.  Being in a constant state of pain and exhaustion has taken its toll, not only on me but on those closest to me I’m sure.  As days of feeling crappy turned into weeks, and then into months and a year, I won’t lie and tell you that I didn’t think about picking up a drink.  I did.  Several times.  But I remembered: not even if my ass is on fire.  2300 days of sobriety has taught me that no matter what, a drink would only make things worse. Much worse.

I’m finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve written many pieces about the trying to find the silver lining in all situations, something that a very dear friend has taught me.  While this whole ordeal has been pretty damn miserable, I have been able to take away a few key lessons.  First and foremost, I have learned to put myself first.  I do that with my sobriety because if I don’t have my sobriety I won’t have anything else.   But physical and emotional health go hand-in-hand with that. I’ve learned to listen to my body and that when I’m exhausted, I need to rest. And that it’s OK to rest.  Without feeling guilty.  For many of us, especially moms, it’s been drilled into us by society that we have to go a million miles an hour, take care of everyone and everything, and be constantly on the move, doing something productive at all times.  We often put ourselves last on our lists, if we even make it on there at all. Self-care is not a luxury.  It is imperative.

I’ve also learned to prioritize and reassess what is truly important.  It shouldn’t take being sick to do this, but it is what it is.  When you have limited energy and capacity, you have to be realistic about what you actually can do and what really needs to be done.  And what can take a backseat.  It’s often probably more than you might think.

I also came to understand that it’s okay to wave the white flag and ask for help.   Since my sobriety is very much at the top of that list of priorities and what is truly important, and sometimes getting to meetings wasn’t an option because I wasn’t feeling well enough to attend, I reached out to friends in recovery and they graciously brought a meeting to me. Or, if my tank was running on fumes, I chose a meeting over doing a load of laundry. Filling up my tank with fuel for staying sober was more important than loading up the washing machine dispenser with Tide.   Clean living over clean laundry?  Sorry, I’m getting carried away…

Self-care is crucial for everyone, not just those in recovery.  Taking care of yourself, in every way that is important, will allow you to live life on life’s terms.  On the good days and the bad days.  On the days when it feels like your ass is on fire.  Be kind to yourself.  Put yourself first on your list.  Aim for more days of rainbows and sunshine and you just might get there.

“An empty lantern provides no light.  Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.”— Unknown

Dream Weaver

9 Aug

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I had a dream last night that I drank a glass of white wine, sitting at a table with friends at some kind of work event.  It seemed to be early in the morning, like a breakfast meeting or something.  Despite the fact that it was a dream (more like a nightmare for me), I could vividly feel the instantaneous remorse, regret, shame and guilt.  In the dream, I asked the people with me not to tell anyone that I drank the wine, and told them that I didn’t want to have to go back and start my count at zero days of sobriety again (as opposed to the 2265 days that I have accumulated since I stopped drinking 6 years and 2 months ago).  It was awful.

People in recovery often talk about having “drunk dreams” or “drinking dreams”.  Some experience them often in their early days of sobriety. Some have them even after decades of not drinking.  I woke up so grateful to realize that it was only a dream, but shaken by it enough to write down some thoughts to share.  The dream was a good reminder of just how cunning, baffling and powerful the disease of alcoholism is.  It’s always ready to pounce. It would be logical to think that most people relapse when things get really difficult in their lives, when tragedy strikes, or when they find themselves in bad shape emotionally, physically, financially or some other way.  But I know people who had gotten sober who simply picked up that drink when all was right in their world.  Just because it was a sunny, nice day outside.  Just because they thought that they could somehow now “control” their drinking.  Or without any forethought, they just poured one and started drinking.  They say in recovery that we pick up that drink in our minds long before the physical act actually occurs.

For those early in their sober journey, they may just not understand it yet.  They may still think that they are able to drink just one beer. Just one glass of wine.  If they are alcoholics, they simply cannot.  They think this time will be different.  That this time they can limit the amount they drink. The true definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Maybe that one particular time, they will only have one drink.  But then there will be the next time.  Once the alcohol primes the pump, fuels the disease, triggers that mental obsession and physical compulsion, it’s off to the races.  And back down to hell.

As we know, the first thing to go out the window when we drink is our judgment.  So after the first drink, our ability to discern the fact that another drink is not a good plan for us will be dwindling, if not gone already.  I have heard countless stories where that idea of just having one drink led down a dark, miserable path of self-destruction and pain.  Even death.

Do I really need to be so dramatic about this and use words like hell and death?  Yes, I do.  Because there are empty chairs in rooms I sit in where people thought that one drink wouldn’t hurt them.  Because I have seen first-hand the path of wreckage and destruction left behind by someone who made that choice to pick up the first drink, again. And because the cunning, baffling, powerful disease from which I suffer has tried to tell me that I, too, can maybe just have one drink now.  That maybe 6 years is long enough and I have somehow (miraculously) garnered the power and mystical ability to control my drinking.  It can tempt me with a dream that has me drink a glass of wine and seem fine.  But even in that dream, my gut told me it was wrong.  We tell our kids to listen to their guts to help them discern right from wrong.  If you get that bad feeling inside, you know you’re not on the right path.  How amazing that even in our dream state, we can get that feeling in our gut. As I said previously, I could vividly feel immediate remorse and regret after I drank the wine in the dream.  And shame.  Enough shame to ask the people around me to keep the fact that I drank a glass of wine a secret.  We are only as sick as our secrets.  Clearly, this alcoholic still has a great deal of work to do.

I’ve been told that these dreams will happen.  Cravings will still come.  Whether you have 6 days, 6 years, or 6 decades of sobriety, you have to always stay vigilant.  Do not let that drink devil that will sit on your shoulder and whisper nonsense in your ear win.  Do not get complacent.  The disease of alcoholism will continue to do pushups every day. Be stronger. Dream bigger. Dream brighter.  I’m on to day 2266 tomorrow—take that, Dream Weaver.

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I conquered my nightmares because of my dreams.”–Jonas Salk

 

 

A Faded Sparkle

7 Jun

 

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1-800-273-8255  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 This morning when I picked up my eyeglasses, I paused for a moment when I saw the Kate Spade name on the frame.  The news of her suicide was shocking.  A tragic death, leaving behind her husband and 13-year-old daughter.  She was a seemingly vibrant, incredibly successful woman in the public eye who clearly suffered privately, battling depression and anxiety.  One of the news reports I saw said that she “self-medicated with alcohol.”  A statement released later by her husband said there was no alcohol or substance abuse.  I don’t know whether alcohol was one of her demons or not, but it is clear that she had some very powerful ones.  I do know that addiction and depression, anxiety and mental illness often go hand-in-hand.

We hear news reports, see posts on social media and read articles about this fashion icon. But the sad fact is that Kate Spade is now another one of the nearly 45,000 people who die by suicide each year in the United States.  Far too many people deal every day with the devastating loss of a loved one to suicide.  Spade’s death is a harsh reminder that suicide does not discriminate against age, race, sex or socio-economic status.

Luckily, there has been an increased focus on suicide prevention in recent days.  The novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, released in 2007, was made into a television series in 2017, bringing to light the issue of teen suicide.  Just last month, 20 local skateboarders (The DC Wheels) skated 45 miles in pouring rain to fundraise for suicide awareness.  And, I’m incredibly proud of my dear childhood friend, Beth Levison, who devoted countless hours over the span of the past several years to produce the award-winning HBO film “32 Pills:  My Sister’s Suicide”.  The movie is about the suicide of a woman named Ruth Litoff and the struggles of her sister, Hope, as she tries to put together the pieces of her sister’s demise from mental illness.  During the process, Hope succumbs to the devastation and loss, and to her own addiction, and picks up again after 16 years of sobriety.  Check it out on Instagram and Facebook at  @32pillsmovie or click here.

I am also grateful to have an amazing friend who survived a horrific suicide attempt.  It was a long road to recovery, and she still works hard every day to battle her mental illness, but she is not just surviving, she is thriving.  She just reached 5 years of sobriety, is an extremely talented artist sharing her creative gifts with the world, and just got engaged and has found happiness and love.  A true beacon of hope for those who have reached the point of utter desperation to see that things can, in fact, get better.  Life is precious and it can be beautiful.

Many people are posting the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on their social media pages (1-800-273-8255).  Share the number.  There is help available.  You don’t have to suffer alone. Reach out to someone who is hurting.  You never know what is going on in someone else’s world. The woman you labeled a bitch this morning at Starbucks may be fighting a battle you cannot imagine.  Be kind to one another.  The 32 Pillsmovie website has an amazing page of information and resources (32 Pills Movie Resources).   Feel free to share other helpful sites in the comments here or on your own pages.  It’s a really tough subject but there is help and hope.   Help someone get their sparkle back.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”– Buddha

 

 

 

Because I Came Into These Rooms

28 May

 

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Because I came into these rooms

-I found people who understand me and my disease
-I found a place where I am not judged, but rather loved unconditionally
-I met an amazing sponsor and friend who is always there for me, and who reminds me that it’s okay to give yourself an ‘atta girl once in a while and recognize and be proud of how far I’ve come
-I met a kind man who takes the time to write a nice comment on almost every piece I write and encourages me to continue to share my story
Because I came into these rooms…
-I made friends who care enough about me to bring a meeting to my house when I am too sick to get to one myself
-I learned how amazing a sober life can be
-I benefitted from the wisdom of those who have been in these rooms before me
-I shared my struggles and got help… from the great guy who listened to my disappointment about not being able to get my book published and connected me with his sister who ended up publishing it (!)  and from gentleman who heard my frustration at all the things that needed to be fixed at my house and showed up at my door to fix them.  He shared something quite simple but very true:  “We’re friends.  That’s what friends do.  They help each other.”
-I learned about being kind to myself and making myself comfortable and bringing what I need to have with me during the times in my life when I’m waiting in the hallway
Because I came into these rooms…
-I learned about turning things over to my Higher Power and that it’s not about being strong enough, but about admitting that I’m weak and I’m human.  I can’t. He can. Let Him.
-I made so many friends who care, who notice if I haven’t been here in a while and reach out.  And who gave me back the gift of laughter, sometimes making me laugh until I cry
-I get donuts.  And pastries.  And hugs.  And, of course, coffee
-I get the support of a group who makes me share when they can tell I’m hurting
-I am strengthened by the people who went out and bravely came back in to these rooms and shared their renewed experience, strength and hope with me
-I am humbled by the newcomers who struggle to say their name and add the word “alcoholic” to it, who still tremble from withdrawal and who, I pray, find the solace and comfort that I found in these rooms as well
-I have the honor to sit beside people who made it through huge personal losses and stayed sober, thanks to the support they got from people in these rooms
Because I came into these rooms…
-I am making  my way through the steps and working the program which has helped save my life
-I learned how to help another alcoholic and sponsor other women, who inspire me to be the best I can be
-I learned the simple sayings that help keep me sober every day:
-one day at a time
-keep it simple
-keep coming back
-do the next right thing
-think it all the way through
-I learned that I can say the serenity prayer over, and over, and over again whenever I need to
-I learned that I can start my day over at any point
-I learned how to speak my truth, and speak it with grace
-I discovered the power of gratitude
-I learned that my sobriety is a gift and that it is a daily reprieve, contingent upon the maintenance of my spiritual condition
-I learned that I can write.  And that sharing my experience, strength and hope can, and does, help others
Because I came into these rooms…
-my life is a thousand times better than it was during the dark days when I was in the throes of my addiction
-I will not pick up a drink today
And because I got all that when I came into these rooms, 2190 days ago, I will keep coming back.
Thanks for all the support and love over these past 6 years.  One day at a time…
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