Welcome to Fantasy Island

12 Mar

 

Do you remember the television show “Fantasy Island?” A white-suit-clad Ricardo Montalban and his trusty sidekick,Tattoo, greeted a planeload of guests at the beginning of each episode. They came to the island to live out their fantasies. I was recently reminded of this show as someone pointed out to me that I may be trying to live in a fantasy world of my own these days.

Let’s face it. The real world is tough. Really tough. Who doesn’t want an escape occasionally? For me, the escape used to come from the bottle. So now that there’s no bottle, what is my escape? Those of us with addictive personalities usually find something to replace whatever it is that we are addicted to. Some people start smoking. Some become exercise fiends. Some turn to Ben and Jerry’s, candy and other sugary treats. Some find vices that are even worse.

But at the end of the day, the real world is still there. We may think the grass is greener somewhere else or in a different situation. But when we are sober and present in our lives, we are able to use the tools we have to make the best of the reality. I’d rather feel the ups and downs than be completely numb.

Drinking was like a mini-vacation to fantasy island. It was an escape from reality but it often ended in a nightmare. Blackouts, massive hangovers, throwing up, bad decisions, etc. Whether we wanted to or not, somehow we were always on the return plane. We woke up. We got over our hangovers with either just time or with the hair of the dog. The real world was always still there when we came back.

One thing that helps me deal with the real world now is the serenity prayer, which I try to remember to use often. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The fact is, in the real world, the majority of things we think we have control over are things we cannot change. Just pause to think about that when you are in a troubling situation. If it isn’t something you can control, turn it over. Let it go. Leave it to your higher power to handle.

For the things we can change, sometimes we do indeed need the courage to take the necessary steps to do so. Change can be very difficult, especially for those who take comfort in the status quo. Taking bold steps to make necessary changes is hard. Being sober is a huge change. It takes strength and courage to put the bottle down and figure out a new way to escape reality when need be. A healthy way. But for now, I’m signing off to have some Cherry Garcia. Stay strong.

“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” – Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

I’m Still Standing

29 Jan

Most of my readers know how much I like to quote song lyrics.  One of my favorite Elton John songs is “I’m Still Standing” and recently, my boys have started singing it around the house because it was featured in the animated movie “Sing.”   It’s a great, upbeat song that says: 

“Don’t you know I’m still standing, better than I ever did. 

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.

 I’m still standing after all this time,

Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.” 

That can mean so many different things to people, for whatever their struggle is.  For me, it’s alcoholism.   Sometimes I need to remind myself that I have been triumphant in my struggle and despite its power over me, I’m still standing strong.  I’ve been picking up the pieces of my life for several years now (actually 1706 days but who’s counting) and although I can’t say it’s without alcohol on my mind, it’s on my mind less frequently than when my journey into sobriety began. 

 I’m still standing after struggling to get through the holidays sober, surrounded by alcohol at a number of parties and events.  I’m still standing after some rough personal trials and tribulations.  I’m still standing after years of battling depression.  During the more difficult times, I rely more heavily on my sponsor and I am truly grateful for her help.  She makes sure I get to my meetings and work my 12-step program.  She makes me check in daily and give her a status report on my emotional sobriety.  Basically, she makes sure I’m still standing.  

 For me, the “still standing” also has a very literal meaning.  My go-to escape throughout my battle with alcoholism and depression has been hiding in my bed, isolating.  While it’s not a great way to handle things in life, it’s definitely better than what my escape used to be – alcohol.  On days when things are rough, I want to just pull the covers over my head and hide, and I often do.  But once again, I’m incredibly grateful to my sponsor and close friends who will pull me out, sometimes literally, sometimes just with a text, and let me know I need to get up and face the world and live my life.  You can’t look like a true survivor buried under your covers.  It’s the opposite of still standing.  I could write a song that says I’m still hiding, but I’m not sure that would go over very well and it certainly isn’t very inspirational.

 Whatever your struggle may be, give yourself a pat on the back for standing strong.  Somedays you may just have to be proud of yourself for getting out of bed.  It’s a good start.  We all have our times when we don’t feel like we have the energy or strength to stand tall.  And it’s okay to hide sometimes, but life goes on around us.  It’s better to participate in your own life, even when times are tough, than let it pass you by.  Stand strong.

 Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”  – Abraham Lincoln

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Time May Change Me, But I Can’t Trace Time

28 Dec

I just saw on Facebook a tribute to the many talented people whom we lost this year – David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Garry Marshall, Florence Henderson, Glenn Frey – and the list goes on. At the end of every year, there is a nostalgic look back at the major events and passings. This year there seems to be an exceptionally large number of them.

The lyrics of David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and others were  beyond brilliant.  Their songs were covered by many and quoted by teenagers filled with the angst and pains of their trying times. “And these children that you spit on as they tried to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through” was a quote I referred to often in high school. Prince’s Purple Rain album also brings back memories of high school as our team colors were purple and white and our soccer team used to sing the song as “Purple Reigns”.

Florence Henderson will always be Mrs. Brady to me. Garry Marshall gave us Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days and other iconic shows we grew up with. Muhammad Ali was, of course, the Greatest and, as I have written before, kissed me on the cheek one summer day nearly 30 years ago.

But yes, time has indeed changed me. I am a completely different person than the one I was just five years ago thanks to my sobriety. I didn’t just stop drinking – I completely changed who I am at the core. In order to get sober and STAY sober, one must get down to the very root of what led to the drinking in the first place. Why the need for an escape? The need to be numbed? Did that teenage angst lead to the bottle? Did the family of origin fall far short of the Brady Bunch and result in not-so happy days?

Glenn Frey crooned in Depserado: “Your prison is walking through this world all alone.” I learned during the last few years of my sobriety how to break out of that prison and that I don’t have to walk alone. I have an incredible support system and for that I am truly blessed. I just received a call last night from a friend in between flights while traveling clear across the country to see if I was doing okay and give me a pep talk to get through the holidays without picking up a drink. He’s on my gratitude list.

George Michael never knew how right he was when he sang “ maybe we should all be praying for time.” It goes quickly. Take the time to enjoy it. To be real. To be present. To be grateful. And may the force be with you.

Dearly beloved we are gathered here together to get through this thing called life.” Prince, Let’s Go Crazy

Happy Holidays!

24 Dec

Like many people, I’ve found myself consumed with holiday activities and preparations and with little time to write. This piece will be brief—I just want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or anything else you may be celebrating.   Thank you for all your support and kind words throughout this year. They really mean a great deal to me.

As tempted as I’ve been to pick up a drink throughout this chaotic season, I can’t. And I won’t. I just spent some time with my youngest child tracking Santa on the computer. Sober. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’ll wake up early tomorrow morning to see the excitement on my kids’ faces and I won’t have a massive hangover. I’ll remember the conversations we have over Christmas Eve dinner tonight. And, I’ll celebrate day 1672 of my sobriety tomorrow as well.

I’ll try to get another piece out soon. Meanwhile, stay warm, safe and strong.

M

Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”- Norman Vincent Peale

God Bless Us, Every One!

26 Nov

I haven’t had much time to write lately and now that the chaos of the holiday season is upon us, I’ll probably have even less time. But once again, I was on a train up to NYC and finally sat still long enough to catch my breath and have some time to reflect. I also haven’t had much time to get to meetings and I can definitely feel it. I start getting squirrely. We’re heading into a very tough time of year for me, and for many alcoholics, and more meetings are crucial to make it through the holidays sober.

 

Thanksgiving has always been tough for me. It was a day of heavy drinking and some memorable meltdowns. I would start drinking pretty early in the day as I prepared the food and set the table.   A walk over to our neighborhood football game was usually good for a few Bloody Marys or Mimosas. Plenty of wine with dinner and the flow continued well after dessert. I still remember the embarrassing drunken episodes. But there will be no more. This was my fifth Thanksgiving sober. I will hit 4 ½ years of sobriety on the 28th. And life is SO much better.

 

I have numerous things for which I am very thankful. Too many to list here but suffice it to say that I thank God every day for my sobriety and for all I have. I think you tend to appreciate what you have much more when you come close to losing it. In the height of my drinking, I was on a path of destruction that could have caused irreparable damage. Many people have asked me at what point did I know that I was an alcoholic and had to get help to stop drinking – when I reached my rock bottom.

 

I am one of the very fortunate alcoholics whose rock bottom doesn’t have a horrific story. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty awful for me and those around me, but not nearly as bad as some of the stories I have heard in the rooms. While many accounts may be similar, everyone has his or her own rock bottom.

 

In a recent meeting, I heard one of the best descriptions of rock bottom I had heard during my sobriety. It’s from the Big Book (of Alcoholics Anonymous) on page 425:

 

“One definition of bottom is the point when the last thing you lost or the next thing you are about to lose is more important to you than booze. The point is different for everyone, and some of us die before we get there.”

 

For me, the next things I was about to lose were more important to me than booze – my family, friends, health, sanity and more. It just took me a long time to realize it. Had I not, things would look very different for me this holiday season, if I was even still here to enjoy it.

 

And, thanks to a wise friend, I’m learning to look forward optimistically rather than back regretfully. The past is the past. I can learn from it but move on and look forward to new Thanksgivings and holidays rather than dwell on the pitfalls of past. It’s a good time of year to take stock of what truly is important to us and not let booze, or anything else, put us at risk for losing it. Whatever your demons are that can take you down, it’s never too late to get help and turn things around.

 

Happy belated Thanksgiving and warm wishes for the holiday season upon us. I hope you can realize and appreciate all your blessings too. Don’t wait until you risk losing them to do that.

 

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The End of the Affair

24 Oct

I had an affair. A tawdry affair that lasted years longer than it should have. It could have destroyed everything. Several people’s lives could have been ruined. Even worse, I carried out my affair out in the open, for all to see. I was seduced at a young age and the romance grew. It took all I had in me to gather the courage to break it off, but my love affair is finally over. The sultry, sexy, stimulating liquid that once gave me a warm glow and made me feel amazing (albeit temporarily) is no longer a part of my life. The break-up was years ago, but I still think about my love affair with alcohol.

There is a story in the Big Book (of Alcoholics Anonymous) that talks about the “mellow glow” that alcohol brings to a young man who first experiments with it (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 209). He describes his introduction to alcohol as follows:   “I gulped it down and choked. I didn’t like it, but I would not say so. A mellow glow stole over me. This wasn’t so bad after all. Sure, I’d have another. The glow increased. Other boys came in. My tongue loosened. Everyone laughed loudly. I was witty. I had no inferiorities….This was the real thing!”

As with many stories in the Big Book, reading this account the other day I could totally relate. I knew exactly the warm glow to which he was referring. The fuzzy feeling that came after the first few sips. The warmth, comfort, escape. But as is the story with many alcoholics, it went downhill from there. He became completely dependent on the feeling that the booze brought him, seeking it out at any cost. It was destroying his life until he was able to get a grip on it and accept the fact that the truth would set him free.

The truth has set me free. The truth is that I am an alcoholic. It was an affair that was destined for disaster. It’s out in the open now and I share my story willingly in hopes of helping others to avoid the pain. Don’t start the affair. If you do and feel it’s gotten out of control – that the affair has taken over your life – break it off. If you need help to do so, get it. It’s out there and available.

Many of you know the story of my affair. You may even relate to it a little too well. The drinks that are fun at first. That help you relax and unwind. That help give you the liquid courage to walk into an otherwise uncomfortable or intimidating social situation. That you can’t wait to pour at the end of a long day. That you seek out first thing at a party.

But do you know the ones that you start to crave earlier and earlier in the day? The ones that you seek to make you feel a little better after a rough night—the hair of the dog? The ones that you don’t just want but must have? The ones that you start to hide because they are becoming too numerous? The ones that temporarily put an end to your hands shaking? These are the ones that often make the affair more insidious and dangerous.

The first step in AA is admitting that your life has become unmanageable and that you are powerless over alcohol. The affair is notorious for this.   After the seduction by the powerful temptress, alcohol takes over your life.   Your thoughts are consumed by where and when you are going to get your next drink. When you will be with your lover again.

For many, the affair with alcohol has destroyed their lives. They kept it up at huge costs. They may have succeeded in keeping it hidden, but most often they can’t. Those close to them usually find out. In my case, many knew. Some expressed their concern and others even tried to talk me out of it.   I’m incredibly blessed that I didn’t have to face a horrific rock bottom.   I came close to losing a great deal but thanks to a tremendous amount of love and support, the break-up occurred before too much damage could be done.

My life is so much better now that the affair has ended. My husband and my family know that I have moved on and I have made my peace. The temptation is still there occasionally, but I am stronger. I am no longer so easily seduced. I know the dangers of the temptress. I know the seductive singing of the Sirens in the form of a deep red bottle of wine…and I can now turn my sails in another direction.

It happened this way: I fell in love and then, because the love was ruining everything I cared about, I had to fall out.”Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story

Red F@%$* Solo Cups

13 Aug

 

There’s something about early evening at the pool. The light is just a certain peaceful way as the sun goes down.   The kids are still holding on to their last remnants of energy for the day, hopefully expending what’s left playing in the pool with friends. But this time of day is also when they come out in full force. The red Solo cups. The adults at the pool are having their end-of-the-day-beginning-of-the evening libations in red plastic cups. Instead of concealing their contents, red Solo cups are like, well, red flags for alcoholic drinks.

I never noticed them before. Probably because I would have had one in my hand too. It’s just a tough time of day. At the beach, it’s just as bad, if not worse. I think about coming home, wiping the sand off and starting the blender. I probably would have already had a few beers down at the beach. I miss that. But as I’ve said before, I don’t miss what came with it – ridiculous, drunken behavior, bad choices and massive hangovers.

It wasn’t always that bad though. There were definitely times when I wasn’t over-served, as they say. When I just had enough to have a happy buzz. I’m sure I was more talkative and outgoing then. When is the line crossed when it becomes too much? I wish I could tell you. For everyone it’s different. For me, I could go from zero to stupid in about 30 minutes. And then that warm fuzzy feeling came and the slurring started. Much more babbling. And everything around me started to look better.

Every time I drank, something bad didn’t necessarily happen. But pretty much every time something bad did happen, I had been drinking. As an alcoholic trying not to pick up a drink again, I can’t look back at the “fun” drinking times and romanticize them. If I’m going to stay sober, I have to remember the times that too many red Solo cups led me down the wrong path.

We’re at a friend’s house at the beach now and I can tell you that I’m trying hard to remember why I don’t drink. I’m surrounded by alcohol as I type, with no one around right now to know if I picked up or not. But I would know. And HP would know. I won’t do it. I am determined to make it to day 1538. So what do I do? I called my sponsor. I prayed for more strength. I removed myself from the situation. I looked out at my boys playing in the pool and reminded myself why I am sober today. Without my sobriety, I wouldn’t notice the beautiful light this time of day. I wouldn’t look out on the water as the boat cut through it and think optimistically about the future.

For those of you who can drink a nice cocktail out of your red Solo cup, cheers and enjoy. I’m going to go make myself a mocktail and look out at the water. Perhaps I’ll try a blue cup…and make up a new song to go with it.

 

 

 

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