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.

 

 

 

Finding (and Using) My Voice

28 Jul

Chicken: noun meaning “coward”. When I drank, I did a really good job keeping everything inside and swallowing my feelings with each gulp of alcohol.   The more things that piled up inside, the more difficult it was for me to use my voice. I never wanted to rock the boat and I hated confrontation. I still do. When I got sober, part of what I needed to work on was finding my voice again and using it.

We are all born with a voice or some means of expressing ourselves.   As children, we were fully capable of asking for what we needed and conveying our feelings. Sometimes they came across in the form of crying or screaming or stomping our feet. I want an Oompa Loompa NOW daddy! We didn’t take into account how these outbursts would be received. We didn’t care if they hurt someone else’s feelings. That was a foreign concept to us then.

As we grew, we started to learn that our words and deeds affected those around us. There were repercussions to our tantrums. We began to realize that our words had the power of making other people feel good, or bad. We even learned that sometimes our words carried the ability to come back and haunt us. Once we opened our mouths and spoke the words, we couldn’t rein them back in.   Today with social media this is even more true. I try to tell my kids that once they put something “out there” it’s out there for good.

The good thing about constantly working on my sobriety is that I can see when I start slipping back into old habits. I realized recently that I was letting things build up and not using my voice to communicate my feelings. It’s often easier to sit at the keyboard and type away rather than having to talk to someone face-to-face. That’s not necessarily the best approach. Sometimes you need to be able to see someone’s reaction to what you say — body language, facial expressions, etc.

I often wish that I were more assertive. I respect people who are. People who are able to clearly state and stand up for what they believe and what they need. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come a long way since I got sober. It’s easier to see what’s important with a clear mind.   It’s a little bit ironic, though, to talk about losing my voice while I was drinking. Many times alcohol gave me the liquid courage to say things I probably shouldn’t have. But most of the REALLY important stuff got gulped down or temporarily washed away with the booze.

Lately I realized that I had built stuff up to create a humongous problem in my mind instead of tackling it head-on. Chicken. Afraid of what result my words would have. Would they hurt someone else’s feelings? Would I regret something that I put out there that I couldn’t take back? This is where self-worth comes in. Believing that I am worthy of expressing my feelings, believing that how I feel and what I think are actually important. And they are.

I finally did use my voice. And things went very well. Better than expected. I could have saved myself a great deal of stress and anxiety if I had just opened my mouth sooner. But I’m getting there. Stronger every day that I am sober. Wiser every day that I have a clear mind. Braver when I acknowledge that I am worth it.

“Be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to your heart, and strong enough to live the life you’ve always imagined.” — Unknown

 

 

 

The Fortress of Solitude

15 Jul

I have a friend who has shared with me a little about what it was like growing up with alcoholic parents. After hearing some of her stories, I am so grateful that my children will grow up with a recovering alcoholic and not one still actively drinking. She is one of the smartest and most generous people I know, which is all the more impressive knowing the circumstances under which she was raised.

Unfortunately, she’s packing up to move a few hours away. Although I’m sure we will keep in touch, I will miss our tea time together, often several times during the week. I’ll also miss her as a confidant, loyal advisor and wonderful friend. The friend who introduced us also moved away, and she is sorely missed.

Back to the alcoholic upbringing. The few stories she has relayed to me are horrific. She was pushed down the stairs and left temporarily blinded by her mother when she was in an alcoholic rage. Often times when her mother started drinking and Mrs. Hyde’s appearance was imminent, my friend would hide inside a small, round table in their house. Her mother would never find her in there and would become even more infuriated.

As my friend is packing up her belongings, she is getting rid of a huge amount of “stuff” since they are downsizing considerably. The time has come to decide what happens to the round table. The Fortress of Solitude. The Safe Haven. To those who might look at it in an estate sale, it would just be a normal table, suitable for putting drinks or little knick-knacks on. To her, it carries a Pandora’s box of memories.

Alcoholics are cautioned to avoid people, places and things which may be triggers for their drinking. But what about things that just trigger difficult memories for someone who isn’t an alcoholic? Do you hang on to those things because they hold so much meaning or let them go to try to alleviate the pain that they can bring? Packing up the “stuff” that you have accumulated over the years can bring a barrage of memories. Perhaps that’s why I have so many boxes of crap up in my attic. Too much to go through. Or perhaps too difficult to go through because of some of the memories associated with the “stuff.”

A move is an emotional upheaval. The prospect of a new start is exciting but the sadness over what you leave behind can be tough. I haven’t moved much in my life – I’ve been in the same area for over 25 years. While a move would be good in that it would force me to go through all the stuff in the attic, I think I have had enough change in my life the past four years while getting sober.

Everyone has stuff and baggage from the past. How they sort through it and deal with it is a very personal. Lately, I’ve been sorting through mostly intangible items from my past– my character defects that led me to drinking and the repercussions of my actions. Slowly but surely, I’m working through them and trying to become a better person for doing so.

As for the Fortress of Solitude, my friend has decided to let it go. Hopefully she will let go of some of the pain along with it. We may have scrapbooks of memories in our attics or simply in our minds – maybe in the corners of our minds, as the song goes. They are no less real than the table. My friend can put a pricetag on the table and sell it. The memories that go along with it have no monetary value, but the feeling of letting them go: priceless.

There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” – Shannon L. Alder

On the Road Again

1 Jul

Once again I find myself on a train…this time heading to NYC for the weekend with my daughter. We are going to spend the weekend with her godparents who have an apartment in the city. Shopping, show and super restaurants. Can’t wait.

So while on the train, do I do my fourth step work that my sponsor has assigned me or do I write a blog piece? I guess you can tell which one is winning. Can you say procrastination?   One of the things my sponsor told me to do when I do my fourth step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) is to list some character defects that could be making it hard for me to do my fourth step. To put it into perspective, I’ve been stuck on my fourth step for four years now.

As I’ve said before, the fourth step is known to be one of the hardest steps, if not the hardest, among the twelve. Many people have a very hard time looking at their own character defects and digging into the past, often uncovering numerous demons. I’ve known a few people who never made it past step four because it was just too painful to face. But some of the worksheets that offer guidance on how to go about doing the fourth step remind us that we are taking an inventory. They compare it to a business inventory, where everything is recorded, not just the bad or unnecessary items but also the good and useful. So when an alcoholic looks at their “moral inventory,” we must consider not only our defects but also our assets. For many, this can be hard as well if we have a hard time finding the good qualities in ourselves due to low self-esteem, among other things.

I’m not going to list all my character defects, or my assets, here. But I will say that it’s obvious that procrastination is a big defect of mine. And perhaps when it comes to doing this step, fear. If I knew what exactly I was afraid of, I might be able to deal with it better. But it will take some digging. Some digging that I keep procrastinating on doing. I know that there are many things that led me to drink, and many things that I regret having done when I did drink.   But a big part of this program is forgiveness and moving forward. As they say in the program, “We do not dwell on the past nor wish to close the door on it.” We revisit the past and learn from it what we can, and then move on.

In the past four years of sobriety (I’m coming up on 1,500 days next week, but who’s counting?) I’ve learned so much.   I’ve done a great deal of soul-searching and introspection. There’s a lot that I saw that I didn’t like, but also some that I did. We should all take the time to see our good qualities. My sponsor calls me “AG” for Atta Girl. I’m a firm believer in patting oneself on the back when it’s called for.   In my case, those days and nights I make it through a rough craving without picking up a drink. Or when I have a major breakthrough of understanding or come to a great revelation about myself or my drinking. On some days, I literally give myelf a pat on the back just for getting out of bed.

I’ve had a few reasons lately to be both displeased with myself for some of my actions, but also proud of myself for trying to correct them. Overall, I’m going to give myself and atta girl pat on the back. Sometimes I’m a little slow, but as long as I learn from my stupidity and mistakes it’s not so bad. I’ve also got a few amazing people in my corner who I can always count on for a kick in the head when it is called for instead of a pat on the back. Believe me, often that’s what I need. Everyone should be so lucky to have friends who care enough about them to kick them in the head sometimes.

Not sure if being nostalgic falls into character defect or asset column, but I’m coming up to that part of the train ride when we pass by my old alma mater in Philly. I can see the stadium and high rise buildings and even some of my old haunts as the train passes by.   I was just there a few weeks ago for my 25th college reunion (see my piece called “Once I Was 20 Years Old.”)   My daughter says she would love to go there one day. Raising smart kids—definitely falls in the asset column.   J

For more nostalgia this weekend, I’m going to see one of my oldest and dearest friends tonight.   She and I were actually in incubators next to each other in the hospital when we were born just a few days apart. Really looking forward to seeing her. Keeping in touch with old friends—asset.

And I can’t make a trip to NYC without being hit with the memory of it being the city where I had my last hurrah when it comes to drinking.   Memorial Day weekend, four years ago, my hands shook until I got a drink in me at lunch. Not this time. Sober and happy to be able to remember every minute I get to spend with my daughter and dear friends. Progress—asset.

Now on to my step four work…

“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” – Augustine of Hippo

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee…The Greatest Kissed Me, Playfully

8 Jun

 

With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, I thought that I would share my story about my encounter with “The Greatest.” For my first job out of college, I worked at a trade association in downtown Washington, D.C. My new boss, some of my coworkers and I were having lunch in a conference room that had windows facing the front of the building.   As we ate our lunch, we noticed a small crowd gathering outside in front of the bank across the street.  As the “new girl”, I was sent to go see what was going on.

When I got outside, the mob was gradually growing and I could finally see what the excitement was all about. Muhammad Ali and the small entourage that accompanied him had just come out of the bank. He was very noticeably shaking from his Parkinson’s and for some reason, I caught his eye. He proceeded to basically play “hide and seek” with me, hiding behind the columns outside the bank. He would peek out, smile at me, and then go behind the column again. This repeated a few times and then he motioned for me to come closer. Meanwhile, the throng of people watched this exchange curiously. I myself was wondering what it was all about. Why me?   I walked toward him as he requested and he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. I must have turned a ridiculously bright shade of red. After that, The Champ and his crew got into a car and drove away.

I wondered if my coworkers saw this whole exchange from the windows. I eagerly ran up the stairs, threw open the door, jumped up and down and said “The Champ kissed me!” To say they were jealous is an understatement.   Being the new girl that day had its advantages. The man whom many consider the greatest athlete of all time kissed me on the cheek. For no apparent reason.   I guess there was a reason though—to give me a story to tell my kids….and you.

 

 

 

 

 

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