Roller Coaster or Merry-Go-Round?

28 Aug

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Today marks 7 years and 3 months of sobriety.  2648 days. 378 weeks.  What is significant about 2648 days?  Nothing.  And everything.  It represents 2648 “one-day-at a-times”.  Countless victories over temptation and cravings and thoughts of giving in. Thousands of hours of work.  Working through the ups of the “pink cloud” of sobriety, the downs of facing life on life’s terms, and everything in between.  Facing my darkest demons head-on and surviving the battles.  Learning and understanding the true meaning of humility. Training myself to let go of things that are out of my control and turn them over to my Higher Power.  Sometimes I take a moment to pat myself on the back. But I will face day 2648 today as I do every other.  Just for today, I will not pick up a drink.  One day at a time.

I often hate dealing with life on life’s terms.  I still foolishly think I can do life on my terms.  Never really works out, but yet I still try.  I can honestly say that life is a zillion times better in sobriety than it was when I was drinking.  But shit happens in life, whether you are stone-cold sober or numbing it out and fooling yourself into thinking you’ve found some sort of Nirvana-like alternate reality.  Life is hard. But life is beautiful.  In these past 7 years and 3 months, I have ridden the emotional roller coaster time and time again.  Sobriety allows you to feel ineffable joy at times.  It also gives you the presence to fully experience pain, hurt, sorrow and grief — feelings that I often tried to avoid and numb by quickly reaching for the bottle.  I can honestly say that I’d rather fully feelthe joy and the sorrow than feel nothing.

There’s a wonderful scene in the movie “Parenthood” with Steve Martin in which Grandma tells a story about riding on the roller coaster when she was younger.   She said “you know, it’s just interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited and so thrilled all together.  Some didn’t like it.  They went on the merry-go-round.  That just goes around.  Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”   Steve Martin rolls his eyes thinking Grandma is just rambling.  His wife, Mary Steenburgen, clearly understands the wisdom that she is sharing with them.  Life is much more like a roller coaster than a merry go-round.  Stay real.

Recently, my roller coaster ride included taking my oldest child to college.  I see so many posts on social media about friends dropping their kids off at school.  The excitement, the fear, and the sadness of them flying the coop, all captured in the pictures and posts.  Many of these kids I’ve known since they were babies.  How did this happen?  It honestly feels like just yesterday that I was taking my daughter to the playground to play with them.  But time flies, kids grow, and they move on.  I didn’t cry.  I was so thrilled that she seemed happy, grounded and ready to go.  I realized that’s the best I could ask for as a parent.  To prepare them to move on and be strong on their own, teach them to make smart decisions, and always listen to and trust their gut.  When I drank, I couldn’t trust my gut.  I couldn’t feel my gut.  And I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that being present now and available for my kids is a true gift of sobriety.  Whether I am at the top of the roller coaster, about to experience that thrill of the drop, or at the bottom working slowly on the climb up, I am here for them. Fully present.  Fully feeling.

The heat of the summer is coming to an end. The leaves will start falling and another season will arrive. Mother Nature’s roller coaster.  We will put the bathing suits, swim goggles and pool bags away and get out our new gear, sport our kids’ school colors and cheer at their football and lacrosse games. We will share in their triumphs and disappointments. We won’t make them stay on the merry-go-round.  We will let them ride the roller coaster.  But we will buckle them in and let them know they are loved.  And tell them to enjoy the ride.

“Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.” – Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”

 

 

 

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Trigger Happy

22 Jul

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After being sober for seven years now, I’ve learned how to deal with several of the triggers that bring out my urge to drink.  It took several years before I was able to comfortably go to social events and be surrounded by alcohol.  But I learned how to formulate a plan that would enable me to go and be with friends who drank—I would get a nonalcoholic beverage in my hand as soon as I arrived, focus on other thing besides the booze, have an excuse ready for why I wasn’t drinking, try to make conversations with people who did not breathe wine on me, and have an exit strategy for when I knew I needed to leave.   And I knew when it was time to go.  I would start staring at that glass of wine, or martini, or whatever, just a few seconds too long.  The drink devil sitting on my shoulder would start trying to tell me how good it would taste.  That it would be okay if I just had one.  Ha. Thank goodness the tools I acquired in my recovery taught me better and prepared me for how to ignore this nonsense.

There are so many triggers for me.  People, places and things that I associate with drinking.  I shared most of them in a piece I wrote called “Miss or Miss Out”. Crabs with a cold pitcher of beer.  Spicy Thai food paired with a cold glass of Viognier.  Margaritas on Cinco de Mayo.  Mint Juleps at a Kentucky Derby party.  A hearty Italian red wine with spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna.  Cold beers at a tailgate at a concert or sporting event. Hot toddies after a day of skiing.  A nice martini (with three olives) after a round of golf.  I could go on… But right now, the trigger that’s taking its aim at me is the beach.  As beautiful as it is, and as much as I enjoy it, there are few things more challenging to my sobriety than coming up from the beach at the end of the day.  The beach houses that surround me are filled with people enjoying their cocktails, cold beers, or blender drinks.  It’s like a Pavlovian response that’s hard for me to break—that walk home from the beach, washing off the sand, and reaching for a cold drink of something yummy.  To me, drinking was synonymous with the beach. Hell, drinking was synonymous with breathing, but right now we’re talking about the beach.

It’s one of those things I didn’t think about until it whacked me like a crashing wave as I walked through the sand to go back to the house in the late afternoon on our first day at Fire Island. I actually said it out loud to my daughter, telling her that I forgot how much the beach made me crave a drink.  Her incredibly thoughtful response was that we could go to the little general store and make some fun mocktails. Great idea. We did.  And the craving passed.  Sometimes just speaking it out loud takes the power out a craving.  Ice cream didn’t hurt either.

The reminders of what the alternatives would be are also quite helpful.  I’ve shared before that what often helps me the most is remembering to “think it all the way through.”  What happens after that first sip?  In addition to throwing away my 2612 days of sobriety and dealing with the shame and disappointment that would come with that, I know it wouldn’t be just one sip. Or just one drink. It would be off to the races.  And to a nasty hangover.  And not being able to enjoy watching my sons jump in the waves. Or the beautiful sunset over the water. Or the serenity that I have gained in my sobriety.

So hopefully I can add the end of the day at the beach to my list of triggers that I am now better equipped to handle. There will be many more.  But I will handle them like I do my days….one at a time.

“When we heal the wounds of our past, we move forward into our lives with an unburdened sense of self and a higher awareness of what our own triggers are.” –Athena Laz

 

 

Apprehended by Grace

22 Jun

 

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      Many people ask me what my rock bottom was. What finally made me stop drinking.  When I admitted the fact that I was an alcoholic and surrendered. I can give you a long list of when it SHOULD have been.  When friendships were torn apart. When my marriage started suffering.  When my mother and close friends expressed their concerns about how much I was drinking.  When I looked in the mirror and saw how bloated and puffy my face was and how red my eyes were.  When I started having health problems. When I was doing even more idiotic, embarrassing and shameful things than usual.  When I fell down a steep set of stairs, completely intoxicated, and should have been killed. When I continuously woke up not remembering what I had done or said the night before. Nope.  None of those things did it.

Everyone’s rock bottom is different.  I know many people in recovery who spent time in jail, received DWIs, crashed cars, lost jobs, homes, families and friends, lived on the streets or in their cars, and had much lower rock bottoms than I did.  Others, like me, had what may be considered “high bottoms”, but they are just as much alcoholic as the others.  I once heard someone say that it’s not how much you drink but how the drinking affects you that matters.  Just as there are different rock bottoms, there are different types of alcoholics. Binge drinkers. Daily drinkers. Maintenance drinkers.  Bar drinkers.  Isolation drinkers.  Social drinkers.  Heck, I even went to college with a girl named Margarita Drinker. No lie. Her parents had quite a sense of humor, I guess.  Or named her after having a bit too much tequila themselves.  But I digress…

The point is that there is no singular description of the alcoholic.  No scale that tells you once you fall below a certain level, you have hit your rock bottom. It is different for everyone.  But at some moment, at some point, many people are somehow, and perhaps miraculously, apprehended by grace. I believe that is the moment when people finally surrender.  It may be in utter despair.  It may be when you realize you are simply sick and tired of being sick and tired. It may be while looking in the mirror and not able to face the person look back at you any longer. It may be after fighting back and resisting, be it an intervention, attending a recovery program as a “guest of the judge”, while at rehab or in the pscyh ward, or while dishing out your last dollar at the liquor store.  However it comes, it is when you finally realize and accept that you cannot continue to live your life like this.  That you cannot fight this battle alone.  That only power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.  It is when you wave the white flag and surrender to your Higher Power, whatever that may be for you, and at that moment, I believe that you are apprehended by grace.

 For me, my surrender came seven years ago in NYC. I’ve shared the story many times.  My hands were shaking until I got a drink in me at 11am. I was a mess, physically and emotionally.  Looked and felt horrible.  I had known for so long that I could not continue drinking the way I had been, but I could not imagine my life without alcohol.  It dominated every aspect of my life. Hell, it was my life.  It was both my best friend and my worst enemy.  How do you fight your worst enemy or get rid of them while losing your best friend at the same time? But as I sat there with my true best friend who lost her husband to alcoholism, I was, in fact, miraculously apprehended by grace, and I was finally able to admit that I had a drinking problem.  It was as if a 3,000-pound weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I believe that being apprehended by grace goes hand in hand with receiving the gift of humility.  To accept and realize that we are only human, that we cannot fix everything, including ourselves, and come to understand that our Higher Power can is a true blessing.  We somehow grasp that not only can we turn things over, we must. One of the definitions of grace is the “free and unmerited favor of God”.  Free. Unmerited.  We don’t need to do anything to earn it or receive it.  We simply need to be willing to ask.  And surrender.  To allow ourselves to be apprehended by grace.

Because we are human, we can forget.  We can stray. We can try to escape after having been apprehended.  Foolishly. But yet we still do it.  Staying on the right track, whatever that looks like for you, can keep you living a life of grace.  It may be prayer, meditation, working a recovery program, or however you continuously remind yourself to rely on and turn to your Higher Power.

I am so incredibly grateful to have been apprehended by grace. To have found the path to a better life. Free from the bondage of addiction. It doesn’t come easy many days, but if I remember to practice what I preach, to turn things over to my Higher Power and stay humble, it gets easier to find my way back to the right path.

For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” –Saint Augustine of Hippo

“Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness.”-     Thomas Adams

“The meaning of life.  The wasted years of life.  The poor choices of life.  God answers the mess of life with one word:  ‘Grace,’” Max Lucado

A Toast to the Graduates

8 Jun

When I first got sober, I used to worry about how I would deal with a champagne toast at my daughter’s wedding.  Of course, that will be years from now, but hey, why not worry about things now right?  What I didn’t think about was toasting other major occasions, like her high school graduation, which was this past week.  And I almost got through it without having to think about it at all.  Almost.

It was a beautiful ceremony. I was so happy to be there with my whole family, including my parents. My daughter graduated summa cum laude and I was so proud of her.  I beamed as I watched her cross the stage to receive her diploma in her cap and gown and hood in bright school colors. For a few seconds, I thought about the fact that if I were still drinking, I’d probably be miserably hungover for this milestone in her life. Either that or I’d be just plain drunk.

The thought of drinking to celebrate her graduation now had never even occurred to me.  We went out for a celebratory lunch immediately after graduation.  Water and a cappuccino suited me just fine.  At the end of lunch, as desserts came out, the manager of the restaurant approached our table with a bottle of champagne in one hand and several glasses held between the fingers of the other. It was a lovely gesture.  He put the glass in front of me and then the other adults at the table.  He spoke to my father a bit as he worked to loosen the cork from the bottle.  As it finally gave way with a loud pop, he approached my seat to pour the light gold liquid into my glass.  It was easier than I had ever anticipated to simply say “thank you but I’m not having any.”

The world didn’t come to an end.  Everyone didn’t freeze mid-sentence and stare at me in an awkward silence.  The manager didn’t drop his jaw in shock at the fact that I had refused his kind offering.  No, no one really cared that I turned down a glass of champagne.  Most importantly, I didn’t care. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t pout.  I enjoyed being present and able to celebrate a special day knowing I would remember it in the future and wake up without a hangover.

My son graduates from elementary school next week.  Sparkling cider all around.

Congratulations to all the graduates out there, especially two very dear to me.

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”–Oprah Winfrey

 

 

Squirrelly About Seven

24 May

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It usually happens to some extent every year.  A little before the anniversary of my sobriety date, I get squirrelly.  I get anxious.  Restless, irritable and discontent.  Excited but scared.  Proud but cautious.  This year seems worse than previous ones.  Maybe it’s the number 7.  Seven seas. Seven continents.  Seven days of the week.  Seven colors of the rainbow. Seven years of sobriety, God-willing, on May 28th. Many people would say I shouldn’t even write that and risk jinxing myself. But I do. Because it’s an important date. It’s the day my life changed for the better.

So why squirrelly? Why anxious?  Do I want to pick up a drink?  No.  Have I thought about it?  Many times. It’s a bittersweet weekend for me. Memorial Day weekend in 2012 was the last time I drank.  And I drank a lot.  And then some.  My hands shook at 11 am until I got some wine in me.  The weekend ended with me admitting that I was powerless over alcohol.  That my life had become unmanageable.  I made the decision to get help and it was the best thing I have ever done.  It was hard as hell, but 2553 days later, I have not had a drink.  I had that scare I wrote about in my last post (A Sip Not a Slip), when I accidentally picked up a drink with vodka in it, but I have not intentionally picked up a drink in a long, long time.

From what I have learned over these past nearly 7 years, my squirrelly feelings are quite common among people in recovery.  There’s something about facing the anniversary of the last drink that brings up a lot.  I look at the weekend ahead, which will be filled with those #^%@#& red Solo cups at pools, backyard barbeques, parties, etc.  Coolers filled with cold beer.  Wine glasses with beads of sweat dripping down the side.  And more.  And then I think about making it through the weekend to Tuesday.  And about reaching another milestone in this personal battle.  And I think about how much better my life is without the booze.  Without the hangovers.  Without the blackouts.  Without the poison that took its toll on my body.

Don’t get me wrong…life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows just because I don’t drink.  The shitstorms still come, and if you looked at the Doppler radar in my life right now, you’d see a huge storm raging right above me that’s not clearing for quite some time.  But, as I’ve heard repeatedly, there’s no problem that picking up a drink won’t make worse.  Jose Cuervo has no power over the storm clouds. But my Higher Power does. Sometimes I write what I need to read, hear, and remind myself.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try and do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work:  you don’t give up.”– Anne Lamott

A Sip Not a Slip

9 May

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I had absolutely no intention of putting a glass of vodka mixed with cranberry juice to my mouth.  No desire to have it touch my lips and wash against my tongue.  In fact, when it did, my reaction was so strong, it surprised me.  I immediately recognized that it was not my drink (cranberry juice and club soda) and once I realized that there was a strong amount of alcohol in the drink that I picked up, I turned away from the two women standing next to me and spit it out.  And spit again.  And again. And I think wiped my tongue with my sleeve.  And then wiped my lips.  Repeatedly.  I have not had a drink that contained alcohol in nearly 7 years (2537 days to be exact). What used to be so familiar to me was now a very, very unwelcome stranger.

I’m pretty sure I simply said “Well, that was not my drink!”  The woman whose drink I accidentally picked up apologized profusely.  She knew I didn’t drink. Totally not her fault.  The drinks looked identical. Both had lime garnishes. Both a pinkish-red hue from the cranberry juice. But one had an ingredient that was clearly not okay for an alcoholic. I walked away to return to the work event I was attending. The other woman, a good friend of mine, came over to me and asked if I was okay.  I told her that I was more than a little freaked out at having picked up an alcoholic drink.  She told me not to be too hard on myself, not to give it a second thought, since I clearly hadn’t done it on purpose.  I let it go…for the time being.

When I got in my car, I picked up my phone to call a friend who is also in recovery.  But then I hesitated.  For a few seconds, I worried that if I told her what had happened, should would tell me I should reset my start date and begin again at day one. So I thought about not telling her.  I think that scared me more than picking up the drink.  Sobriety requires “rigorous honesty”.  Keeping a secret about something that clearly bothered me, considerably, was not a good plan.  It doesn’t matter that other people may think it was totally innocent, no big deal, that I was overreacting, whatever.  The fact was that I was more than a little flustered about tasting vodka again, even for a split second.  I dialed the number and told her what happened. She told me it had happened to her, several times, that it was okay, clearly not intentional, that I didn’t fake it and swallow it and continue to drink the wrong drink, and that I did the right thing. She said it was a “sip, not a slip.”  I felt much better.

As Elvis Costello will tell you, accidents will happen. Chances are good that something like that will happen again. I’m actually quite glad that my reaction was so strong.  That I didn’t taste the vodka and feel like I missed it and wanted more. I’m grateful that I woke up today with another day of sobriety under my belt.  Grateful to wake up without a hangover. Grateful it was a sip, not a slip.

“There are no accidents…there is only some purpose that we haven’t yet understood.”-Ritu Ghatourey

 

 

Sober Doesn’t Have to Be Somber

16 Apr

 

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I remember when I first stopped drinking, almost 7 years ago, I couldn’t fathom that I would never be able to pick up a drink again.  How would life ever be fun without my personality lube?  How would I socialize without my liquid courage?  Would everyone see me as boring as they knocked ‘em back and I sat quietly and drank my seltzer?  I really couldn’t imagine the change I needed to make.  I only knew that I had to make it or I would continue heading down a deadly path.

There is a saying in recovery: “change I must or die I will.” It’s not enough to just stop drinking. We must change who we are at the core.   We must examine the things that made us want to escape into the bottle.  Look at our character defects and face them head-on.  Figure out what people, places and things served as triggers for our drinking and avoid them like the plague.  Dissect our resentments and fears and conquer them.  It is an all-out revamping, remodeling, rebuilding, and recreating who we were.  Stronger, healthier, wiser, and more at peace and comfortable in our own skin.  Do you remember the show the Six Million Dollar Man? Steve Austin?  “Gentlemen. We can rebuild him. We have the technology.  Better than he was before.  Better. Stronger. Faster.”  Ok, well maybe sobriety won’t get you all those things. But definitely better.

We get the “technology” or tools we need during recovery to rebuild ourselves better than before.  It’s far from easy.  It takes time and a great deal of effort.  Often lots of blood, sweat and tears.  And, as I’ve said many times over, we’re the only ones who can do it, but we don’t have to do it alone.  We can pick up a drink… or we can pick up the phone.  We can pour something that will eventually kill us over ice or we can pore over the pages of literature written by those who are much wiser and have gone before us, sharing their experience, strength and hope.

But does all this make us boring and no fun to be around?  What if we used to be the life of the party when we drank?  Or maybe we just thought we were the life of the party.  In either case, if we were used to our social lives revolving around alcohol—parties, bars, concerts, etc.—how do we make that change to a sober life without it being somber?  And dull.

I’m going to be perfectly honest.  Early in my sobriety.  It was beyond somber.  It was miserable.  Dark. Gray. Depressing.  Scary.  Lonely. I felt like I had lost my best friend. I mourned the breakup by staying in bed, getting over the physical symptoms of detoxing, for months. When I physically started to feel better, I faced the cold hard truth that I could no longer put myself in situations where people, places and things would trigger me to want to pick up a drink.  Since drinking was pretty much all I knew, that was basically everyone, everywhere and everything. So I stayed in my bed even longer.

As I got myself into a recovery program, I learned that isolating was not a good idea.  I had to force myself to get out of my own head and be with other people.  I was blessed with some amazing friends who wouldn’t let me stay in my bed forever, despite my best efforts.  They got me to join an exercise program, a bible study, or go for walks.  I found other recovering alcoholics who would text me, especially Friday nights at 5pm when that dreaded happy hour rolled around. They knew how much I was struggling and trying to adjust to fill that time with something else besides my usual glass (ok, bottles) of wine.

Eventually, I managed to go to a few social outings.  I didn’t last long, and always had an “escape plan.” But I gradually got some strength to figure out how to still have a life while not drinking.  I’ll never forget going to a neighborhood pool party with a good friend who tried to pull me out to dance.  I told her that I couldn’t dance sober.  She reminded me that I couldn’t actually dance drunk either.  We both got a great laugh out of it.  And yes, I did dance. And I had fun.

Little by little, as each day went by, I got stronger and could do more socializing. I could go to restaurants and not drool every time a waiter walked by with a tray of martinis heading to another table.  I could go to a friend’s house and see people drinking wine while I had seltzer and not want to scream that life was unfair.  I could see someone holding a red Solo cup at our neighborhood pool and not obsess about what was in it, knowing full well it was an alcoholic beverage. I’ve shared before that we even hosted “Mocktail Parties” where people created their own fun, non-alcoholic beverages and competed for the best tasting and best named drinks.  My kids even joined in this party, making their own concoctions and socializing with a bunch of sober adults.

I even started going on trips to see friends and learned to travel without drinking.  Instead of researching which restaurants had the best wine lists or bars, I looked for other things in advance of my trips.  Places to hike, spas, and recovery meetings I could attend. And guess what?  I had fun.  I remembered where I went, what I did and who I met.  I didn’t wake up with a massive hangover and was able to enjoy the day. And the night. And the company I was with.  All while knowing I didn’t make any more of an ass of myself than I may be sober.

I recently went to Colorado to see a dear friend who was with me when I had my last drink and was the first person I told that I was an alcoholic.  We actually sat at the bar at the base of the mountain and had something to eat and a (nonalcoholic) drink at the end of a day of skiing.  We talked about how far I had come to be able to sit at a bar, facing bottles of alcohol, and not be totally freaked out.

So for those of you who may be early in your sobriety and struggling, wondering if life will ever be fun without the booze, I can tell you honestly that it will.  It will be so much better.  In so many ways.  Call me crazy, but what I used to think was fun often came with me spending a lot of time on the cold bathroom floor holding on to the toilet, vowing to never drink again. Or with my head pounding so hard that I had to shush my kids every time they spoke.  Or cancelling all my plans to simply nurse my hangover in bed. Or straining my brain (what was left after all the brain cells I had killed) to figure out what I had done the night before that I might be embarrassed about.

I may not be dancing on tables (and based on my friend’s comment, I’d say that is a good thing).  But I am far from somber.  Sobriety has given me many gifts, including a life that is happy, joyous and free.  And the gratitude and clarity to appreciate all that comes with that.  Somber is defined as “dark or dull in color or tone; gloomy”. Sobriety has brought back the rainbows in my life.

 

“No really, you’re an excellent dancer”—Jose Cuervo, Robert Mondavi, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam…..

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