Archive | December, 2014

The Ghost of Christmas Past

29 Dec

While writing this blog is immensely cathartic for me, my goal is to help other people struggling to overcome alcoholism. Not just alcoholism or addiction, but any demon that they face. As I work to stay one step ahead of mine and follow the path to a much happier, healthier life, I hope that sharing my stories will help others see that it’s never too late to turn things around. Whatever adversity they face.

The holidays are a rough time for many people, including alcoholics. The parties, the expectations, the stress, the associations and memories. Year after year, I remember just sitting, in the dark, looking at our Christmas tree and it’s beautiful lights and ornaments, with several glasses of wine or cocktails du jour, and crying. Quietly crying. Why did such a beautiful symbol of Christmas always bring me so down? Or was I just down and the Christmas tree smacked me in the face to remind me? Depression is its own monster (though intricately connected to alcoholism). While we usually think of it as the blues, this time of year it just comes in red and green.

Past Christmases brought some wonderful memories back to me. There were several years when my brothers and I would hike through the woods behind my grandparents’ house and pick out the perfect Christmas tree. My grandfather would chop it down with pride and carry it back down, through the snow, to our car. Often, the tree ended up looking quite like Charlie Brown’s feeble little tree, but we always loved it nevertheless.

When we were kids, our dear family friends, who were Jewish, would come decorate our tree with us. In turn, they invited us to celebrate a night of Hanukah with them and taught us about lighting the menorah and their traditions. It was a wonderful way to experience the holidays together. Not to mention the incredible potato latkes and matzah brie we got to eat! (Thank you Aunt B.!)

But this year, when the house was quiet and the kids were asleep, I was able to sit and look at our beautiful tree, and smile. It was decorated by my children. And it was a happy symbol to me. No wine. No cocktails. No tears. Believe me, there were times very recently when I thought I was losing the battle and that the Drink Devil was pouring a glass for me. Get lost. 31 months yesterday without a single drop. Take that.

I don’t do it on my own, however. I can’t. My battle gear is multi-layered. First and foremost, I send my HP (Higher Power) in first. Going to meetings stores up the ammo I need to fight. And my family and friends back me up and provide me with additional armor. Thank you doesn’t really cut it, but until I find better words, that’s all I can say. Thank you, each and every one of you, for your support and encouragement. All while you have your own battles to fight. I don’t think that you have any idea how much just a small gesture means—-a hug, a kind word, a pat on the back, a “like” or a “share” of my work, or even taking the time to explain to me what I could do better. Short emails that say “you rock” make my day. You are the one who rocks for taking the time to send that.

As I have said before, I realize that everyone has their own crosses to bear. Most people fight their battles quietly and bravely in their own way. I have chosen to share mine openly and publicly, which I understand not everyone will agree with. I get my share of criticism with my writing as well. I have to learn to take the good with the bad. But, the number of people who have written to me or told me how much a piece I wrote helped them makes it all worth it. Kneeling on the floor, throwing up in the toilet, head pounding, hungover, humiliated and ashamed, is a scenario I don’t wish to repeat and I don’t wish upon anyone else. I’d be right back there if the Drink Devil wins. My writing helps get those bad thoughts out of my head and takes away most of their power. I hope somehow it helps you too.

So Christmas is over…now on to New Year’s. Ugh.

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A Skewed (or Screwed) Point of View

28 Dec

People often say that we should try walking in someone else’s shoes. Or they will tell us to try to see things from their point of view. We may hear “if I were you, I’d…..”. But you’re not me. And I could put on your shoes and, whether they fit or not, the path I take is still my own. I can try out your glasses, even if they are rose-colored, and still not see things from your point of view. When we get lost in ourselves, or try to be someone or something we aren’t, it helps to take a step back and try to find a way out. If we can’t, we need to throw out a lifeline. It’s who is there to catch it and reel you back in that matters. You need someone real to reel you in.

It’s human nature to be self-centered to some point. We have to. Ultimately the only person who can take care of us is us. There are varying degrees of how much people put themselves first and how crucial they believe it to be. There are those who will tell you it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Or every man for himself. Then, there are those who like to remind others that “there is no ‘i’ in teamwork. No man is an island. There are also people who constantly surround themselves with others but still feel incredibly lonely. Others like to be alone and are perfectly content to be their own best friend.

But back to being lost in ourselves. That can take us to a scary place. Our self image is a conglomeration of judgements, feelings, thoughts, intuitions and ideas. Watch a baby when they first look into a mirror. They are completely fascinated. They will reach out to touch their new friend. Do they know it’s them? I don’t think so. They reach out and the image’s hand reaches back. They knock their forehead up against the glass and their little friend does the same. Now think about someone who has completely lost herself. I think at some point in life, we all look into a mirror and ask who the hell it is we are looking at. It’s often surreal. It’s the closest we can come to taking a step back and looking into our own life. We SEE what others see when they look at us. But we can feel something completely different. When we reach out our hand, there may be a deep-seeded doubt, or fear, whether or not the other person in the mirror will in turn reach back to us. We see a physical appearance that everyone else sees. But the feelings that the image churn up are unique to us. There are days when we look at that person with pride, and the shoulders go back a little more, the chin goes up, and the corners of the mouth turn upward in a complacent grin. Other days, we can look at that person with complete disgust, remorse, guilt and incredulousness that they did the things they did. Not us, but them.

We may attempt to splash cold water on our faces as if it could somehow change or clean up the image and the feelings associated with it. There was an old Saturday Night Live skit with Al Franken (now a United States Senator) as Stuart Smalley, where he would look into a mirror and tell himself aloud: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me!”. The segment was called “Daily Affirmations”. Sometimes, we do need to convince ourselves that what or who we see in the mirror is okay. A little pep talk. Being able to do this ourselves, self-affirmation, is a hugely important skill. For most of my life, I have been way too hung-up on what other people think of me. My need for external validation was surpassed only by my need for ice cream. Learning to rely more on myself and my own gut-check and less on the approval of others is a life-long lesson in growth.

Without a drink in my hand, the mirror becomes less cloudy. The Greek in me has used the Windex to wipe it clean, little by little. And I try to remember this:

“And here is my little secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

We Had It All Wrong

19 Dec

A woman gave me a card with this on it at a meeting the other night.  I don’t know who wrote it, but it sums up alcoholism very well.

We drank for happiness, and became
UNHAPPY
We drank for joy, and became
MISERABLE
We drank for sociability, and became
ARGUMENTATIVE
We drank for friendship, and made
ENEMIES
We drank for sophistication, and became
OBNOXIOUS
We drank for sleep, and awakened
UNRESTED
We drank for strength, and felt
WEAK
We drank “medicinally,” and acquired
HEALTH PROBLEMS
We drank for relaxation, and got
THE SHAKES
We drank for bravery, and became
AFRAID
We drank for confidence, and became
DOUBTFUL
We drank to make conversation easier and
SLURRED OUR SPEECH
We drank to feel heavenly, and ended up
feeling LIKE HELL
We drank to forget, and were forever
HAUNTED
We drank for freedom, and became
SLAVES
We drank to erase problems, and saw them
MULTIPLY
We drank to cope with life, and
INVITED DEATH.

It’s not a person’s mistakes that define them–it’s the way they make amends.”—Freya North

Why Ask Why?

12 Dec

I have a friend whose father, a brilliant man and artist, drank himself to death. I have another friend whose husband got lost in his addiction and also lost his life far too young. I have another friend who not only suffered the loss of someone very close when they committed suicide after battling alcoholism and depression, but also lost a friend in a car accident, and was clinically dead herself for a short time, when the car she was in was hit by a drunk driver. My great grandfather drowned in a boating accident when he was drunk. I hear countless stories in meetings, day after day, night after night, of women and men who have no relationships with their children, or aren’t allowed to see their own grandchildren, because of their alcoholism. Other stories of intelligent, educated, “normal” people who spent years living on the street or behind bars due to their drinking or other addictions. So many lives affected and forever changed because of someone else’s addiction and disease. Like storms with paths that left utter destruction. But yet here I sit, and somehow I can actually write that I wish I could have a drink right now. Mind-boggling. And it scares the crap out of me.

I know what can happen if I pick up a drink and go back down the horrendous path that I was on. There is a reason why people say “change I must or die I will”. There is no happy ending to alcoholism. Ever. I know all that and still salivate at the sight of, or often merely just the idea of, a big glass of red wine. It is insanity at its best. To think for a single second that I could miraculously now control my drinking. But this time of year there is alcohol all around and the little Drink Devil in my head is constantly being fed ammunition. Every holiday-cheer cocktail party fuels the fire. And I need to ask and be reminded why I can’t drink.

I liken it to the stage that most toddlers go through which is commonly referred to as the “Why” stage. Their little minds start expanding and curiosity takes over. The period may be brief, but for at least some length of time they ask “why” after just about everything you say. Time for bed. Why? You have to eat your vegetables. Why? Don’t poke your baby brother in the eye. Why? How about because If you don’t stop asking why I’m going to lose my mind. Why?

Call it the circle of life, or the oval of crap, or whatever you want to call it, but sometimes in my recovery and sobriety, I feel like I am reverting back to the maturity level of a toddler. I want to ask why to everything, starting with why can’t I have a drink. To which I get the answer, because you are an alcoholic. Ok, why? Because you have a disease. Why? Umm, could be partly genetic, partly mental, partly physical, circumstantial, connected to depression…..Why? It is what it is. Why? Because sometimes it is what it is and it just plain sucks.

And, sometimes when toddlers don’t get the answers they want when they ask “why?”, they throw a tantrum and stomp their feet. Along with my whys often comes anger. It doesn’t make sense to me and it isn’t fair that other people can drink and I can’t. Waaa—waaaa—waaaa. Some people simply do not understand alcoholism and have had no experience with it. They cannot fathom why someone just simply can’t stop drinking when they see all the problems it is causing in their life. Just stop drinking. If only it were that simple.

I hope to never leave a path of destruction behind me and I hate that people that I care about are still struggling because of one that was left for them. Does it suck? Yes. Do I want to be able to join the holiday fun and raise a glass with my friends? Yes. But it won’t be one glass. Why? Because I am an alcoholic. So the simple “just stop drinking” for me comes with a whole lot of effort. And sometimes I get tired and want to stomp my feet. But when I’m tired and make it to the end of the day, I can sigh and smile. Why? Because I made it through another day without picking up a drink. How? One day at a time.

“I never wake up in the morning and wonder why I am here. I wake up and wonder why I am not making here better.”
― Jeffrey Fry

“He who has a why can endure any how”—Nietzsche

If We Don’t……Then Who Will?

3 Dec

For nearly 40 years, I have watched the same holiday special on television—A Charlie Brown Christmas. As a child, I would rush to take my bath or shower and get into my pajamas so I could wrap myself in a blanket on the couch and watch it. As a teenager, I watched it with the small kids I babysat while their parents were out at holiday parties. And now, as a parent, I watch it with my own children, cuddled up with me in my bed in their pajamas.

My son kept saying that he didn’t like the show because everyone was always mean to Charlie Brown. Why is everyone so mean to Charlie Brown? Good question. (I love how sensitive he is). I told him he needed to watch it through to the end. I still well-up with tears when all the kids belt out (with their mouths open wider than soccer balls) “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to Charlie Brown and wish him a Merry Christmas at the end after they fix up his sad little tree.

What struck me this year was the speech Linus gives on the stage explaining the true meaning of Christmas:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

I hate to say it, but I fear that it is only a matter of time before this show is pulled from network television because of this monologue and its mention of Christ the Lord and God. I know, the horror. That a children’s show, crammed in between commercials brainwashing them with all kinds of toys they should add to their Christmas lists, would dare incorporate a Christian message. It saddens me to say that I have become so disheartened by the “political correctness” of today’s society, that I now actually expect someone, or some group, to petition to ban such programs from broadcast television. A show that has been televised for every year since it was created in 1965 by a brilliant man named Charles Schulz.

Interestingly enough, it turns out that network executives were, in fact, reluctant to include the scene of Linus explaining the story of the birth of Christ. Apparently Charles Schulz was adamant that the scene remain, and said “if we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” Clearly he won out. The scene stayed.

These days, we worry so much about offending someone that we often compromise our beliefs and values. We are so hung up on being politically correct, we tend to even shy away from talking about, writing about, or creating anything that might be then slightest bit controversial.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a child was sent home (or expelled) from school if he or she showed up with a t-shirt featuring Linus and his Christmas monologue. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Hell no. Not acceptable. Too controversial. God. Peace. Good will. Men. I’m not sure we are still allowed to talk about these things today.

I have always loved Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. I have always had great admiration for Charles Schultz and his creative genius, as well as his humility. He had no qualms about explaining that Charlie Brown’s character was very much like himself—shy and awkward. But learning that he was adamant about keeping this scene in the Christmas special made me even more of a fan. I have a good friend who often says “if not me, then who….” for difficult situations that arise which most people wouldn’t want to deal with. Think, just for a second, about how often that saying taken to heart would be helpful. If I don’t volunteer to help, then who will? If I don’t talk to my kids about bullying, drugs, drinking, etc., then who will? If I don’t stand up for my convictions, then who will? And, in my case, if I don’t tell my story about how I deal with my alcoholism and try to help others, then who will? Would it be easier to keep it quiet and deal with it privately? Yes. Would it have been easier for Schulz to cave to the television executives and remove the scene? Yes.

Charles Schulz would have been 92 last week. When you get lost in the frenzy of the holidays, take a minute and look up the scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas and listen to Linus. It will help you remember what Christmas is really all about. And, I gotta say, watching the kids dance while Schroeder plays the piano, is pretty hilarious.
I never eat December snowflakes. I always wait until January.—Lucy Van Pelt

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