Archive | February, 2015

Life Is All About Me

27 Feb

Those who know me well know that I constantly joke that life is all about me. In keeping with that tenet, I brought up the subject of selfishness at a meeting the other day. Does putting my sobriety first make me a selfish person? I was reminded that when we travel on a plane, the flight attendants always tell us during the safety demonstrations to put our own oxygen masks on first and then help our children or anyone else who may need assistance. We must first take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Without oxygen to breathe, we won’t be able to help anyone.

In my world, without my sobriety, I can’t be of any use to anyone else, especially my children. Without my sobriety, I’m not there for them. I’m not even there for me. When I drank, however, it really was all about me. And my drinks. And my time to drink. And my deserving to drink. So am I selfish now when I put sobriety first? I don’t think so. Without my sobriety, I slip back into a dark place— a hole that I would have to struggle to get out of.

By putting sobriety first, I mean that it is my first priority, every day. I have a friend who says she starts every day with her own “happy hour”—some quiet time of prayer and meditation. Many in recovery know that SLIP stands for “Sobriety Lost Its Priority”. There were too many really bad “selfs” while we were in the midst of our drinking—-self-doubt, self-loathing, low self-esteem, no self-confidence and very little self-worth. The selfish drinking washed those all away, for a little while at least. But in the numbing, dull ache that came with inebriation, I lost my “self”.

As hard as I work my program of recovery, a whole lifetime set in self-centeredness cannot be reversed all at once. But on this journey into sobriety, I have found a whole new world of “selfs”—self-awareness, self-discovery, self-respect, self-preservation. A twelve-step program has very little room for ego. In fact, in step three, we “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Self-will is traded in for God’s will. Ego is thrown out the window.

When we get to the twelfth step, we encounter the dichotomy of helping others after all the time spent on helping ourselves. The truth, however, is that in helping others, we are in fact helping ourselves. Our selflessness is actually to our own benefit. Back to our selfishness as a recovering alcoholic. I find that the following quote from the Dalai Lama explains this best:

It is important that when pursuing our own self-interest we should be ‘wise selfish’ and not ‘foolish selfish’. Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.

I hope that I fall into the category of “wise selfish” and compassionate rather than foolish selfish. A few people have expressed their opinions that my life is too focused on my sobriety. That my recovery shouldn’t define me. My past mistakes and addiction may not define me, but they made me who I am today. And after 1,005 days without a drink, I am pretty proud of who I am today.

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One Thousand Shades of Sober

22 Feb

Today marks the 1000th day of my sobriety. 1000 freaking days without a single drop of booze. Gotta say I’m pretty amazed by that myself. There were so many days and nights when I thought I would cave. But I didn’t. So what did I decide to do? Celebrate. Yep, I threw myself a big ol’ par-tay. A mocktail party. With all the people who have supported me and been there for me when I needed help. People who took time out of their busy lives to send me a quick text or email or share a few words of encouragement. In this case, though, I wasn’t sure that if I built it they would come. But they did. Through a miserable snow/sleet/freezing rain storm on a frigid night. They came out, despite those conditions, and no booze, to celebrate with me. I was truly overwhelmed.

Like I said, I had my doubts about throwing this party. Would people want to go to a party on a Saturday night with no alcohol? For a few, the answer was no. For many, the answer was hell yes. I’m sure the fact that we have all been cooped up in our houses with our kids due to the weather added to everyone’s enthusiasm for a night out. The invitation asked that guests bring a creative, non-alcoholic drink and that prizes would be awarded for Best Tasting Mocktail and Best Mocktail Name. There were some REALLY creative names and drinks. A few favorites were: “Abstinence on the Beach”, “Sans-gria”, “No Way Jose Mango-rita”, “Berry-Lime Hickey”, and ‘You Bet Your Blueberry Ass!” But the most votes went to “Still Have My Hymen Sangria.” Pretty funny. People seemed to have a fun time tasting and voting for their favorites.

In addition to the mocktail mania, we had a “Candy Bar” with all my favorite sugary treats. A few sugar hangovers today, but I’ll take that any day over the old days of puking and spending the entire day after in bed. It was definitely more fun than I had even imagined and, for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed a party and wasn’t drooling over the wine I couldn’t drink or searching for the door to plan my exit. We built it. They came. And it meant a great deal to me. One friend said as she was leaving “You know, no one came for the food, or for the drinks, or to have a night out. They came for you. To celebrate your amazing achievement.” What does one say to that?

I am happy that my kids were there helping and mingling so that they could see adults having a great time WITHOUT any alcohol. I am happy that I was able to have coherent conversations that I actually remember. I am happy that we all woke up feeling refreshed and not hungover. I am happy that people came and enjoyed themselves on a nasty, wintery night. I hope that everyone who came, and those who couldn’t, know how much I appreciate their kindness and support. God willing, they will be there with me to celebrate 2000 days. When I get the urge to pick up a drink, I can think of that and continue to fight even harder. There’s a whole world out there that can be just as fun, if not more so, sober.

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin Roosevelt
If you build it, they will come.” -Theodore Roosevelt

When the Pastor Needs the Prayer or the Doctor Needs the Care

13 Feb

There’s a guy who is often seen running around here, bandana on his head, beard keeping his face warm and boyish countenance looking a little older, and short shorts showing off his runner’s legs. If you didn’t know who he was, you might be a little surprised to learn that he is a pastor. Not just a pastor, but a darn good one. And he’s not even my pastor, but I’m honored to call him a friend. He’s also one of the smartest people you will ever meet. And one of the most humble. He’s a father, a husband, a leader of mission trips to other parts of the world and an incredible writer/blogger. He’s a source of comfort to so many in our community and even around the world. And now, he has cancer. While I usually don’t consider myself at a loss for words, all that comes to mind now is that it sucks. Plain and simple. It. Sucks.

I wrote a guest blog piece for him a while back called “Consider It Pure Joy” about the Book of James. I quoted the opening lines of that book of the Bible: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” My lay translation of that was this: Be glad that you are going through living hell right now because it will make you stronger. At the time, I was linking this passage in James with my alcoholism. Somehow I don’t think this young pastor or his family are considering any of this joy or feel the slightest bit of gladness right now.

So what happens when the one who gives the prayers needs the prayers? I have no doubt that he will have many many prayers heading his way. They have already started rolling in (or up). I am reminded of a similar situation when it was the doctor who needed the care. My father, who helped so many people over the span of decades as an excellent urologist and skilled surgeon, suffered a stroke himself just six months after he retired. A man who never smoked, hardly drank at all, was meticulous about what he ate and exercised regularly. I guess in many cases, if it’s in your genes, well, you’re screwed. A little like alcoholism. But my friend’s cancer? Don’t think so. He is another guy who takes excellent care of his body and mind.

My father learned what it was like to be the one lying in the bed being cared for and waiting anxiously for the doctor’s updates instead of being the one giving them. He was quoted in an article that was written about him called “When the Doctor Becomes the Patient” as saying that he thought every physician should spend some time on the other side (or in the bed) to gain an appreciation for what the patient goes through and experiences. He gained a new appreciation for the nurses, staff and physical therapists who helped him back on his feet, literally, as he was paralyzed on his right side by the stroke.

But what about the pastor? Is this the other side for him? Being the one needing to receive the prayers and blessings instead of being the one to administer them? He just wrote a blog piece himself that said “not only is my faith is expected to be a resource for me while cancer tries to kill me, it’s expected my faith vs. the cancer will be a resource to others too.” Yes, high expectations when you are public with your struggle. But you can see his thoughts are already turned to others in this tough time.

I wrote another piece recently called “Why Ask Why?” In this situation? Who the hell knows why. It doesn’t make any sense. But we are supposed to believe that there is a reason and that God has this all in his plans. We may not understand the plans and certainly don’t have to like them. But somehow we have to keep the faith. Don’t ask me why. I would ask Him.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
― Corrie ten Boom

I See a Ship in the Harbor

7 Feb

As awful and difficult as they can be, funerals provide an opportunity to reflect, take a look at your own life and reassess the path you are taking. I went to a funeral yesterday for a wonderful woman I met during my recovery. She took me with her to speak to a group of women at the local detention facility. She had been going faithfully to meet with women in jail for over twenty years. That was just one group she reached out to help.

On the evening we rode to the jail together, she shared with me some of her amazing story. She had lived a fascinating life as a journalist and traveled all over the world. She worked for various organizations and associations that helped women around the globe. I could have listened to her stories for hours, and hoped to have more opportunities to do so. But I won’t. I told her she should really write a book. But she won’t.

Her husband spoke at the funeral and gave a detailed biography and list of selfless achievements. He said that the thing she was most proud of, of all these things, was her sobriety date. She considered it the day that God removed from her the compulsion to drink. September 21, 1981. Not a drink since then. He shared with the small group gathered to pay their respects that she did not want to just experience this wonderful, new, sober, improved life alone, but wanted to share it with others. So she reached out wherever she could and was a mentor and support to many people, mostly women, along her path through sobriety.

A young rabbi presided over the funeral and recounted a well-known and comforting story based on a quote from Ecclesiastes 7:1: “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth.” He explained that when a person is born, people rejoice and when one dies, everyone cries. That, he told us, is backwards. He said that when a person is born, everyone should cry because there is no way of knowing whether he or she will follow the right path in their life. When a person dies, however, everyone should celebrate since they know that he or she left this world in peace after living a good life on the correct path, like my friend.

The rabbi went on to say that this story can be compared to two ships that were in the water full of cargo. One ship was coming in to port and the other was leaving. People were focused on and praising the ship comping into port, and not the one going out on it’s new adventure. Why? Because the incoming ship had departed in peace and arrived at its destination in peace. But no one knows what the future holds for the ship that is just beginning its journey.  “So it is with a person who is born: we do not know the nature of his future deeds. But when he leaves this world, we know the nature of his deeds.”  (Yalkut Shimoni Kohelet 7:1.)

The Beth El Synagogue Center website sums this up beautifully: “This tale knows that we cry when someone we love passes. At the same time, it asks that we focus on how the person lived, rather than on a death which comes to us all. It values the deeds the person engaged in, and views the totality of human life as a lesson from which we can learn; and it does so with a sense of humility. We cannot know with certainty what life holds in store for us, nor what awaits us after we die, even though Judaism believes in an afterlife of the soul. But we can choose to live with God and with righteousness regardless of what storms come our way.”

As sad as it was to lose someone wonderful, I was comforted by this service. It did indeed focus on how she lived a life on the right path and with great humility. Something to think about and hopefully learn from. On the way out of the funeral, another friend from recovery took hold of my arm to walk out together. She asked me if I thought that the other people there knew who we were—-the group of recovering, alcoholic women who sat together and came to pay respects to their friend. I told her that I was pretty sure they did, and that I was proud of that.

On September 21, I’ll have a pint of Ben and Jerry’s out, with 2 spoons, to toast my friend’s sobriety date and the wonderful woman that she was.

On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Home of the Brave

1 Feb

I went to a meeting today because I started to feel a craving coming on. I stopped on the way at 7-11 to get candy, thinking it might help as a substitute for alcohol and fulfill my sugar craving. I’m learning that when I really want to get to a meeting, it means I really need one. A young guy led the meeting and told his story. Really tough to listen to. He said he joined the Army with his best friend when he was 18. They served in Iraq together and on two occasions, his best friend saved his life. On the second, he was killed while doing so. He continued to share about how he was wounded and hospitalized, and also how he suffered from PTSD. I hear so many horrible stories in meetings but this one really got to me. He had only 52 days of sobriety but had such a positive attitude and determination that I know that count will continue to go up.

People tell me that they can’t imagine how hard it is for me not to drink. They say they admire my courage in sharing my story so that it might help others. What I do is nothing compared to this man. That’s real courage. To go through and witness the horror he did and be determined to get himself healthy again. That’s bravery. To build up his strength to fight a disease that tempts him constantly by providing a temporary respite from the torturous images in his mind. Heroic. My guess is that his determination comes from knowing that his best friend didn’t save his life and lose his own so he could kill himself with alcohol. He killed many enemy combatants on his tour, but the toughest, strongest one he has to battle is inside himself.

I often think about whether or not I would be strong enough to maintain my sobriety if something traumatic happened. In an earlier piece I wrote, called Weak Enough, I talked about the need not to be strong enough, but to be weak enough to turn it over to God. Of course I hope nothing traumatic happens, but to show how twisted an alcoholic’s thinking can be, another man at the meeting said that sometimes he fantasizes about something tragic happening so he would have an excuse to drink. Think about that. Wanting something bad to happen to give you an “excuse” to reunite with your old friend the bottle. That’s why I go to meetings. Every meeting is like putting a deposit in the sobriety bank so that when the shit really hits the fan, I will have plenty in there to withdraw. Maybe this young, newly sober soldier sees meetings as ammo that he stores up for himself, and extracting from that cache when he needs to fight that vicious enemy inside. You have to do whatever it is that works for you to fight the battle with a disease that is cunning, baffling and powerful. For this young man, and for all like him who served our country, thank you for your service. And thank you for thinking enough of yourself, and your best friend, to make this life the best you can, one day at a time.

“Gold is good in its place, but living, brave, patriotic men are better than gold.” —Abraham Lincoln

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