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One Little Candle

20 Dec

I spent all last week in the hospital. I was admitted Sunday after a trip to the emergency room. Long story, and I’ll spare you the nasty details, but I had a bad bacterial infection called c diff.   It basically tore up my stomach. I wasn’t released until Saturday evening. Still on a strong antibiotic, quite weak and nursing my stomach, but very, very happy to be home.

No, it’s not an ideal time to be down and out with the holidays here. But it’s never really a good time to be sick. It is what it is. Christmas is going to have to be low key this year. People will just have to understand. More importantly, I will have to understand. Which is hard. I’m used to going full speed and I just can’t do that right now.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my recovery is gratitude. I’ve written about it many times. One of my dearest friends always reminds me to find the silver lining in everything. I have miraculously been able to look at this whole situation and find the good. My family really rallied. The kids and my husband got the Christmas tree up and decorated, kept the house running, and lifted my spirits. My amazing sponsor spent almost every day with me in the hospital and showered me with TLC. Friends have been beyond generous with prayers, kind words and dinners for my family.

My son’s fifth grade religious education class that I teach made get well cards for me. I was blessed with an amazing assistant catechist whom I didn’t know until this year but has been an absolute angel. Just another example of how HP puts people in your life for a reason. She thoughtfully had the kids make cards for me and checks in often as well.   We also got a new student in our class just two weeks ago. A sweet girl who brought me a little candle for Christmas with a nice card. That simple gesture meant more than she or her family can know. I had that candle next to my bed in the hospital and it kept the room smelling like a Christmas tree. All the nurses and doctors who came in commented on it. It brought me a little Christmas cheer in an otherwise scary time.

The candle smells amazing. But it is also a symbol. A symbol of light. A symbol of hope. There’s a song called “One Little Candle” which a couple of artists (Perry Como and Chicago) have covered. I think I sang it in chorus when I was in sixth grade. I found the lyrics:

It is better to light just one little candle,
Than to stumble in the dark!
Better far that you light just one little candle,
All you need’s a tiny spark!

If we’d all say a prayer that the world would be free,
What a wonderful dawn of a new day we’ll see!
And, if everyone lit just one little candle,
What a bright world this would be!

 This world could use a little spark and brightness right now. I know I could. Imagine if everyone did light one little candle and saw that candle as light and hope too. Some friends lit Hanukkah candles on their menorahs. Many will go to churches on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and light a candle in memory of a loved one. I will light my little candle and remind myself to find the silver linings and my gratitude.

I’m grateful that the last thing I have wanted through all this is a drink. My sobriety is truly a gift. I know this is a hard time of year for so many people who struggle with alcoholism, addiction, depression, and more. To them I say this: have faith. Stay strong. No matter how bad things get, find something for which you are grateful. It may be as simple as a warm place to hang your hat. Trust me. It works.   Just as a single little candle goes a long way, so does gratitude.

Best wishes to you all for a happy, healthy holiday season. Thanks for the continued support.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

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Feet in the Water

26 Oct

Wow. July 9 was the last time I wrote a blog piece. Thanks to everyone who has reached out. So much to say but I don’t know where to start. I feel like I did when I first started my blog in 2013—I didn’t quite know where to start but I knew that if I waited for the perfect time or for the perfect words to come, I would never begin. So this isn’t going to be a typical piece. It’s really just for me to dip my feet back in the water, to let you know that I am still here, and that yes, I am STILL sober. 1977 days sober. And that’s nothing short of a miracle.

I don’t have the energy to get into all the details, nor do I want to bore you with them, but I’ve been really sick for over 3 months. Exhausted, extremely weak, chest pain, difficulty breathing….was in the ER once and the hospital for a few days as well. I’ve been to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, and have had more tests done and blood drawn than I can keep track of. I’ve tried traditional medical routes as well as alternative. I’ve done therapy, med evaluations, energy healing, massage, nutrition and chiropractic. I’ve even changed the water I drink (which I’ll have to explain in another piece). I’m down about 17 pounds and my entire body is just achy and weak. I could go on…

As frustrating as this has all been (and I still don’t have any concrete answers), miraculously I haven’t wanted to pick up a drink. And thanks to my sobriety, I have been able to look at all this and find some silver linings. I’ve learned a great deal about myself –emotionally and physically. I know that stress is playing a huge role in all of this somehow. And I’m starting to learn that I have to listen to my body and make some necessary changes in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed by friends who have been supportive, caring and helpful. I’ve met some amazing people who have been through similar health issues and graciously shared their experiences and wisdom with me. I’ve let go of things that I simply can’t do and am starting to set up some healthier boundaries. I’ve begun to practice what I preach and have reached out for help. Not something alcoholics are typically good at.   I guess basically this whole situation has made me really reassess what is and isn’t important in life.

So there. It’s a start. I know there is a reason I am going through this. I know I’ll come out of it even stronger. I know how much writing has helped me in the past so maybe just this small start is a step toward healing….

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” — Hippocrates

 

How Big is the Damn Onion – Part II

4 Jul

A while back, I wrote a piece called “How Big is the Damn Onion.” It was about working on ourselves and peeling the layers of the onion to get to the root of our issues. I’m revisiting this concept because I find myself with more layers peeling recently and I don’t really like it. Frankly, it scares me and I worry about my sobriety as some of these major layers peel away and lead to things I thought I had shoved down into my subconscious for good. Not deeply enough I guess.

Today is the Fourth of July. A time when many people are getting out their red Solo cups (another piece I wrote a while ago) and there is a lot of alcohol consumed. I feel like I am totally surrounded by it. Tomorrow is my daughter’s sixteenth birthday. I’m finding it stirring up a lot of things for me. First off, I can’t believe how quickly time has flown since my life changed when I became a mother with her birth. It makes me think of my own sixteenth birthday and I REALLY can’t believe how quickly time has flown since that day over 30 years ago. My mother managed to arrange a surprise party for me and gave everyone where I worked for the summer t-shirts to wear that said “Martha is 16 Today!” I still have mine.

My daughter’s request for her birthday was to celebrate it with two of her friends and me at the lake. A beautiful, serene place where we are enjoying time on the water and some simple things like making s’mores at a fire by the lake, getting ice cream and just relaxing – something I don’t do very often. But as I relax and unwind, I peel more of the layers of the onion away.

I had a bad drinking dream the other night. It was the kind where you wake up in a sweat thinking it was real. It was most likely prompted by a thought that came into my head about celebrating my daughter’s birthday and not being able to toast her with some champagne. Same with her wedding someday. These are the times when being an alcoholic can frankly suck.   But they are also the times when it is crucial to remember the simple saying: “One day at a time.”   When I first got sober, I was completely overwhelmed by the idea that I would never have a drink again. Some sober friends gave me excellent advice and reminded me that all I had to do was not drink for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow or the future. I also remembered a friend telling me that she threw away her sobriety after one sip of celebratory champagne to toast her son’s engagement. Her mistake became my lesson and, thank goodness, one that someone reminded me of the other day.

So I bought some sparkling cider and lemonade to toast with my daughter and her friends tomorrow.   We plan to go on a hike by some local falls. We’ll go back on the water in kayaks and canoes. I’ll take some time to write and read. And I’ll continue to peel back the layers of the onion. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but as I wrote before, it’s necessary to process things and then let them go. I’ve managed to do that with many things but there are always more layers of the onion to peel. As a great friend pointed out, you’ll probably peel away the last layer when you take your final breath in this world.

Happy Birthday America and Happy Birthday to my beautiful daughter. I’m glad I can celebrate both – sober and present.

“I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth. ” ― Ovid, Metamorphoses

Sober Cum Laude

25 Jun

 

It’s graduation time. A time when so many young people move up and move on. Happy celebrations that mark one chapter in life that is ending and a new one beginning. I was delighted to celebrate some of these special occasions with dear friends recently and to be able to do so sober.

In the midst of the festivities, however, yet another friend in recovery went back out “to do more research”. They fell off the wagon. They went back out to their old world of drinking. Often, the action is facilitated by one particular thought: “I’ve got this now.”   However long they have been sober—10 days or 10 years—they think that they can now “control” their drinking. Sorry to say, that ain’t gonna happen.

If however, you are able to prove me wrong, my hat is off to you. No one I know or have met in my five years of sobriety has been able to do that. In fact, I’ve shared some pretty heartbreaking stories on my blog about people who went back out and never returned – they lost their lives to the disease before they could get back in to recovery.   Once a pickle, you can never go back to being a cucumber.

But many people who go back out come right back in. They get themselves back into a recovery program immediately. We are all human. We make mistakes. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful, so kudos to those who get knocked down and get back up again. I hope that I won’t find myself in that situation but…

Recovery is not a program from which one ever “graduates”. But then again, neither is life. If we aren’t constantly learning, we are going backwards. I can honestly say that some of the most important and most helpful things I’ve learned have been in recovery. And they are pretty basic things that can help anyone, alcoholic or not.

Sobriety 101 teaches us “one day at a time.” Sounds so simple but yet often so hard to live by. When I first got sober, the idea of never having a drink again, EVER, was completely overwhelming to me. What helped the most was when someone would remind me that I don’t have to do it forever, just for today. Tomorrow is another day, and I will tell myself the same thing. In tough times, this may get changed to “one hour at a time.” Make life manageable for yourself. Break things down into attainable goals.

We also learn another crucial axiom: “do the next right thing.”   Again, alcoholic, addict or not, everyone can use this reminder.   When you come to crossroads, make the right choice. It’s not always easy, believe me I get that, but ask yourself what the next right thing is and find a way to do it. If you need to, ask for help.

In AP Sobriety, things get a little more complicated. We hear things like “change I must or die I will,” “attitude of gratitude,” “stinkin’ thinkin’” and, my personal favorite, “turn it over.” Again, all of these can be useful to non-alcoholics as well. Who doesn’t have “stinkin’ thinkin’” sometimes?   Many of us could use an attitude adjustment, and we can all stand to have a little more gratitude. I realize that is very difficult when times are tough. That’s where the “turn it over” part comes in. One thing I’ve learned on this journey of sobriety is to trust in my HP, my Higher Power. When things get really difficult, I have to remind myself to turn them over. Some things are bigger than I am, but not bigger than HP. Whatever your Higher Power, your Spirit, your God, remember to turn things over to It/Him. I know that without my HP, I wouldn’t be sober right now.

Whether you are in recovery or not, there are certain things in life that we could all use refresher courses in.   Sometimes we just need to go back to basics, like the lessons above. I’ve had 1854 days in sobriety school and I learn something new every day. Thanks to all of you who have taught me life lessons along the way. You have my attitude of gratitude.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” William S. Burroughs

 

 

 

 

Respect

7 Jun

As many of you know, I tend to be very open, raw and honest in my writing. I know no other way. It is my strong belief that this is what I am being called to do—to share my story openly so that I may help others struggling with alcoholism, addiction or other issues. To turn my mess into a message. I am always so grateful when someone reaches out to me for help. So encouraged that they got something out of my writing and felt that they could trust me enough to open up and reach out their hand.   One thing they trust me with is their anonymity. I want to strongly emphasize to all my readers, followers, friends and fellow alcoholics that I would never violate anyone’s anonymity or trust.

 

I often struggle with the concept of anonymity. It has been suggested that I look carefully at Tradition Eleven of AA, which states that “our public relations policy is based upon attraction rather than promotion, we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films. “ I have done several radio, television and Internet interviews and have shared my personal story. I do not in any way, shape or form, speak on behalf of AA or anyone else. An AA pamphlet, conference approved literature, entitled “Understanding Anonymity” says the following: “AA members may disclose their identity and speak as recovered alcoholics, giving radio, tv and Internet interviews without violating the Traditions so long as their membership to AA is not revealed.” The pamphlet also says that “Experience suggests that AA members respect the right of other members to maintain their own anonymity at whatever levels they wish.” While it is my choice to share my experience, strength and hope very openly, I am very respectful of the fact that many people choose to remain anonymous and work their recovery privately. Again, I completely respect this and would never violate anyone else’s anonymity.

 

Step 12 says that “having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” I have always been confused by what seem to me to be contradictory statements (Tradition 11 and Step 12). How do we carry the message to other alcoholics without revealing ourselves as alcoholics who can empathize with what they are going through?  How can others get the message that they are not alone, that they do not have to suffer without help? How can I give someone hope by letting them know that 5 years into my sobriety, my life is so much better?   I can tell them that I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, and I am also alcoholic. And if I can fight this disease and turn things around, they can too.

 

Perhaps the most important message to quote from AA is this one:
“Our primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.” Everyone’s story is different. Their recovery is different.  There may be many similarities, but your story is your own. The way that I stay sober is to give back what has been given to me—the experience, strength and hope that can help other alcoholics like this one.

 

Unfortunately the need for me to write this blog piece demonstrates just how much of a stigma alcoholism still is in our society. That there is a great deal of fear for many of being found out and labeled as an alcoholic. We have a disease. A very unfortunate, cunning, baffling and powerful disease. It is not a weakness. It is not a lack of willpower. But I get it, people can lose their jobs and more if their alcoholism is revealed. It’s so sad that this is how things are for alcoholics in our culture. To have to battle the disease secretly in church basements.   I am truly blessed to have a family and friends who support me and my journey. I realize that not everyone is so fortunate. And because they may not be, all the more reason for me to let them know that someone like me is here to point them in the right direction to get some help and let them know that they don’t have to do it alone.

 

Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.” Pema Chodron

 

Cinco de Derby

7 May

Cinco de Mayo Friday. Kentucky Derby Saturday. To me, that used to mean Margaritas and Mint Juleps. Not anymore. I just hit 1800 days of sobriety. A good friend pointed out, ironically, that 1800 is also a tequila. So cheers to those of you enjoying those drinks, and cheers to me.

There was always a reason to drink. For me, it used to be just because it was a day that ended in “y”. Or Arbor Day—there’s cause right there to celebrate. The Ides of March also brought an excuse to party.   You name it—I could find a reason to drink. I was depressed so I thought a drink would help make me happier. I was stressed so I thought the drink would take the edge off. I was frustrated, angry, resentful – whatever – and always thought a drink would make it all better. It might have provided some temporary relief and distraction, but it never made things better. Usually quite the opposite.

But this year, I didn’t pull the covers over my head and hide from these occasions like I did early in my sobriety. This year, I went to a good friend’s birthday party on Cinco de Mayo and a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday. A few years ago, I wasn’t able to do anything of the sort.   Was there drinking at both parties?   Yes. But the wonderful thing for me was that being surrounded by alcohol didn’t really bother me. I had my own special drinks and enjoyed them. I could actually relax and not be overcome with anxiety about the temptation.   Progress. Lots of progress.

I know that I have to be grateful for the progress, which comes with a great deal of hard work, but not get too cocky. I need to remember what it used to be like. The miserable hangovers, the forgotten nights (and days), the drunken screw-ups. It is often referred to as “the gift of desperation”. We remember what brought us to admit our alcoholism and to get help. And became willing to accept our powerlessness over alcohol and the fact that our life had become unmanageable. I went to a meeting almost every day this past week. Meetings help keep me grounded. Often it is too easy to let life get in the way of working on my sobriety. I can’t do that. Without my sobriety, there is no “life” to get in the way.

I gave a talk at our public library last week. I was touched by how many people came out to hear it and support me. Despite the fact that the talk ended on a very positive note, one woman, whom I have known for many years, was in tears. She said it was hard to hear all that I went through and that she couldn’t believe she didn’t know or realize my struggle while I was in the middle of it. I’ve heard that from several people. I guess I was pretty darn good at putting on a happy face. But now you see the real me. Hopefully you see a humbled, grateful and genuinely happy recovering alcoholic.

Three weeks from today, God willing, I will be celebrating 5 years of sobriety. Memorial Day. And the weekend before, I’ll be in NYC, where I found my “gift of desperation” on the street corner at 4am. There’s a big reason right there to celebrate. Sparkling cider for everyone is on me.

 “The gift of willingness is the only thing that stands between the quiet desperation of a disingenuous life and the actualization of unexpressed potential.” – Jim McDonald

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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