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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

 

 

 

 

A Bridge of Silver Wings

1 Jan

I think I’ve mentioned it many times before in my blog, but I hate New Year’s Eve. I hated it when I was drinking and I hate it now that I’m sober. At least I could tolerate it more when I drank. But as an alcoholic, I considered it amateur night. What most people drank on New Year’s Eve was about what I consumed on a normal day. And, as someone who suffers from depression, the end of the year wrap-ups and forced look back at my life always bring me down. The news channels faithfully play some sappy song and run through all of the people who have passed away throughout the year. People use New Year’s Eve as an excuse to get stinking, obnoxiously drunk. You couldn’t pay me enough money to stand squished between a zillion other people in NYC to watch a ball drop. What’s the attraction? I don’t know if there is an Ebenezer Scrooge equivalent for New Year’s, but if so, I think I would fit the bill.

For the past few years, I’ve stayed home and just avoided the whole scene. It was too hard and too tempting that early in my sobriety. My friends invited me to their New Year’s Eve parties, which I greatly appreciated, but I just couldn’t do it. This year, I decided to go, at least for a little while. It was nice to be with friends in a beautiful house with delicious food and lots of warmth. But also lots of drinking. It got louder and louder. They were having a great time—drinking, dancing, eating, partying. Most of them told me that they were glad I came and that they understood that it must be hard for me to be around so much drinking. I left when I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to be strong for that much longer, nowhere close to midnight.

I felt badly leaving, like a big party-pooper, and felt like I was cheating my family out of staying and having a good time. These are the times when it sucks to be an alcoholic. My son asked me this morning why we are always the first ones to leave the party. Ouch. But if I don’t keep myself sober, I’d feel like I’m cheating my family out of a hell of a lot more.

Thank goodness this time of year, around the holidays, you can pretty much find a meeting any time, day or night. I knew it was important for me to go to a meeting yesterday, New Year’s Eve, and I’m so glad I went. No matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there’s always someone who is worse off. I heard several people talk about how rough 2015 was for them, and I mean rough. They were more than ready for the year to come to an end. Most importantly, I heard the speaker talking about how crucial it is to never forget the pain or the “gift of desperation” that brought us into the rooms of AA. I felt incredibly blessed to have somewhere to go where I could be with other alcoholics who get it. And I realized that my 2015 really wasn’t so bad.

So I woke up this morning, a new day, a new year, ready for a fresh start. I can choose how I’m going to face this upcoming year and what my attitude will be. It’s already off to a good start. I went to walk a friend’s dogs and ran into a bunch of families playing kickball in the park. I joined them for a little while and had a great time. One of my friends there told me what she was feeding her family, a tradition of New Year’s foods for “health and wealth” (black-eyed peas and collard greens). I told her I’d take all the health and wealth I could, and she showed up at my door a few hours later with a sample for us.

Hopefully now the toughest parts of the holidays are behind me and I can stop my whining to you all. Thanks for being there to listen and for your encouragement to stay strong. I really appreciate it. For those of you out there who are still struggling, don’t give up. It’s much better on the other side of the bottle. Much better. Happy New Year.

 
“A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.”
― Aberjhani

Black(out) Friday

25 Nov

 

The looney time of year has arrived. The holidays are upon us. For many, they bring up all kinds of memories—good and bad. For some, there is a struggle to search back into the recesses of our minds to see if we can even find the memories or if they are still as dark as the blackouts that may have enveloped them. For me, Thanksgiving reminds me of few times I’d rather forget.

Thanksgiving was always a huge drinking day for me. I would start quite early with champagne or mimosas as family arrived and I cooked. I had a full glass of something for the rest of the day and night. Wine flowed throughout the Thanksgiving meal. Most people stopped drinking and had coffee with dessert, watched football, or took a walk or a nap, but I continued to drink. Didn’t want to lose the buzz. We used to go to close friends’ for dessert where I welcomed the opportunity to have a plethora of new wines to “sample”. But often by this point in the day or evening, I was slurring, stumbling or literally falling down drunk. How embarrassing to look back upon. What’s even worse is to have to just imagine and wonder what I did when I passed that point and maybe even blacked out. I always laugh at meetings when people say they don’t think they were blackout drinkers. How the hell would you know if you were—you certainly wouldn’t remember?!

There were those totally inebriated Thanksgivings. One where I cried before I got up the courage to talk to my brother on the phone when he was in jail. One where I had a total meltdown in front of my friends about my unhappiness in my life and my marriage and said a bunch of things I still regret to my mom. Ones where I passed out in my wine-stained clothes, most likely leaving it to my husband to tell the kids that mommy is just really tired from all the cooking. Again, alcohol is a depressant. Adding that to an already depressed person is a recipe for disaster.

In just three more days, I’ll have 3 1/2 years of sobriety (God willing). One important thing that I have learned in that time is that I have a choice as to how I look back and how I move forward. Looking back, I can wallow in the miserable, drunken episodes, beat myself up and struggle to remember and relive the embarrassment. Or I can look back and use them to remind myself of a place I never want to return. Use them to “keep it green” as they say. And I can dig deep to remember the good times instead. The Thanksgivings where my grandparents were with us and inadvertently had us all cracking up. The Thanksgivings where we were all together. The Thanksgiving where my kids made little turkeys out of their hands and wrote the things that they were thankful for.

Going forward, instead of focusing all my attention on where my next drink is coming from, I can focus on the things for which I am truly grateful. That I’m not in that deep, dark depression but in a much better, happier, healthier place. That I am sober and present for my family. That I can wake up the day after Thanksgiving and not be completely hungover with a pounding headache or even still drunk. And that I am blessed with amazing friends who have been with me through thick and thin.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” —Dr. Seuss

Turn the Beat Around — Part 2

12 Jun

After my post “Turn the Beat Around“, a good friend of mine, who happens to be a huge
country music fan, sent me a nice note.   She said while she liked it, “to defend her love of country”, I had to “give country music some accolades for recognizing addictions too”. Sounds totally fair.  She gave me just a few examples of songs I should check out. Yes, she was right.  In my other piece, I wrote a long list of songs romanticizing drinking.  In deference to my friend, here are a few examples of lyrics from country songs that really capture the evils of addiction:

That’s Why I’m Here–Kenny Chesney

This old boy stood up in the isle
Said he’d been livin’ a life of denial
Then he cried, as he talked about wasted years
I couldn’t believe what I heard
It was my life word for word
And all of the sudden, it was clear

It’s the simple things in life
Like the kids at home and a lovin’ wife
That you miss the most, when you lose control

And everything you love starts to disappear
The devil takes your hand and says no fear
Have another shot, just one more beer
Yeah I’ve been there
That’s why I’m here

Choices– George Jones

I was tempted, by an early age
I found I liked drinkin’, oh, and I never turned it down
There were loved ones but I turned them all away
Now I’m living and dying with the choices I’ve made
I’ve had choices since the day that I was born
There were voices that told me right from wrong

If I had listened, no I wouldn’t be here today
Living and dying with the choices I’ve made
I guess I’m payin’ for the things that I have done I
f I could go back, oh, Lord knows I’d run
But I’m still losin’ this game of life I play
Losing and dying with the choices I’ve made

Some People Change —  Montgomery Gentry

She was born with her mother’s habit…
You could say: “It’s in her blood.”
She hates that she’s gotta have it…
As she fills her glass up.
An she’d love to kill that bottle,
But all she can think about,
Is a, a better life, a second chance,
An’ everyone she’s letting down.
She throws that bottle down.

Here’s to the strong; thanks to the brave.
Don’t give up hope… some people change.
Against all odds, against the grain,
Love finds a way… some people change.
Thank God for those who make it…
Let them be the Light.

Hold On–Wilson Phillips

You could sustain
Or are you comfortable with the pain?
You’ve got no one to blame for your unhappiness
You got yourself into your own mess
Lettin’ your worries pass you by
Don’t you think it’s worth your time
To change your mind?

I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and
Break free the chains
Yeah I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and you
Break free, break from the chains

I have to admit, that’s good, powerful stuff.  Thank you to my friend for sharing those with me (the last one was my own addition).   In response to the songs above, I agree, I don’t have anyone else to blame for my unhappiness.  When I put the bottle down, I did break free from the chains.  And I’m not giving up hope, people do change.  I’m a living, breathing example of that.  We all live and die with the choices we make.  Dr. William Glasser, the psychiatrist who developed the “choice theory” said that “it is almost impossible for anyone, even the most ineffective among us, to continue to choose misery after becoming aware that it is a choice.”  There is way too much for me to say about choice here, that’s for another post.  For now, suffice it to say that I choose to stay sober and I choose happiness.  And yes, I choose to agree that country music ain’t so bad.

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