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The Power of Choice

9 Jul

Back in June of 2014, I wrote a piece called “Turn the Beat Around – Part II.” It was the second blog piece I wrote about music and how so many songs revolve around drinking. At the end of the piece, I was talking about the song “Choices” by George Jones and I mentioned Dr. William Glasser’s “Choice Theory.”   I postponed a more comprehensive discussion about choice until another day. Well, today is that day.

As open and honest I am in my writing, there’s obviously stuff that is off-limits and that I choose not to share here. Not now anyway. Maybe some day. Some of it is too embarrassing or shameful. Some of it would affect other people. Some of it I still need to process. Some of it comes as the layers of the onion peel away.

But as the saying goes, “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” So I have to somehow get these things out and deal with them so I can move on and get healthier. It’s not easy work by any stretch of the imagination, but it is vital. I’m not ashamed to say I go to therapy, I work with a sponsor, I work the steps of a twelve-step program, and I am blessed to have a few people in whom I can confide, safely and without judgment.

In my last piece, “How Big is the Damn Onion – Part II,” I talked about things bubbling up as I spent some quiet, contemplative time at the lake with my daughter. Stuff I had buried down in my subconscious. There’s a show called “Hoarders,” where they follow people who accumulate tons of stuff over the years and can’t get rid of it. Their houses are completely filled from floor to ceiling with stuff. I think I am an emotional hoarder. I hold on to so much crap that I don’t need. Not only do I not need it, it’s harmful baggage. I don’t want to be sick with secrets so I am choosing to let them go.

Dr. William Glasser, the psychiatrist who developed the “Choice Theory” stated 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.” Sounds simple but maybe not. How can it be impossible to choose misery if your life is falling apart? Besides, I suffer from depression. I don’t choose to be miserable…sometimes I just am. So I started doing some more digging on happiness and choice.

There’s a book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. The subtitle is “Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun. She spent a year chronicling her quest to be happier. She gives the reader tips for different monthly focuses geared to help achieve happiness.

A friend told me today about another book called “Resisting Happiness” by Matthew Kelly. It’s tag line is “A true story about why we sabotage ourselves, feel overwhelmed, set aside our dreams, and lack the courage to simply be ourselves… and how to start choosing happiness again!” I’ve already ordered it and am very curious to find out why I sabotage myself and why I “resist” happiness. Well, maybe I used to, but as I said, I’m choosing not to any more.

Now, five years into my recovery, I’m finally beginning to understand that everything is a choice, starting with my choice to get sober and healthier. Every day I make a choice to stay sober. It is a daily reprieve based on our spiritual connection, as a friend says. I’ve been faced, many times over the past five years, with the choice to go ahead and pick up that drink or not. No matter how many days, weeks, months or years of sobriety I have, it can be gone in a split second with the wrong choice. Don’t get me wrong, the choice isn’t always so easy to make. Alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. It constantly tries to influence that choice in its favor. The Drink Devil vs. the Sobriety Angel.

As for the choice to be happy, I’m not sure it’s quite that simple, but I am realizing that I have much more power than I thought. I can choose to do the next right thing, which can lead me to happiness. I can choose to let go of things which no longer serve me. I can choose to pile on the things I complain about or I can write a gratitude list. I can also let go of things I cannot control by reminding myself of the Serenity Prayer.

My message when I speak to people is that it’s never too late to turn things around. First, however, you have to make the choice to do so. And if somehow, you don’t know what the right choice is, ask for help or guidance. I’m guessing that deep down you may know the answer, but if you’re like me, you’ve got too much old baggage to see clearly down there. That’s why we say “Let go and let God.” Get rid of what no longer serves you and turn it over to your higher power. That’s a huge step right there toward happiness.

I used to think I could find happiness in a bottle. I can tell you definitively that you cannot. I also used to think I could avoid unhappiness by pulling the covers over my head and hiding. That doesn’t work either. Neither of those things allowed me to stand up and be present in my life, one of the most important pieces of advice I ever received.   If you make the choice to stand up and be present, things may not be easy, but you can look back and always feel like you gave it your best shot.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”  – Aristotle

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

A Father’s Perspective

18 Jun

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful father and to have had the opportunity to speak with him this morning.

For my kids’ father, I decided a good present would be to de-clutter and clean our bedroom, which was starting to look more like a storage room. It’s nice to be able to actually walk around the bed now.

I spoke to another father this weekend who shared that he was also working on his sobriety and that he had recommended my book to a woman he met who was really struggling. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, as it’s not often that I get the male perspective on struggling to stay sober. We talked at length about the fact that our children are at that age where they are forced to make some tough decisions about drinking and partying. We shared that we had both talked to our kids and explained to them that they may be predisposed to alcoholism, having alcoholic parents.   They need to think extra hard before picking up a drink. We can do our best to teach them, be open and honest with them, but ultimately, they will be the ones to make the choice.

The father also shared that his mother was an alcoholic, in recovery for 28 years, and went back out when she stopped going to meetings. Hearing things like that scare the crap out of me but they also make me more diligent about working hard at my recovery program.

So on a day when we honor our fathers, I reflect about my relationship with my own father.   With regard to my sobriety, my father shared with me that he was in denial about my alcoholism until he read my book, which was published nearly four years after I got sober. I guess I would have a hard time too accepting it if I found out one of my children suffered from the disease.   But I also realize how much power I hold —the ability to break the vicious cycle. Hence, my openness about my alcoholism. With the awareness and the work, the disease can be kept at bay.   Don’t get me wrong, once you’re a pickle you can’t go back to being a cucumber, but you can successfully battle alcoholism.

A special prayer to those of you who lost your fathers. I’m reminded today to count my blessings and to be grateful to be spending another Father’s Day sober.

“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating…too often fathers neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.”  John Wooden

 

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

 

A New Way of Living

29 May

When I was younger (much younger), I used to eagerly count down the days until my birthday. I couldn’t wait for my special day when the sole focus was on me and I would anticipate all of the presents I would receive.   Ok so maybe I’m not so different today. Today, I counted up my days of sobriety, 1826 to be exact, and I reached my 5-year anniversary. Or 5-year birthday, as many in recovery like to call it.

On your “regular” birthday, you celebrate the fact that you were born. Let’s face it – you didn’t do much. Your mother did all the work. But it marks the day you came into this world. Your sobriety anniversary or birthday, on the other hand, marks the day your new life began. A better life. A second chance. Something you did have a huge role in. It celebrates the choice you made to live.

My emotions run the gamut today, but what I feel mostly is gratitude. I think about the last drinks I had in NYC on Memorial Day weekend five years ago. I think about how awful I felt when I woke up, how my hands shook until I had a drink in me. I think about how ashamed I felt when I admitted I was an alcoholic. I think about how insurmountable the concept of getting sober seemed. And I think about how much better I feel now that I am sober. How proud I am of the fact that I didn’t pick up on the many occasions when I felt like caving. How grateful I am to those who stood by me and helped lift me up when I needed it.

I’m very happy to have my shiny, new 5-year coin. But I am also trying to remember my need to stay humble and strong. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. Today is just another day in the battle. It’s always there, ready to pounce. I’m still just a second away from picking up a drink and going back to the insanity.   But as my sponsor says, it’s okay to give yourself and ‘atta girl every once in a while and pat yourself on the back.

While I celebrate my special day, I am also painfully aware of the fact that there are so many out there still suffering. I wish I could somehow let them experience how I feel right now and let them know that they can get there too. Yes it’s hard work, but it is oh so worth it. To my friends who are struggling right now, please try to stay strong. Life is so much better on the other side of this wretched disease. And it is a disease. It is not a weakness or a lack of will power. Reach out for help if you need it. Turn to your higher power, whatever that is for you. For me, that higher power (or HP) is God. And I couldn’t have done this without my faith in Him.

I heard at a meeting today that getting sober isn’t about thinking your way into a new way of living, but living your way into a new way of thinking.   I really like that. I am living a new way, without drinking, with much more gratitude and with a much stronger connection to my HP. Doing so has resulted in a new way of thinking for me. Thinking that life is good. Sobriety is wonderful. And each day is a gift. So on to day 1827….

And, God bless those who gave their lives for our country. Talk about gratitude.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy

 

 

 

Just a Little More

19 May

You may have heard the recent news about the death of Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell.  While the story is still unfolding,  his death was reportedly a suicide by hanging.   Cornell was only 52 years old and a recovering addict.   His family is questioning whether the drug Ativan played a role in his death. Cornell had a prescription for the anxiety drug but may have exceeded the recommended dosage. The possible side effects for the medication are suicidal thoughts and impaired judgement.   Was it the addict in him that led him to take “just a little bit more” for added benefit?   Cornell went public about being newly sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous in 2003. He remained clean and sober for many years. And then this.  A tragic, preventable death.

But what you didn’t hear about in the news was the passing of a lovely, elderly woman who battled alcoholism for decades. I had the privilege of meeting her “in the rooms” and getting sober having her “experience, strength and hope” to guide me.   She was an animated Southern belle, who said the serenity prayer and Lord’s prayer next to me in meetings with her trademark slow, Southern drawl. Her death brings sorrow and grief to those who knew and loved her, but there is also a certain amount of peace surrounding it because she died a sober woman. She fought the “cunning, baffling and powerful” disease for decades. And won. I’ll always remember her humorous stories and infectious laughter.

So the contrast? A famous lead singer in a popular rock band. A little-known, elderly Southern woman. Two completely different worlds.   Suicide vs. natural causes. The common factor? Addiction. Supposedly both recovering alcoholics/addicts.   Vastly different people bonded together by sharing the same disease.  I guess Cornell’s toxicology report will shed some light on whether or not he was, in fact, still in the throes of his addiction. Regardless, I pray for both of their families and that they both rest in peace.

The death of famous actors or musicians tends to raise awareness about addiction, temporarily at least. But what about the millions of “normal” people who battle the disease valiantly out of the limelight but succumb to its power?   Their passing isn’t plastered on newspapers and magazines or online publications. Some die on the streets a horrific, lonely death without anyone even knowing. Not sure if that is worse or if being the loved one having to watch someone die from alcoholism is.

This isn’t one of my more upbeat blog posts. But it needed to be written. The death of an addict, famous or not, serves as a good reminder of why we fight the fight every day. As has been said many times, alcoholism is “cunning, baffling and powerful.” It takes strength and determination to win the fight. It takes discipline. It takes HELP. If you need it, ASK for it. Many recovering alcoholics or addicts, including myself, take prescription drugs for anxiety, depression or other things.   We need to remain diligent and not let ourselves go to that place where we may think “just a little more” will help.   Cross-addiction is something that we hear about all too often.

When I drank, it was always “just a little more.”   Just one more drink. Just a little more wine. Just another shot. And it always led to just a little more trouble. Now, it’s “just a little more” in a much different way. Just a little more time without a drink. Just a little more serenity. Just a little more strength. Just a little more help from my higher power. There are many things for which more is better. Alcohol and drugs aren’t examples of those.

I’m in NYC this weekend celebrating my upcoming anniversary of 5 years of sobriety. Back to the last place where I had a drink, Memorial Day weekend of 2012. I am so much stronger than I was back then. So much more grateful. And honestly, I’m just a little more proud.

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self- given. Be careful. “ – John Wooden

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