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Come From Away

4 Jan

I didn’t anticipate writing a piece about one of the most tragic days in history as we just rang in the New Year and I optimistically look forward to good things ahead. But I saw a show in NYC last night that will forever change the way I look at September 11, 2001.

I knew very little about the show “Come From Away” going into it. I knew only that it was about the passengers on 38 planes that were diverted to a small town in Newfoundland on September 11th when airspace was locked down following the terrorist attacks in the U.S.. I was curious and not quite sure what to expect.

I saw the musical with my daughter, who was barely 2 months old on September 11, 2001. Throughout the show, I was cognizant of the fact that we sat in those seats, just a short distance Ground Zero, with two very different perspectives. She obviously doesn’t remember that day, but as I looked around and saw the tears on the faces of the men and women around me, I knew they remembered it probably as vividly as I did. I felt a very strong connection to the complete strangers that I sat in that theater with last night.

In the small town of Gander in Newfoundland, the population of 9000 almost doubled that day when 7000 passengers from 38 planes coming from all over the world landed there.   The actors did a phenomenal job of captivating the stories of kindness and selflessness that the people in that small town exhibited over the few days that they hosted these displaced, confused, worried and exhausted travelers. They opened their homes, provided food and clothing, and put their own lives on hold to help people they had never met before.

It was something I never knew and would have never thought about.   The extent of the ripple effect throughout the world that the terrorist attacks had. It was impossible not to go back to that day in my mind. Sixteen years later, it’s not something I think about often, perhaps only on the anniversaries. But I realized last night that there are so many people who probably think about that tragedy nearly every day as they either survived it, as did my brother-in-law who worked in Manhattan, or lost a loved one.

I still choose not to watch the documentaries or specials about that day. I can’t listen to the recordings of the last phone calls. I don’t want to see the bodies falling through the sky to the ground. My daughter shared with me that in her school, they watch the accounts of 9/11 every year on the anniversary. Students are given the option to leave the classroom. But that’s all they have to go on.   They were too young to know. I’ll never forget watching the news that day in horror. Or hearing the jets soar over my house and seeing the smoke rising from the Pentagon, just a few miles away. I was due to return that week to my job as a lobbyist in downtown D.C. after my maternity leave but I was crippled with fear and postponed it.

But time moves on. I eventually went back to work. The fear gradually lessened. But the world was forever changed. Ironically, one of the things I remember just a few days after the attacks was my daughter’s godmother coming to visit us on her birthday on September 14th,, which she shares with my husband. She wanted to see and hold her goddaughter. She held a very high-level position in the U.S. government and the long days and nights and brutal amounts of stress at work following the attacks were taking their toll.   Holding an innocent child in her arms during that time provided a brief respite of comfort. And here we were now, sixteen years later, visiting her in NYC and treated to the show as a Christmas gift from her. A gift that made an enormous impact on us both. I walked back from the theater with my daughter with tears rolling down my cheeks, a very rare thing for me. She even said to me that it was okay to cry. Yes, it absolutely is.

I was recently in a meeting where we talked about the idea that bad things happen in life but good things can come from them. This show was an excellent reminder of that. There are so many stories from that day, many that we will never know, about both heroic acts and simple acts of kindness. There is a scene in the musical where many of the travelers, of all different faiths and backgrounds, go to a church and sing the Prayer of St. Francis, one of my true favorites. A very dear friend, an incredibly talented musician and healer, sang it and played the guitar to it at a meeting once. It was a gift to those of us in the room that day, and it was a gift last night as it moved me to tears and taught my daughter a wonderful prayer she didn’t know. For those of you not familiar with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, here it is:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

 

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

 

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The people in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland gave all those things freely those few days following the attacks—love, pardon, faith, hope, light and yes, even joy. They consoled the weary travelers without regard to their own needs. I wish everyone could see “Come From Away.” I am so grateful to have seen it. To have seen it with my daughter. To have let my tears flow freely. To have been reminded of the kindness and good that exists in our world. To have sat next to total strangers and shared a moment in time. To have enjoyed a show on Broadway in a city that not just survives, but thrives. And to be 2047 days sober and able to feel and express the gratitude for all these things.

 

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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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One Day at a Time…2000 Times

17 Nov

I posted on my Facebook page that tomorrow, Saturday, November 18, 2017, marks 2000 days of sobriety for me.   So, theoretically, tonight I should be partying like it’s 1999.   And I am – in my own way. I did a Facebook live interview with my friend Holly Bertone/Pink Fortitude (http://www.pinkfortitude.com) about my book and tips for staying sober as the holiday season approaches. I hit a great meeting.   And I had lunch with a very dear friend whom I have known for over 25 years.

It was so great to see her but I wish it had been under different circumstances. Her younger sister just recently passed away after battling ALS. She was my age. ALS is an absolutely horrific disease that also took the life of my uncle a few years ago. We talked about her sister, her illness, the funeral, and about how everyone in her family was holding up. While there were some expected tears, there was a great deal of laughter. Despite the massive amount of grief my friend is enduring, she talked about her gratitude. Gratitude for her family, for her own health and for the memories she will always have of her sister.

Gratitude has been on my mind a great deal lately. Yes, Thanksgiving brings a major focus on gratitude. It’s been a topic in numerous meetings these days as well. It was even part of the lesson in my son’s religious education class this week. And let me tell you, fifth graders have some awesome ideas on gratitude. For me, gratitude has truly been a gift of my sobriety. As I shared in my last piece, I’ve been dealing with some health issues. Things are far from perfect in my life yet somehow, instead of feeling the constant sense of impending doom that I used to feel, I am confident that everything will turn out okay. That serenity and trust is nothing short of a miracle.

2000 days is a miracle as well. When I first started this journey, I didn’t think I could make it 2 hours, never mind 2 days. Or 20. Or 200. But 2000? Without a single sip of alcohol. Without turning to the bottle to numb the things I didn’t want to feel. Without relying on liquid courage.

On this journey, I gave up drinking. I gave up a way of life to which I was accustomed. I gave up my known means of escape. But what I have gained has been immeasurable. I gained serenity. I gained humility. I gained self-respect. And, like I said, I gained gratitude. Or I guess it’s more accurate to say that I gained the ability to be more grateful. Many friends I have met in my recovery are faithful about writing a gratitude list every day.   For some, the items on the list can be as basic as having a roof over their head and food in their stomach. Sobriety took them off the streets and gave them food to put in their mouth in place of alcohol.

The things for which I am grateful are far too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that mainly I am grateful for the serenity that sobriety has brought me, in all aspects of my life. I am grateful for the ability to live my life being present. I am grateful for being able to learn from a friend who can laugh and be grateful even dark times.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ―Marcel Proustunnamed

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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