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Apprehended by Grace

22 Jun

 

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      Many people ask me what my rock bottom was. What finally made me stop drinking.  When I admitted the fact that I was an alcoholic and surrendered. I can give you a long list of when it SHOULD have been.  When friendships were torn apart. When my marriage started suffering.  When my mother and close friends expressed their concerns about how much I was drinking.  When I looked in the mirror and saw how bloated and puffy my face was and how red my eyes were.  When I started having health problems. When I was doing even more idiotic, embarrassing and shameful things than usual.  When I fell down a steep set of stairs, completely intoxicated, and should have been killed. When I continuously woke up not remembering what I had done or said the night before. Nope.  None of those things did it.

Everyone’s rock bottom is different.  I know many people in recovery who spent time in jail, received DWIs, crashed cars, lost jobs, homes, families and friends, lived on the streets or in their cars, and had much lower rock bottoms than I did.  Others, like me, had what may be considered “high bottoms”, but they are just as much alcoholic as the others.  I once heard someone say that it’s not how much you drink but how the drinking affects you that matters.  Just as there are different rock bottoms, there are different types of alcoholics. Binge drinkers. Daily drinkers. Maintenance drinkers.  Bar drinkers.  Isolation drinkers.  Social drinkers.  Heck, I even went to college with a girl named Margarita Drinker. No lie. Her parents had quite a sense of humor, I guess.  Or named her after having a bit too much tequila themselves.  But I digress…

The point is that there is no singular description of the alcoholic.  No scale that tells you once you fall below a certain level, you have hit your rock bottom. It is different for everyone.  But at some moment, at some point, many people are somehow, and perhaps miraculously, apprehended by grace. I believe that is the moment when people finally surrender.  It may be in utter despair.  It may be when you realize you are simply sick and tired of being sick and tired. It may be while looking in the mirror and not able to face the person look back at you any longer. It may be after fighting back and resisting, be it an intervention, attending a recovery program as a “guest of the judge”, while at rehab or in the pscyh ward, or while dishing out your last dollar at the liquor store.  However it comes, it is when you finally realize and accept that you cannot continue to live your life like this.  That you cannot fight this battle alone.  That only power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.  It is when you wave the white flag and surrender to your Higher Power, whatever that may be for you, and at that moment, I believe that you are apprehended by grace.

 For me, my surrender came seven years ago in NYC. I’ve shared the story many times.  My hands were shaking until I got a drink in me at 11am. I was a mess, physically and emotionally.  Looked and felt horrible.  I had known for so long that I could not continue drinking the way I had been, but I could not imagine my life without alcohol.  It dominated every aspect of my life. Hell, it was my life.  It was both my best friend and my worst enemy.  How do you fight your worst enemy or get rid of them while losing your best friend at the same time? But as I sat there with my true best friend who lost her husband to alcoholism, I was, in fact, miraculously apprehended by grace, and I was finally able to admit that I had a drinking problem.  It was as if a 3,000-pound weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I believe that being apprehended by grace goes hand in hand with receiving the gift of humility.  To accept and realize that we are only human, that we cannot fix everything, including ourselves, and come to understand that our Higher Power can is a true blessing.  We somehow grasp that not only can we turn things over, we must. One of the definitions of grace is the “free and unmerited favor of God”.  Free. Unmerited.  We don’t need to do anything to earn it or receive it.  We simply need to be willing to ask.  And surrender.  To allow ourselves to be apprehended by grace.

Because we are human, we can forget.  We can stray. We can try to escape after having been apprehended.  Foolishly. But yet we still do it.  Staying on the right track, whatever that looks like for you, can keep you living a life of grace.  It may be prayer, meditation, working a recovery program, or however you continuously remind yourself to rely on and turn to your Higher Power.

I am so incredibly grateful to have been apprehended by grace. To have found the path to a better life. Free from the bondage of addiction. It doesn’t come easy many days, but if I remember to practice what I preach, to turn things over to my Higher Power and stay humble, it gets easier to find my way back to the right path.

For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” –Saint Augustine of Hippo

“Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness.”-     Thomas Adams

“The meaning of life.  The wasted years of life.  The poor choices of life.  God answers the mess of life with one word:  ‘Grace,’” Max Lucado

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A Toast to the Graduates

8 Jun

When I first got sober, I used to worry about how I would deal with a champagne toast at my daughter’s wedding.  Of course, that will be years from now, but hey, why not worry about things now right?  What I didn’t think about was toasting other major occasions, like her high school graduation, which was this past week.  And I almost got through it without having to think about it at all.  Almost.

It was a beautiful ceremony. I was so happy to be there with my whole family, including my parents. My daughter graduated summa cum laude and I was so proud of her.  I beamed as I watched her cross the stage to receive her diploma in her cap and gown and hood in bright school colors. For a few seconds, I thought about the fact that if I were still drinking, I’d probably be miserably hungover for this milestone in her life. Either that or I’d be just plain drunk.

The thought of drinking to celebrate her graduation now had never even occurred to me.  We went out for a celebratory lunch immediately after graduation.  Water and a cappuccino suited me just fine.  At the end of lunch, as desserts came out, the manager of the restaurant approached our table with a bottle of champagne in one hand and several glasses held between the fingers of the other. It was a lovely gesture.  He put the glass in front of me and then the other adults at the table.  He spoke to my father a bit as he worked to loosen the cork from the bottle.  As it finally gave way with a loud pop, he approached my seat to pour the light gold liquid into my glass.  It was easier than I had ever anticipated to simply say “thank you but I’m not having any.”

The world didn’t come to an end.  Everyone didn’t freeze mid-sentence and stare at me in an awkward silence.  The manager didn’t drop his jaw in shock at the fact that I had refused his kind offering.  No, no one really cared that I turned down a glass of champagne.  Most importantly, I didn’t care. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t pout.  I enjoyed being present and able to celebrate a special day knowing I would remember it in the future and wake up without a hangover.

My son graduates from elementary school next week.  Sparkling cider all around.

Congratulations to all the graduates out there, especially two very dear to me.

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”–Oprah Winfrey

 

 

Squirrelly About Seven

24 May

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It usually happens to some extent every year.  A little before the anniversary of my sobriety date, I get squirrelly.  I get anxious.  Restless, irritable and discontent.  Excited but scared.  Proud but cautious.  This year seems worse than previous ones.  Maybe it’s the number 7.  Seven seas. Seven continents.  Seven days of the week.  Seven colors of the rainbow. Seven years of sobriety, God-willing, on May 28th. Many people would say I shouldn’t even write that and risk jinxing myself. But I do. Because it’s an important date. It’s the day my life changed for the better.

So why squirrelly? Why anxious?  Do I want to pick up a drink?  No.  Have I thought about it?  Many times. It’s a bittersweet weekend for me. Memorial Day weekend in 2012 was the last time I drank.  And I drank a lot.  And then some.  My hands shook at 11 am until I got some wine in me.  The weekend ended with me admitting that I was powerless over alcohol.  That my life had become unmanageable.  I made the decision to get help and it was the best thing I have ever done.  It was hard as hell, but 2553 days later, I have not had a drink.  I had that scare I wrote about in my last post (A Sip Not a Slip), when I accidentally picked up a drink with vodka in it, but I have not intentionally picked up a drink in a long, long time.

From what I have learned over these past nearly 7 years, my squirrelly feelings are quite common among people in recovery.  There’s something about facing the anniversary of the last drink that brings up a lot.  I look at the weekend ahead, which will be filled with those #^%@#& red Solo cups at pools, backyard barbeques, parties, etc.  Coolers filled with cold beer.  Wine glasses with beads of sweat dripping down the side.  And more.  And then I think about making it through the weekend to Tuesday.  And about reaching another milestone in this personal battle.  And I think about how much better my life is without the booze.  Without the hangovers.  Without the blackouts.  Without the poison that took its toll on my body.

Don’t get me wrong…life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows just because I don’t drink.  The shitstorms still come, and if you looked at the Doppler radar in my life right now, you’d see a huge storm raging right above me that’s not clearing for quite some time.  But, as I’ve heard repeatedly, there’s no problem that picking up a drink won’t make worse.  Jose Cuervo has no power over the storm clouds. But my Higher Power does. Sometimes I write what I need to read, hear, and remind myself.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try and do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work:  you don’t give up.”– Anne Lamott

A Sip Not a Slip

9 May

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I had absolutely no intention of putting a glass of vodka mixed with cranberry juice to my mouth.  No desire to have it touch my lips and wash against my tongue.  In fact, when it did, my reaction was so strong, it surprised me.  I immediately recognized that it was not my drink (cranberry juice and club soda) and once I realized that there was a strong amount of alcohol in the drink that I picked up, I turned away from the two women standing next to me and spit it out.  And spit again.  And again. And I think wiped my tongue with my sleeve.  And then wiped my lips.  Repeatedly.  I have not had a drink that contained alcohol in nearly 7 years (2537 days to be exact). What used to be so familiar to me was now a very, very unwelcome stranger.

I’m pretty sure I simply said “Well, that was not my drink!”  The woman whose drink I accidentally picked up apologized profusely.  She knew I didn’t drink. Totally not her fault.  The drinks looked identical. Both had lime garnishes. Both a pinkish-red hue from the cranberry juice. But one had an ingredient that was clearly not okay for an alcoholic. I walked away to return to the work event I was attending. The other woman, a good friend of mine, came over to me and asked if I was okay.  I told her that I was more than a little freaked out at having picked up an alcoholic drink.  She told me not to be too hard on myself, not to give it a second thought, since I clearly hadn’t done it on purpose.  I let it go…for the time being.

When I got in my car, I picked up my phone to call a friend who is also in recovery.  But then I hesitated.  For a few seconds, I worried that if I told her what had happened, should would tell me I should reset my start date and begin again at day one. So I thought about not telling her.  I think that scared me more than picking up the drink.  Sobriety requires “rigorous honesty”.  Keeping a secret about something that clearly bothered me, considerably, was not a good plan.  It doesn’t matter that other people may think it was totally innocent, no big deal, that I was overreacting, whatever.  The fact was that I was more than a little flustered about tasting vodka again, even for a split second.  I dialed the number and told her what happened. She told me it had happened to her, several times, that it was okay, clearly not intentional, that I didn’t fake it and swallow it and continue to drink the wrong drink, and that I did the right thing. She said it was a “sip, not a slip.”  I felt much better.

As Elvis Costello will tell you, accidents will happen. Chances are good that something like that will happen again. I’m actually quite glad that my reaction was so strong.  That I didn’t taste the vodka and feel like I missed it and wanted more. I’m grateful that I woke up today with another day of sobriety under my belt.  Grateful to wake up without a hangover. Grateful it was a sip, not a slip.

“There are no accidents…there is only some purpose that we haven’t yet understood.”-Ritu Ghatourey

 

 

Sober Doesn’t Have to Be Somber

16 Apr

 

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I remember when I first stopped drinking, almost 7 years ago, I couldn’t fathom that I would never be able to pick up a drink again.  How would life ever be fun without my personality lube?  How would I socialize without my liquid courage?  Would everyone see me as boring as they knocked ‘em back and I sat quietly and drank my seltzer?  I really couldn’t imagine the change I needed to make.  I only knew that I had to make it or I would continue heading down a deadly path.

There is a saying in recovery: “change I must or die I will.” It’s not enough to just stop drinking. We must change who we are at the core.   We must examine the things that made us want to escape into the bottle.  Look at our character defects and face them head-on.  Figure out what people, places and things served as triggers for our drinking and avoid them like the plague.  Dissect our resentments and fears and conquer them.  It is an all-out revamping, remodeling, rebuilding, and recreating who we were.  Stronger, healthier, wiser, and more at peace and comfortable in our own skin.  Do you remember the show the Six Million Dollar Man? Steve Austin?  “Gentlemen. We can rebuild him. We have the technology.  Better than he was before.  Better. Stronger. Faster.”  Ok, well maybe sobriety won’t get you all those things. But definitely better.

We get the “technology” or tools we need during recovery to rebuild ourselves better than before.  It’s far from easy.  It takes time and a great deal of effort.  Often lots of blood, sweat and tears.  And, as I’ve said many times over, we’re the only ones who can do it, but we don’t have to do it alone.  We can pick up a drink… or we can pick up the phone.  We can pour something that will eventually kill us over ice or we can pore over the pages of literature written by those who are much wiser and have gone before us, sharing their experience, strength and hope.

But does all this make us boring and no fun to be around?  What if we used to be the life of the party when we drank?  Or maybe we just thought we were the life of the party.  In either case, if we were used to our social lives revolving around alcohol—parties, bars, concerts, etc.—how do we make that change to a sober life without it being somber?  And dull.

I’m going to be perfectly honest.  Early in my sobriety.  It was beyond somber.  It was miserable.  Dark. Gray. Depressing.  Scary.  Lonely. I felt like I had lost my best friend. I mourned the breakup by staying in bed, getting over the physical symptoms of detoxing, for months. When I physically started to feel better, I faced the cold hard truth that I could no longer put myself in situations where people, places and things would trigger me to want to pick up a drink.  Since drinking was pretty much all I knew, that was basically everyone, everywhere and everything. So I stayed in my bed even longer.

As I got myself into a recovery program, I learned that isolating was not a good idea.  I had to force myself to get out of my own head and be with other people.  I was blessed with some amazing friends who wouldn’t let me stay in my bed forever, despite my best efforts.  They got me to join an exercise program, a bible study, or go for walks.  I found other recovering alcoholics who would text me, especially Friday nights at 5pm when that dreaded happy hour rolled around. They knew how much I was struggling and trying to adjust to fill that time with something else besides my usual glass (ok, bottles) of wine.

Eventually, I managed to go to a few social outings.  I didn’t last long, and always had an “escape plan.” But I gradually got some strength to figure out how to still have a life while not drinking.  I’ll never forget going to a neighborhood pool party with a good friend who tried to pull me out to dance.  I told her that I couldn’t dance sober.  She reminded me that I couldn’t actually dance drunk either.  We both got a great laugh out of it.  And yes, I did dance. And I had fun.

Little by little, as each day went by, I got stronger and could do more socializing. I could go to restaurants and not drool every time a waiter walked by with a tray of martinis heading to another table.  I could go to a friend’s house and see people drinking wine while I had seltzer and not want to scream that life was unfair.  I could see someone holding a red Solo cup at our neighborhood pool and not obsess about what was in it, knowing full well it was an alcoholic beverage. I’ve shared before that we even hosted “Mocktail Parties” where people created their own fun, non-alcoholic beverages and competed for the best tasting and best named drinks.  My kids even joined in this party, making their own concoctions and socializing with a bunch of sober adults.

I even started going on trips to see friends and learned to travel without drinking.  Instead of researching which restaurants had the best wine lists or bars, I looked for other things in advance of my trips.  Places to hike, spas, and recovery meetings I could attend. And guess what?  I had fun.  I remembered where I went, what I did and who I met.  I didn’t wake up with a massive hangover and was able to enjoy the day. And the night. And the company I was with.  All while knowing I didn’t make any more of an ass of myself than I may be sober.

I recently went to Colorado to see a dear friend who was with me when I had my last drink and was the first person I told that I was an alcoholic.  We actually sat at the bar at the base of the mountain and had something to eat and a (nonalcoholic) drink at the end of a day of skiing.  We talked about how far I had come to be able to sit at a bar, facing bottles of alcohol, and not be totally freaked out.

So for those of you who may be early in your sobriety and struggling, wondering if life will ever be fun without the booze, I can tell you honestly that it will.  It will be so much better.  In so many ways.  Call me crazy, but what I used to think was fun often came with me spending a lot of time on the cold bathroom floor holding on to the toilet, vowing to never drink again. Or with my head pounding so hard that I had to shush my kids every time they spoke.  Or cancelling all my plans to simply nurse my hangover in bed. Or straining my brain (what was left after all the brain cells I had killed) to figure out what I had done the night before that I might be embarrassed about.

I may not be dancing on tables (and based on my friend’s comment, I’d say that is a good thing).  But I am far from somber.  Sobriety has given me many gifts, including a life that is happy, joyous and free.  And the gratitude and clarity to appreciate all that comes with that.  Somber is defined as “dark or dull in color or tone; gloomy”. Sobriety has brought back the rainbows in my life.

 

“No really, you’re an excellent dancer”—Jose Cuervo, Robert Mondavi, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam…..

Present Emotions Included

28 Jan

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Most of the books piled up on the side of my bed fall under the category of Self-Help books.  There are so many amazing ones out there.  I could fill an entire book just sharing what I learned from some of them.  I’ve referred to the idea I call “recycling the light” in previous blogs that I have written.  I try to pass along things that I’ve read, heard or learned that might help others. I almost always include an inspirational quote with my pieces, because there are millions of wise people who have said things so much more eloquently than I ever possibly could.  A great deal of what I read focuses on being present, staying positive and living your life as your authentic self.  Wonderful concepts in theory, but often much easier said than done.

Books like The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, Change Your Thoughts,Change Your Life and The Power of Intention by Dr. Wayne Dyer, and The Law of Attraction and Ask and It Is Given by Jerry and Esther Hicks helped me understand that we can change our lives for the better by simply focusing on the positive and raising our vibrational level to attract what we desire.  The Secret by Rhonda Byrne took the world by storm a decade ago with the concept that by simply envisioning and believing that we will receive what we want will result in it ultimately manifesting itself.  I could go on….but like I said, great in theory but difficult to always stick to.  How do you stay positive and believe when life gets really tough?  Should I just sing that song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin and pretend all is well?

A woman whom I greatly admire and am honored to call a friend, Maimah Karmo, recently said “More so than my successes, it was the times of struggle that showed me what I was made of.” I had the pleasure of participating in Maimah’s “I Manifest Online Soul Summit” and doing a podcast with her called “How to Overcome Hurt by Being Present in Your Life”.  As an alcoholic, I was anything but “present” for so much of my life.  I used alcohol to escape reality or numb feelings I didn’t want to feel.  So “overcoming hurt by being present”?  Yes.  Facing your demons head-on. Using your tools to resist the urge to escape, numb or run away from reality.  Staying in the moment instead of beating yourself up and dwelling on the past or constantly investing in the wreckage of the future.

But back to Maimah’s quote. It’s easier to stay positive and be present when things are going well and we can celebrate our successes. Times of struggle show us what we are truly made of.  It’s when the shit hits the fan that we are really tested.  When faced with difficult challenges, Bobby McFerrin’s isn’t the first song that pops into the song chart in my head.    Maybe a little something heavier, like Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumors” perhaps.  Oh, no wait –The Smiths.  Morrissey is always great for wallowing in self-pity.  I digress.  My point is this:  bad things will happen in life, whether you are sober or not.  It’s how you deal with them and how you move on that shows what you are made of.

Not only are there zillions of Self-Help books out there, there is an entire movement happening that is bringing people to meditation, living in the present moment, and understanding our universal connectedness.  Some of the most popular downloaded apps these days are for mindfulness and meditation. There are countless workshops, retreats, seminars, webinars, conferences, etc. that focus on spirituality, emotional and physical health, and overall mind-body wellness.  I had the pleasure of attending an event last week at a local concert hall which has attracted some of the biggest names in the music business over the years.  But instead of music, the featured act was a man named Kyle Cease—a former stand-up comedian now a transformational speaker who incorporates his humor and personal evolution for an incredibly entertaining and inspirational evening.  Kyle emphasizes that “when you embrace your pain, fear, and vulnerability instead of pushing it away, you will discover an authentic creativity and power that is truly unstoppable.”

Embracing your feeling when you are being present is not easy, especially when that feeling is fear or pain.  But if we can somehow train ourselves to sit with being uncomfortable, embrace it and then LET IT GO, we can move on.  Life will have ups and downs.  As hard as the downs can be, I truly believe that it is better to be present for them rather than numb or escape them.  Experiencing the downs, although incredibly difficult at times, allows us to not only truly appreciate and treasure the ups, but hopefully learn something and take away a lesson that will help us in the future and ultimately make us stronger. I’m always grateful to my dear friend who teaches me to find the silver lining in all situations. Things could always be better, but they can always be worse too.  All we truly have is the present.  Don’t get caught up in the past or waste time worrying about the future, which is never guaranteed.  Breathe. Smile. And live.

“It’s not ‘When something happens, I’ll be happy.’  It’s ‘When I’m happy, things will happen.’” -Kyle Cease–Evolving Out Loud

 

 

 

 

Turn the Page

31 Dec

dreamstimefree_18005194.jpg A new year brings with it the opportunity to turn to a blank page in a brand new book, full of possibilities for you to write your own story going forward.  Like many, I find myself introspective at the end of each year, looking back at the highs and lows, and peering forward optimistically at what might come.  I had grandiose ideas of writing a long piece exploring all of those things in greater detail, but, again, like many, I find myself out of steam as the year comes to a close.

So this piece will be brief. A simple thank you to those of you who have followed my blog this year.  Thank you for the kind words from people who have shared that my book or blog helped them get through a rough time, stay sober, or change their perspective on life for the better.

I’ll close out 2018 with 2409 days of sobriety under my belt.  Not something I take lightly.  There were many days when it looked like I might be starting back at day one again. But I pushed through.  And for that, I am grateful to those of you who stood by me, lent a helping hand or a shoulder, reminded me that I am strong and how hard I fought to get where I am today.  Most importantly, thank you for the reminder that I am not alone in this journey.

As for resolutions, I have thought of many.  But I’m leaving you with two quotes for the new year from people much smarter than I am:

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”– Abraham Lincoln

“Ring out the false, ring in the true.”- Alfred Lord Tennyson

 Happy New Year.

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