Cinco de Derby

7 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

How Big is the Damn Onion?

13 Apr

Peeling away the layers of the onion. A common phrase heard in recovery rooms and plastered all over self-help books. Stripping away the surface layers, getting to the core of the problem. After almost 5 years of sobriety (God willing I’ll hit that milestone on May 28th) and peeling many, many layers of the onion, I have started to wonder when I’ll ever finish peeling. Or IF I’ll ever finish peeling.

In order to achieve and maintain sobriety, you have to take a hard look at the things that led you to drink in the first place. Some of these are obvious. Some come after peeling back layers of the onion. Just like when you peel a real onion, peeling the metaphorical onion can lead to tears.

It’s hard work. And usually not fun. There are things that we all wish we could forget. And sometimes we do forget them. For a while. And then they start bubbling up to the surface. We peel back the layers to reveal them. Often painful memories. But with the peeling comes growth. Working through the layers and getting to the root of things may be painful, but it can facilitate a great deal of personal growth and betterment.

It seems like my journey into sobriety and recovery has been nothing but peeling away the layers of the onion.   The peeling goes hand in hand with working the twelve steps. Starting out with Step One, “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable,” we throw away the crutches of the booze and rip off the surface band-aids with one fell swoop. It is the ultimate first peel of the onion and waving of the white flag. But there are often deep scars underneath the bandages. And yes, you guessed it, the more we peel and unravel the bandages, the deeper and deeper we get.

The peeling continues with Step 4 when we make a “fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves”. That’s some serious peeling. Taking a look deep inside yourself and recording both your character defects and your personal assets. Often it’s the listing of the assets that is more difficult for people. Why do most of us find it easier to point out our faults rather than shine the light on our strengths? Human nature?

In Step 5 we get to share the peeling process. We admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Ouch. This part feels pretty damn raw. It feels like we are completely exposing ourselves and it is the ultimate in vulnerability.   After doing Steps 4 and 5, I thought I was done with my peeling. But no! There’s more. Much more. In Step 8, we make a list of all the people we had harmed during our drinking days and become willing to make amends to them all. Again, ouch. Not exactly a fun exercise. This step takes more soul-searching and memory bank withdrawls.

Step Nine is where we actually make the amends. I’m on this step now. So if you’ve been waiting for an apology from me since I got sober, get ready. And if you don’t get one, it means that perhaps I haven’t peeled back enough layers of the onion to remember what I may have done to you that merits an apology.

Step Ten is even more peeling. We continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.   Just when you thought you had all the fun taking personal inventory back in Step 4, you get to do it again.   Digging deeper. Peeling more layers away. But the exercise leads to a great deal of freedom. Promptly admitting we are wrong about something allows us to learn from our mistakes and move on quickly. And to grow.

In Step 11 (“sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out”), our peeling of the layers of the onion brings us closer to the God of our understanding.   We are reminded to pray for help and to meditate in order to connect with our Higher Power, both allowing us to dig deeper to get to the core of the onion.

According to Step 12, “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Does the spiritual awakening come once we have peeled away all the layers of the onion? Have we reached the core and lightened our load? 
Are we done??   No. I’m not sure we are ever done. The key word in Step 10 is “continue.” And we can go right back to any step we need to at any time.   In Step 7, we “humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” This is something we can do on a daily basis. I know I have a long list of shortcomings. But I also have a long list of assets. As I mentioned, let’s not just beat us up for our character defects, but give ourselves a pat on the back for our strengths when we do all this work.

So I believe the onion is pretty damn big, and that it takes a great deal of hard work to get to the core.   But it is possible to get there. And maybe, just maybe, what you find at the core isn’t so bad. Or if it is, hopefully you have built up your strength through all this hard work and have found solace in your prayer and meditation to handle it. And if you have had a spiritual awakening, you’re in even better shape.

Peeling the layers of the onion and working the steps aren’t easy tasks. But they are so worth it. We get rid of what we no longer need. We get rid of the guilt. We let go. We allow the good stuff to come in. Peel away the layers and open your heart and your mind. So how big is the damn onion? As big as your life is.

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time and sometimes you weep.” – Carl Sandburg

 

 

 

Welcome to Fantasy Island

12 Mar

 

Do you remember the television show “Fantasy Island?” A white-suit-clad Ricardo Montalban and his trusty sidekick,Tattoo, greeted a planeload of guests at the beginning of each episode. They came to the island to live out their fantasies. I was recently reminded of this show as someone pointed out to me that I may be trying to live in a fantasy world of my own these days.

Let’s face it. The real world is tough. Really tough. Who doesn’t want an escape occasionally? For me, the escape used to come from the bottle. So now that there’s no bottle, what is my escape? Those of us with addictive personalities usually find something to replace whatever it is that we are addicted to. Some people start smoking. Some become exercise fiends. Some turn to Ben and Jerry’s, candy and other sugary treats. Some find vices that are even worse.

But at the end of the day, the real world is still there. We may think the grass is greener somewhere else or in a different situation. But when we are sober and present in our lives, we are able to use the tools we have to make the best of the reality. I’d rather feel the ups and downs than be completely numb.

Drinking was like a mini-vacation to fantasy island. It was an escape from reality but it often ended in a nightmare. Blackouts, massive hangovers, throwing up, bad decisions, etc. Whether we wanted to or not, somehow we were always on the return plane. We woke up. We got over our hangovers with either just time or with the hair of the dog. The real world was always still there when we came back.

One thing that helps me deal with the real world now is the serenity prayer, which I try to remember to use often. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The fact is, in the real world, the majority of things we think we have control over are things we cannot change. Just pause to think about that when you are in a troubling situation. If it isn’t something you can control, turn it over. Let it go. Leave it to your higher power to handle.

For the things we can change, sometimes we do indeed need the courage to take the necessary steps to do so. Change can be very difficult, especially for those who take comfort in the status quo. Taking bold steps to make necessary changes is hard. Being sober is a huge change. It takes strength and courage to put the bottle down and figure out a new way to escape reality when need be. A healthy way. But for now, I’m signing off to have some Cherry Garcia. Stay strong.

“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” – Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

I’m Still Standing

29 Jan

Most of my readers know how much I like to quote song lyrics.  One of my favorite Elton John songs is “I’m Still Standing” and recently, my boys have started singing it around the house because it was featured in the animated movie “Sing.”   It’s a great, upbeat song that says: 

“Don’t you know I’m still standing, better than I ever did. 

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.

 I’m still standing after all this time,

Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.” 

That can mean so many different things to people, for whatever their struggle is.  For me, it’s alcoholism.   Sometimes I need to remind myself that I have been triumphant in my struggle and despite its power over me, I’m still standing strong.  I’ve been picking up the pieces of my life for several years now (actually 1706 days but who’s counting) and although I can’t say it’s without alcohol on my mind, it’s on my mind less frequently than when my journey into sobriety began. 

 I’m still standing after struggling to get through the holidays sober, surrounded by alcohol at a number of parties and events.  I’m still standing after some rough personal trials and tribulations.  I’m still standing after years of battling depression.  During the more difficult times, I rely more heavily on my sponsor and I am truly grateful for her help.  She makes sure I get to my meetings and work my 12-step program.  She makes me check in daily and give her a status report on my emotional sobriety.  Basically, she makes sure I’m still standing.  

 For me, the “still standing” also has a very literal meaning.  My go-to escape throughout my battle with alcoholism and depression has been hiding in my bed, isolating.  While it’s not a great way to handle things in life, it’s definitely better than what my escape used to be – alcohol.  On days when things are rough, I want to just pull the covers over my head and hide, and I often do.  But once again, I’m incredibly grateful to my sponsor and close friends who will pull me out, sometimes literally, sometimes just with a text, and let me know I need to get up and face the world and live my life.  You can’t look like a true survivor buried under your covers.  It’s the opposite of still standing.  I could write a song that says I’m still hiding, but I’m not sure that would go over very well and it certainly isn’t very inspirational.

 Whatever your struggle may be, give yourself a pat on the back for standing strong.  Somedays you may just have to be proud of yourself for getting out of bed.  It’s a good start.  We all have our times when we don’t feel like we have the energy or strength to stand tall.  And it’s okay to hide sometimes, but life goes on around us.  It’s better to participate in your own life, even when times are tough, than let it pass you by.  Stand strong.

 Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”  – Abraham Lincoln

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Time May Change Me, But I Can’t Trace Time

28 Dec

I just saw on Facebook a tribute to the many talented people whom we lost this year – David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Garry Marshall, Florence Henderson, Glenn Frey – and the list goes on. At the end of every year, there is a nostalgic look back at the major events and passings. This year there seems to be an exceptionally large number of them.

The lyrics of David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and others were  beyond brilliant.  Their songs were covered by many and quoted by teenagers filled with the angst and pains of their trying times. “And these children that you spit on as they tried to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through” was a quote I referred to often in high school. Prince’s Purple Rain album also brings back memories of high school as our team colors were purple and white and our soccer team used to sing the song as “Purple Reigns”.

Florence Henderson will always be Mrs. Brady to me. Garry Marshall gave us Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days and other iconic shows we grew up with. Muhammad Ali was, of course, the Greatest and, as I have written before, kissed me on the cheek one summer day nearly 30 years ago.

But yes, time has indeed changed me. I am a completely different person than the one I was just five years ago thanks to my sobriety. I didn’t just stop drinking – I completely changed who I am at the core. In order to get sober and STAY sober, one must get down to the very root of what led to the drinking in the first place. Why the need for an escape? The need to be numbed? Did that teenage angst lead to the bottle? Did the family of origin fall far short of the Brady Bunch and result in not-so happy days?

Glenn Frey crooned in Depserado: “Your prison is walking through this world all alone.” I learned during the last few years of my sobriety how to break out of that prison and that I don’t have to walk alone. I have an incredible support system and for that I am truly blessed. I just received a call last night from a friend in between flights while traveling clear across the country to see if I was doing okay and give me a pep talk to get through the holidays without picking up a drink. He’s on my gratitude list.

George Michael never knew how right he was when he sang “ maybe we should all be praying for time.” It goes quickly. Take the time to enjoy it. To be real. To be present. To be grateful. And may the force be with you.

Dearly beloved we are gathered here together to get through this thing called life.” Prince, Let’s Go Crazy

Happy Holidays!

24 Dec

Like many people, I’ve found myself consumed with holiday activities and preparations and with little time to write. This piece will be brief—I just want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or anything else you may be celebrating.   Thank you for all your support and kind words throughout this year. They really mean a great deal to me.

As tempted as I’ve been to pick up a drink throughout this chaotic season, I can’t. And I won’t. I just spent some time with my youngest child tracking Santa on the computer. Sober. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’ll wake up early tomorrow morning to see the excitement on my kids’ faces and I won’t have a massive hangover. I’ll remember the conversations we have over Christmas Eve dinner tonight. And, I’ll celebrate day 1672 of my sobriety tomorrow as well.

I’ll try to get another piece out soon. Meanwhile, stay warm, safe and strong.

M

Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”- Norman Vincent Peale

God Bless Us, Every One!

26 Nov

I haven’t had much time to write lately and now that the chaos of the holiday season is upon us, I’ll probably have even less time. But once again, I was on a train up to NYC and finally sat still long enough to catch my breath and have some time to reflect. I also haven’t had much time to get to meetings and I can definitely feel it. I start getting squirrely. We’re heading into a very tough time of year for me, and for many alcoholics, and more meetings are crucial to make it through the holidays sober.

 

Thanksgiving has always been tough for me. It was a day of heavy drinking and some memorable meltdowns. I would start drinking pretty early in the day as I prepared the food and set the table.   A walk over to our neighborhood football game was usually good for a few Bloody Marys or Mimosas. Plenty of wine with dinner and the flow continued well after dessert. I still remember the embarrassing drunken episodes. But there will be no more. This was my fifth Thanksgiving sober. I will hit 4 ½ years of sobriety on the 28th. And life is SO much better.

 

I have numerous things for which I am very thankful. Too many to list here but suffice it to say that I thank God every day for my sobriety and for all I have. I think you tend to appreciate what you have much more when you come close to losing it. In the height of my drinking, I was on a path of destruction that could have caused irreparable damage. Many people have asked me at what point did I know that I was an alcoholic and had to get help to stop drinking – when I reached my rock bottom.

 

I am one of the very fortunate alcoholics whose rock bottom doesn’t have a horrific story. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty awful for me and those around me, but not nearly as bad as some of the stories I have heard in the rooms. While many accounts may be similar, everyone has his or her own rock bottom.

 

In a recent meeting, I heard one of the best descriptions of rock bottom I had heard during my sobriety. It’s from the Big Book (of Alcoholics Anonymous) on page 425:

 

“One definition of bottom is the point when the last thing you lost or the next thing you are about to lose is more important to you than booze. The point is different for everyone, and some of us die before we get there.”

 

For me, the next things I was about to lose were more important to me than booze – my family, friends, health, sanity and more. It just took me a long time to realize it. Had I not, things would look very different for me this holiday season, if I was even still here to enjoy it.

 

And, thanks to a wise friend, I’m learning to look forward optimistically rather than back regretfully. The past is the past. I can learn from it but move on and look forward to new Thanksgivings and holidays rather than dwell on the pitfalls of past. It’s a good time of year to take stock of what truly is important to us and not let booze, or anything else, put us at risk for losing it. Whatever your demons are that can take you down, it’s never too late to get help and turn things around.

 

Happy belated Thanksgiving and warm wishes for the holiday season upon us. I hope you can realize and appreciate all your blessings too. Don’t wait until you risk losing them to do that.

 

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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