Tag Archives: gratitude

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 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

 

 

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.

#wegetup

19 Nov

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The motto on the back of this year’s survivor t-shirts at the Walk to Bust Cancer a few weeks ago was “#wegetup”.  It’s the motto of a dear friend of mine, who inspires me and so many others with her unfaltering determination and positive attitude throughout her ongoing battle.  When she found out that her breast cancer had metastasized to her brain, she signed off on all her texts, emails and posts with #wegetup.  A reminder to herself and others that we will all get knocked down in life, but we have to get back up.  Many times, that is a very tall order.

#wegetup is the motto of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. When the campaign was launched in 2016, U.S. Figure Skating Association chief marketing officer, Ramsey Baker, said “We all fall, it’s how we get up that matters.”  My brave friend Mary reached out to the USFSA and explained why the motto was so important to her and received permission for us to use it for our local breast cancer walk. It was pretty amazing to look out at the crowd and see so many bright pink shirts proudly worn by survivors, those who had been knocked down but got up to fight, walk, support, and encourage others to do the same.

Throughout my journey of sobriety, I’ve known many people who have fallen/slipped/relapsed or “gone out to do more research”, as we like to say in recovery.  Unfortunately, some of them never made it back in.  But so many pull themselves back up, brush themselves off, throw away the bottles or pour the rest down the sink, and start at day one again.  At step one. Sometimes several times.  Progress not perfection.

I remember asking a close friend early in my sobriety what she would do if I drank again.  She said it would depend on if and how I get back up. I’ve made it almost 6 ½ years now, but that doesn’t mean for one second that I am out of the woods.  I never will be.  I can never take my sobriety for granted, get cocky or complacent, or think that somehow, I have this cunning, baffling and powerful disease beat.  When I hear of people who have been sober for decades slipping, it reinforces my vigilance.

I used to figure skate as a child.  That ice is cold when you fall.  And it’s hard and it hurts.  The longer you stay down, the colder you get and the more it hurts.  Same with drinking.  Add darker to that mix.  A darker, colder, harder, and deadlier spiral down.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for a hand to pull you back up.  #wegetup — but we don’t have to do it alone.

We all get knocked down at some point.  By something or someone.  Everyone has their struggles.  If you are lucky enough to have had a hand reach down and pull you back up, be grateful. If you pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps, be proud.  If you were down for longer than you had hoped, be gentle on yourself.  If you’re still down, ask for help.  Remember the brave warriors who have gone before you who told themselves that #wegetup… and did.

“Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.”  — Anonymous

 

Dream Weaver

9 Aug

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I had a dream last night that I drank a glass of white wine, sitting at a table with friends at some kind of work event.  It seemed to be early in the morning, like a breakfast meeting or something.  Despite the fact that it was a dream (more like a nightmare for me), I could vividly feel the instantaneous remorse, regret, shame and guilt.  In the dream, I asked the people with me not to tell anyone that I drank the wine, and told them that I didn’t want to have to go back and start my count at zero days of sobriety again (as opposed to the 2265 days that I have accumulated since I stopped drinking 6 years and 2 months ago).  It was awful.

People in recovery often talk about having “drunk dreams” or “drinking dreams”.  Some experience them often in their early days of sobriety. Some have them even after decades of not drinking.  I woke up so grateful to realize that it was only a dream, but shaken by it enough to write down some thoughts to share.  The dream was a good reminder of just how cunning, baffling and powerful the disease of alcoholism is.  It’s always ready to pounce. It would be logical to think that most people relapse when things get really difficult in their lives, when tragedy strikes, or when they find themselves in bad shape emotionally, physically, financially or some other way.  But I know people who had gotten sober who simply picked up that drink when all was right in their world.  Just because it was a sunny, nice day outside.  Just because they thought that they could somehow now “control” their drinking.  Or without any forethought, they just poured one and started drinking.  They say in recovery that we pick up that drink in our minds long before the physical act actually occurs.

For those early in their sober journey, they may just not understand it yet.  They may still think that they are able to drink just one beer. Just one glass of wine.  If they are alcoholics, they simply cannot.  They think this time will be different.  That this time they can limit the amount they drink. The true definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Maybe that one particular time, they will only have one drink.  But then there will be the next time.  Once the alcohol primes the pump, fuels the disease, triggers that mental obsession and physical compulsion, it’s off to the races.  And back down to hell.

As we know, the first thing to go out the window when we drink is our judgment.  So after the first drink, our ability to discern the fact that another drink is not a good plan for us will be dwindling, if not gone already.  I have heard countless stories where that idea of just having one drink led down a dark, miserable path of self-destruction and pain.  Even death.

Do I really need to be so dramatic about this and use words like hell and death?  Yes, I do.  Because there are empty chairs in rooms I sit in where people thought that one drink wouldn’t hurt them.  Because I have seen first-hand the path of wreckage and destruction left behind by someone who made that choice to pick up the first drink, again. And because the cunning, baffling, powerful disease from which I suffer has tried to tell me that I, too, can maybe just have one drink now.  That maybe 6 years is long enough and I have somehow (miraculously) garnered the power and mystical ability to control my drinking.  It can tempt me with a dream that has me drink a glass of wine and seem fine.  But even in that dream, my gut told me it was wrong.  We tell our kids to listen to their guts to help them discern right from wrong.  If you get that bad feeling inside, you know you’re not on the right path.  How amazing that even in our dream state, we can get that feeling in our gut. As I said previously, I could vividly feel immediate remorse and regret after I drank the wine in the dream.  And shame.  Enough shame to ask the people around me to keep the fact that I drank a glass of wine a secret.  We are only as sick as our secrets.  Clearly, this alcoholic still has a great deal of work to do.

I’ve been told that these dreams will happen.  Cravings will still come.  Whether you have 6 days, 6 years, or 6 decades of sobriety, you have to always stay vigilant.  Do not let that drink devil that will sit on your shoulder and whisper nonsense in your ear win.  Do not get complacent.  The disease of alcoholism will continue to do pushups every day. Be stronger. Dream bigger. Dream brighter.  I’m on to day 2266 tomorrow—take that, Dream Weaver.

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I conquered my nightmares because of my dreams.”–Jonas Salk

 

 

Because I Came Into These Rooms

28 May

 

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Because I came into these rooms

-I found people who understand me and my disease
-I found a place where I am not judged, but rather loved unconditionally
-I met an amazing sponsor and friend who is always there for me, and who reminds me that it’s okay to give yourself an ‘atta girl once in a while and recognize and be proud of how far I’ve come
-I met a kind man who takes the time to write a nice comment on almost every piece I write and encourages me to continue to share my story
Because I came into these rooms…
-I made friends who care enough about me to bring a meeting to my house when I am too sick to get to one myself
-I learned how amazing a sober life can be
-I benefitted from the wisdom of those who have been in these rooms before me
-I shared my struggles and got help… from the great guy who listened to my disappointment about not being able to get my book published and connected me with his sister who ended up publishing it (!)  and from gentleman who heard my frustration at all the things that needed to be fixed at my house and showed up at my door to fix them.  He shared something quite simple but very true:  “We’re friends.  That’s what friends do.  They help each other.”
-I learned about being kind to myself and making myself comfortable and bringing what I need to have with me during the times in my life when I’m waiting in the hallway
Because I came into these rooms…
-I learned about turning things over to my Higher Power and that it’s not about being strong enough, but about admitting that I’m weak and I’m human.  I can’t. He can. Let Him.
-I made so many friends who care, who notice if I haven’t been here in a while and reach out.  And who gave me back the gift of laughter, sometimes making me laugh until I cry
-I get donuts.  And pastries.  And hugs.  And, of course, coffee
-I get the support of a group who makes me share when they can tell I’m hurting
-I am strengthened by the people who went out and bravely came back in to these rooms and shared their renewed experience, strength and hope with me
-I am humbled by the newcomers who struggle to say their name and add the word “alcoholic” to it, who still tremble from withdrawal and who, I pray, find the solace and comfort that I found in these rooms as well
-I have the honor to sit beside people who made it through huge personal losses and stayed sober, thanks to the support they got from people in these rooms
Because I came into these rooms…
-I am making  my way through the steps and working the program which has helped save my life
-I learned how to help another alcoholic and sponsor other women, who inspire me to be the best I can be
-I learned the simple sayings that help keep me sober every day:
-one day at a time
-keep it simple
-keep coming back
-do the next right thing
-think it all the way through
-I learned that I can say the serenity prayer over, and over, and over again whenever I need to
-I learned that I can start my day over at any point
-I learned how to speak my truth, and speak it with grace
-I discovered the power of gratitude
-I learned that my sobriety is a gift and that it is a daily reprieve, contingent upon the maintenance of my spiritual condition
-I learned that I can write.  And that sharing my experience, strength and hope can, and does, help others
Because I came into these rooms…
-my life is a thousand times better than it was during the dark days when I was in the throes of my addiction
-I will not pick up a drink today
And because I got all that when I came into these rooms, 2190 days ago, I will keep coming back.
Thanks for all the support and love over these past 6 years.  One day at a time…
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