Tag Archives: sobriety

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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Selfish?

31 Oct

I must have heard it hundreds of times as my children were growing up.  Someone would see them in the stroller or in my arms and comment on how fast the time goes and how quickly they grow.  They spoke from experience, longingly remembering the days that their own children were small enough to ride in a stroller or be carried. They were right.  The time goes so quickly.  As I help my oldest child with college applications, getting ready to send her off next year, I can’t help think that those days of diapers and bottles were just yesterday.

I’m writing this piece, as I usually do, to share my story with others in the hope of helping someone who is struggling.  But today, I’m also writing this as a reminder and help to myself.  On the days when the intense battle to resist the urge of picking up a drink ramps up, it’s helpful to be reminded of the joys of sobriety. The gift of being present is way up there.  I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories about families torn apart by alcoholism and addiction.  People who are estranged from their children or parents.  Older generations not allowed to spend time with their own grandchildren.  Friends cut off completely by loved ones because of their repeated offenses while drinking or using.  I have had it clearly presented to me exactly what could have happened had I continued down the path I was on.

But today, as I read my daughter’s college essay, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the gift of sobriety.  And for the opportunity to understand what that means to her.  While the first line of her essay might suggest otherwise, my daughter has benefitted from my recovery more than I might have thought.  She begins her essay by saying “My mom is selfish.” Yup.  I am.  My sobriety comes first and foremost, and for that I will not apologize, even to friends and people in my life who don’t understand and criticize me for that.  My daughter goes on to say that she has learned that it is not only okay to put ourselves first, it is essential and actually selfless, in order to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and allow us to help those around us. I had shared with her my analogy of oxygen masks on an airplane.  Parents are always told that they should secure their own masks first so that they can then be able to assist their children with theirs.  My daughter describes how she has come to understand that I had to secure my own sobriety first so that I could assist her (and her brothers) in keeping safe on the airplane, or that crazy roller coaster called life.

She also questions her own role and responsibility in my recovery.  I am also grateful to read that she understands that ultimately no one else can stop me from picking up that first drink.  That’s all me.  Not her. Not anyone. The choice is mine.  And I have to do the work and all that I can to not let that happen.  But those who love me, like she does, can be there to support, encourage and ensure that my oxygen mask is still secured.  To tighten it when it gets too loose.  To remind me to put it back on if I get too cocky or complacent.

Her first choice for school next year is my alma mater.  In a corny act of superstition/hope for good luck/acceptance “rain dance”, I put on my college sweatshirt, torn and tattered from so many years of wear, and we pushed the send button together on the computer and submitted her application. Now we wait.  I have told her that it’s out of our hands.  That she will end up at the best place for her, even if it isn’t her first choice.  I remember well what a stressful time it was for me and I am grateful that I am sober and present to ride through this part of the roller coaster with her. And when the ride gets really bumpy, I’ll make sure my mask is on securely and double-check hers.  I am selfish. And so is she.  And I’m so proud of her.

“It is not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority.  It’s necessary.”  –Mandy Hale

Life on Life’s Terms

13 Sep

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Today marks 2300 days of sobriety.  Not sure if there is any particular significance to that number, other than it’s 2300 days without picking up a drink.  2300 days of not succumbing to temptations or cravings.  2300 days of learning that life is so much better sober. 2300 days of not choosing numbness over feelings, even if those feelings are painful. 2300 days of not relying on alcohol to provide me with an escape from reality.  2300 days of no hangovers.  2300 days of being present.  2300 days, one day at a time. 2300 days stronger.  Basically, 2300 days of living life on life’s terms.

Please don’t get me wrong –while I can honestly say that life is so much better sober, it does not mean that life is by any means easy or all rainbows and sunshine.  Bad things happen in life, whether we are sober or inebriated.  I used to do a great job of convincing myself that it was easier to deal with difficult times by escaping reality and anesthetizing myself with alcohol.  If I simply ignored the things I didn’t want to deal with, perhaps they would go away.  Funny, that never seemed to work. They would still be there in the morning, along with a miserable hangover and pounding headache.

Yes, life is tough. But what I wish I could convey to people who are still struggling with addiction and alcoholism, still smothered with hopelessness and despair, is that the difference when you get to the other side boils down to one simple thing:  hope. Miraculously, recovery has given me the incredible peace of mind and comfort that somehow, someway, everything will turn out ok.  As. Long. As. I. Don’t. Pick. Up. A. Drink. Or, put another way, as a friend in recovery often says, “Not even if your ass is on fire.”

I’ve been dealing with significant health issues for over 14 months now.   To say that I’ve been frustrated is a huge understatement.  For a person who is used to going full-speed (and then some) to not have the energy or stamina to make it half-way through the day has been brutal.  Being in a constant state of pain and exhaustion has taken its toll, not only on me but on those closest to me I’m sure.  As days of feeling crappy turned into weeks, and then into months and a year, I won’t lie and tell you that I didn’t think about picking up a drink.  I did.  Several times.  But I remembered: not even if my ass is on fire.  2300 days of sobriety has taught me that no matter what, a drink would only make things worse. Much worse.

I’m finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve written many pieces about the trying to find the silver lining in all situations, something that a very dear friend has taught me.  While this whole ordeal has been pretty damn miserable, I have been able to take away a few key lessons.  First and foremost, I have learned to put myself first.  I do that with my sobriety because if I don’t have my sobriety I won’t have anything else.   But physical and emotional health go hand-in-hand with that. I’ve learned to listen to my body and that when I’m exhausted, I need to rest. And that it’s OK to rest.  Without feeling guilty.  For many of us, especially moms, it’s been drilled into us by society that we have to go a million miles an hour, take care of everyone and everything, and be constantly on the move, doing something productive at all times.  We often put ourselves last on our lists, if we even make it on there at all. Self-care is not a luxury.  It is imperative.

I’ve also learned to prioritize and reassess what is truly important.  It shouldn’t take being sick to do this, but it is what it is.  When you have limited energy and capacity, you have to be realistic about what you actually can do and what really needs to be done.  And what can take a backseat.  It’s often probably more than you might think.

I also came to understand that it’s okay to wave the white flag and ask for help.   Since my sobriety is very much at the top of that list of priorities and what is truly important, and sometimes getting to meetings wasn’t an option because I wasn’t feeling well enough to attend, I reached out to friends in recovery and they graciously brought a meeting to me. Or, if my tank was running on fumes, I chose a meeting over doing a load of laundry. Filling up my tank with fuel for staying sober was more important than loading up the washing machine dispenser with Tide.   Clean living over clean laundry?  Sorry, I’m getting carried away…

Self-care is crucial for everyone, not just those in recovery.  Taking care of yourself, in every way that is important, will allow you to live life on life’s terms.  On the good days and the bad days.  On the days when it feels like your ass is on fire.  Be kind to yourself.  Put yourself first on your list.  Aim for more days of rainbows and sunshine and you just might get there.

“An empty lantern provides no light.  Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.”— Unknown

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…

Flying Sober

30 Mar

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I heard something really powerful today. A fellow alcoholic shared something that was passed along to him:  “Alcohol gave me wings to fly…then it took away the sky.” Just think about that for a few minutes.   You may not get that at all. Or it might make perfect sense to you. I completely understand it. I often turned to alcohol for liquid courage. To quell social anxiety when I had to walk in to a room full of strangers. To battle depression (it took me years to figure out that trying to fight depression with a depressant wasn’t exactly a smart plan).   To celebrate and chase a higher high. To escape. To try to stop the pain. To avoid feeling things I didn’t want to feel. And when I turned to alcohol for those reasons, I usually did get my wings to fly away from or high above whatever I was avoiding. Or sometimes to fly closer to something I was chasing.

Many people can remember the feeling they got from that very first drink. Most alcoholics will tell you that they instantly knew how much they liked it…a little too much. It may be gradual, but they will continue to try to recreate that buzz, often at great cost.   The kid who is shy and quiet might have put a drink or two in him and felt like he was the life of the party. The woman who was afraid to walk in to a crowded room full of strangers might have downed a glass of wine, let out a deep breath and marched in with a new-found confidence. Wings.

While we are drinking, sometimes we feel invincible. We feel no pain. Hell, I fell down a steep flight of concrete steps and should have been killed, but somehow in my alcoholic stupor, I hobbled away. We feel larger than life. We feel funnier, smarter, stronger, and braver. Wings. Yes, some of those times, maybe we were funny. Maybe we were enjoyable to be around. The life of the party. And then the party ended. But perhaps not for us. As I have said before, I look at my alcoholism as having a broken off-switch. Once I start drinking, there is no telling whether that switch will work or not. While other people may recognize that they have had enough and should probably put on the brakes, I’m only getting warmed up. If I felt good and buzzed, I only wanted to feel better and fly higher. The off-switch usually doesn’t kick in.

I am reminded of a Greek myth (hey, I was a Classical Studies major in college, so indulge me here a bit) – the story of Icarus and Daedalus. Daedalus built wings made of branches of osier connected with wax for his son, Icarus, and him to escape from the labyrinth in which they were imprisoned on the island of Crete by King Minos. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, too close to the sun, or the wax would melt and the wings wouldn’t hold up. Icarus was too exhilarated by the thrill of flying that he continued to soar upward. Sure enough, the sun melted the wax, and the boy plummeted into the sea (now known as the Icarian Sea).

Icarus was literally high, but sought to go higher. And paid the price of his life for it. That’s what can happen to alcoholics when they get their wings from alcohol. They may think that they soar. Until it takes away their sky.   What you think is liquid courage may be “instant asshole” potion. I don’t even want to know how obnoxious I truly was when I was lit. MaybeI had the courage to walk into a room full of strangers, but if I continued to drink, chances are I slurred, made little or no sense, embarrassed myself and others, and stumbled out. You seek the light and end up alone in the dark.

Alcohol gave me wings to fly… until I ended up on the cold bathroom floor with my head hanging over the toilet.   Swearing I would never drink again. Until I did.Alcohol gave me wings to fly…until my hands were shaking in need of another drink.Alcohol gave me wings to fly…until I lost sight of who I was and what was important in life, and I almost lost all that I cared about. What’s ironic is that the higher we try to go, the lower we end up sinking. The closer we get to the sun, the more we get burned. We think we are going toward the light, but we end up in total darkness.   Alcohol does, in fact, take away the sky.

The beauty of sobriety is that it is where we find the light. With each day sober, a little brighter ray of light breaks through the cracks. Now, almost six years without a drink, my future is so bright, I gotta wear shades (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And, I believe I can fly. Without alcohol. I can fly safely, without crashing. How? By relying on my HP. By reminding myself how much better life is sober than when I was wondering when the wax was going to melt. You too can F.L.Y.—First Love Yourself.

Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

 

 

 

Faith Springs Eternal

24 Mar

jan_17-002661Well, Spring whirled in with a big snowstorm here in Northern Virginia. Kind of sums up how things have been going for me lately. Haven’t had much time to write. For those of you wondering, it’s been 2125 days and I’m still sober. Not something I take for granted and I am thankful for it every single day. There have been days lately in the chaos that surrounds me when the thought of picking up a drink has crossed my mind. But that’s as far as it went. It crossed my mind and then kept on going. But for some, that thought can linger and lead to the actual action of picking up a drink. How do you keep the snowstorm from getting out of control and leading you to pick up that first drink?

Getting sober and staying sober is so often simplified into a few very clear, easy steps: Go to meetings. Don’t pick up a drink. Do the next right thing. Help another alcoholic. Then why is it so hard?   Alcoholism is described as being cunning, baffling and powerful. All of those are apt descriptions.   Cunning is defined as “sly, scheming, deceitful, guileful, and foxy.” Even “Machiavellian” comes up as a synonym, but that’s for another blog piece. The disease is all of those things. It is always lurking, always ready to pounce when your defenses are down. For the newcomer, those defenses may not yet have been developed. But I have heard countless stories of people, sober for years, who let their defenses down and stopped going to meetings, stopped working their recovery program, and ended up picking up a drink again. Then it’s off to the races. Because for alcoholics, it’s never picking up “a” drink.

Baffling is also a perfect description for the disease because it is so confusing, perplexing, mysterious. It is an obsession of the mind and a physical allergy, malady or compulsion. There is no magic cure or pill to treat the disease. Alcoholics come in all different shapes and sizes. Alcoholism does not discriminate against age, race, sex, socio-economic background, religion, etc. An alcoholic can go years without a drink and then pick up and be right where he or she left off instantly. Baffling.

And powerful. Well, that is an understatement. When I look at the number of people who relapse and struggle with this disease, I cannot help but appreciate the formidable power of the sickness. It’s not until we actually admit that we are powerLESS over the disease and surrender that we can start a path of recovery. Futhermore, we are not strong enough to battle this powerful disease on our own. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: We are the only ones who can do it, but we do not have to do it alone. This is where your HP comes in, or Higher Power. It is said in recovery that “probably no human power could have relieved us of our alcoholism.” I know this may be a very controversial statement for many but I firmly believe that no one can keep you sober—not your sponsor, not your doctor, not your priest, not your spouse, not your best friend. Not even you. It is bigger than you.

A Higher Power is a very personal and individual concept. For some it is God or Spirit. For others, Allah. Some find their Higher Power in nature. Some find it in recovery rooms. One of the things recovery has taught me is to be more open and respectful of the beliefs of others. I believe that willingness, faith and the ability to turn things over to a power greater than ourselves is essential in recovery. With these things, it is possible to not only keep the cunning, baffling and powerful foe at bay, but to thrive in a sober, stronger, and better way of life.

I’ve learned more in the nearly 6 years I’ve fought for my sobriety than I have during the rest of my entire life. Some of the most important things being the ones I just mentioned—a willingness to be open, honest and work my recovery program.   Faith in my Higher Power. And, thanks to my old friend the Serenity Prayer, the ability to differentiate the things that are in and out of my control and knowing when and how to turn things over. For those of you who have seen the cover of my book, Sobrietease, you know that the tagline underneath says “Turn It Over”. There is an upside down martini glass, which is, of course, turned over. But the main meaning is turning over the disease to my Higher Power. Surrendering. Asking for help. Putting my ego in the back seat instead of letting it try to run the show.

These things are helpful whether you are in recovery or not. We can all benefit from a willingness to be open and honest. Vulnerability has some extraordinary perks. The Serenity Prayer helps us to keep things in perspective in our daily lives—acceptance of what we cannot change, courage to change what we can, and wisdom to know the difference. And for the things we come to understand we cannot change or are greater than we are, knowing how and when to turn them over to our HP.   I’ve also learned that everyone has their battles and crosses to bear. No matter what that is for you, you are never alone when you rely on your HP.

With those tools, the “simple” steps suggested for getting and staying sober will work and that thought of a drink won’t turn into action. Go to meetings. Don’t pick up a drink. Do the next right thing. Help another alcoholic. Yes, alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. But people battle it and win every single day. It can be done. One day at a time. The thought of a drink may come into your mind. Let it keep on going. Whatever you are going through, many things in life will test your willingness and faith. The tests will make you stronger. Doubt will come into your mind often. Let it keep on going. Snowstorms will come… but the snow will melt.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle
 

 

 

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