Tag Archives: spirituality

#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

 

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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…

Wings Optional

27 Apr

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I’m a hugger. I like to give and get hugs from people. I understand that some people have personal space issues, but if you’re a hugger too, bring it on. I’m also a waver. I grew up in a pretty small town in Western Massachusetts and we waved to each other—as we drove by in cars, rode on our bikes, went for walks, etc. It’s such a small, trivial thing but it makes a difference. People talk about random acts of kindness. We don’t have to make grand gestures – start with waving at your neighbor. I drive around, or go on my morning walks, and I wave at neighbors and people who pass by. Quite often, they look at me like I have two heads, squint and try to figure out who I am, and if they don’t know they keep on going.   Do they really think I’m some sort of friendly, waving serial killer? Is it that hard to put your hand up, make a gentle wrist motion and acknowledge someone? Thank you to everyone who waves back!! And just let me know if you want a hug…

You may have seen the video featuring US Navy Admiral William McRaven who says “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sK3wJAxGfs.   Take a minute to watch it—it’s so worth it. After you make your bed, I add to that wave to your neighbor. I’m not even pushing the hug thing. Admiral McRaven talks about the power of hope. He also says in the speech, “if you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart not by the size of their flippers.” I haven’t been able to measure the size of the hearts of some of the people in my life these days because they are simply too big. These are the people who go way beyond waving and hugging. They give me hope. These are the people who I look at and expect to see wings. They are my angels. I hope that they know who they are. Here are just a few angels I’m sending waves and hugs out to today:

To the woman who summoned up the courage to talk to me through her tears yesterday when I was having coffee and she overheard us talking about the foundation I run that helps women with breast cancer. You’re in my prayers.

To the foundation patients I work with who take the time out of their own battles and struggles to send me a note of thanks and tell me that I made a difference in their life. You inspire me.

To the people who reach out with a text or call just to say hi and check on me. And, of course, to the one person who hasn’t missed a single day in 2160 days of sending me my morning ray of sunshine. I’m beyond grateful to you for your unwavering, unconditional love and friendship.

To the man who came up to me at a meeting last week and told me that he read my book… and that it saved his life. Stay strong my friend.

To the reader in FL who sent me a tweet to tell me that he was going to be celebrating his first St. Patrick’s Day sober and as the designated driver thanks in part to me sharing my journey. Keep going, one day at a time.

To the sweet man in recovery with me who showed up at my door with two guys to fix my broken front door because he knew it was bugging me.   He simply said “I’m your friend. Friends help each other.” Yes they do.

To my brave friend “U.P.” who fights a brave fight every day and amazes me with her determination and fortitude. #wegetup

To my friends who donated, shared, re-tweeted, “liked,” re-posted, showed up, and helped me surpass our fundraising goal the other night for the foundation. Thank you each and every one of you. Together we can do great things.

To my dear sponsor who supports my every endeavor and is always there for me. Thank you SS.

I can’t possibly list them all…and I hope those of you I didn’t mention know how much I appreciate you too. Wave to your neighbor and smile at a stranger. You have no idea what is going on in their world. Measure a person by the size of their heart. Little things make a big difference. As Admiral McRaven says, “if you can’t do the little things great, you’ll never be able to do the big things great.”

“You’ll meet more angels on a winding path than on a straight one.” –Terri Guillemets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
 

 

 

The Power of Prayer (and a Pint of Ben and Jerry’s)

13 Feb

Several years ago, I was seated next to a woman at a birthday dinner for a friend. I knew her, but not well.  I had heard she was going through a rough separation with her husband but didn’t know the details.  She had three small children and when I had seen her occasionally around the neighborhood, she looked like she had been through the ringer.  During our conversation, she opened up and told me about her situation.  It was a terrible story which involved her husband having a drug addiction she was unaware of and spending most of their savings, getting deeper and deeper in debt to his habit.  As I listened in disbelief and sympathy, I asked her how in the world she got through it.  She told me that she didn’t get through it alone.  She said that she felt as though someone, or something, picked her up and helped her to be able to carry on with each day to do what she needed to for her children and herself.  She told me that she felt God’s presence and that she was convinced that it was He who provided her with the strength she needed at her worst hour.  Having had several cocktails already, I tried to keep myself from outwardly displaying through facial expressions or body language that I thought she was completely nuts.  Um, yeah, ok…some strange force picked you up and carried you through your day.   And I suppose there were little green men helping you push your shopping cart at the grocery store as well.

After that night, I think I only saw her one other time.  I heard that she and her husband reconciled, that he got help and was able to beat his addiction, and they managed to keep their family together.  They also spent a great deal of time focusing on their faith and good fortune, which they believed was brought to them by God.  I didn’t think about this woman for years, until recently.  And I can honestly say that now I get it.  I completely understand what she meant when she said that something much greater and more powerful than anything she had ever known lifted her up and carried her until she could stand again on her own two feet.

Growing up, the extent of my religious practices involved reluctantly going to church on major holidays, like Christmas and Easter, and trying to stay awake.  I knew nothing about the Bible, Christianity, or theology. More importantly, I knew nothing about spirituality, or the fact that spirituality and religion are two completely separate things.   After getting married in the Catholic church, and especially after our children were born, I started to attend church much more regularly.  But still, only when things got rough, or when dealing with the loss of a loved one, did I turn my glance upwards, mostly looking for answers.  Then there were the many times, usually while paying homage to the porcelain god after a night of mixing drinks, that I either asked God to help me stop feeling so sick or vowed to Him that I would never drink again.  That never lasted very long.

When I took my last drink almost 21 months ago, the realization that I could never, ever pick up a drink again was beyond overwhelming.  It seemed downright impossible.  Add to that the knowledge that no one could do this for me, or really do anything to help but be there to support me, and that’s more than rubbing salt in the wound.  There was no magic pill that a doctor could prescribe.  There was no therapist who could magically remove the compulsion to drink.  There was no trainer, life coach, personal assistant, clergy, shaman, or magic wand.  There was only me.  And, when I was ready to know, understand and trust it, my Higher Power (HP).

I often think that if I only knew when raising my first child what I now know while raising the third, my life would have been so much calmer.  But as they say, hindsight is 20/20.  While I was immersed in diapers, nursing, bottles, spit-up, and sleepless nights, I couldn’t see that if I only took a deep breath and calmed down, I could have enjoyed that precious time alone with a beautiful new life.  By the time I got to my third child, I wasn’t obsessed about sanitizing a pacifier after it fell to the ground, or as much of a sleep-nazi about nap time and schedules.   He got thrown into his carseat, whatever time of day, to shuttle the other two kids around to their activities.  He had to just go with the flow. In fact, I would often just put the baby down for a while in his little playpen and just let him be…without hovering over him to make sure he was still breathing every few minutes!

Similarly, if I had only known during those first few weeks or sobriety what I know now, it would not have been quite as torturous.  Don’t get me wrong, it still would have been pure hell, but the knowledge I have now certainly would have helped.  Admitting having a life that is unmanageable due to an addiction to alcohol is the first huge step.  Understanding that you cannot fully recover from that addiction without turning to, and relying on, your HP is the next crucial turn.  That’s the magic bullet.  The power of determination helps.  The power of friendship and support helps.  The power of inner strength helps.  But the power of prayer heals.

When I started to understand that if I was willing to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, the road to recovery would be much smoother.  There will still be many bumps and potholes, but that belief and willingness helps to pave a smoother path.  I used to sit in church and during the quiet prayer time after communion, I would hold my head in my hands and cry silently.  I was miserable.  And usually hungover as it was a Sunday morning.  I positioned myself physically as far away from anyone, including my family, as I possibly could, even in the same pew.  I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone.  I chose to sit and drown in my depression.  I asked God for help.  But it didn’t come.  On my terms anyway…

As I learned more and more during my recovery, and truly trusted in turning things over to my HP, I started to see the magic at work.  I noticed that somehow I would hear something from a friend (angel?) on a day when that was exactly what I needed to hear.  And I actually was listening for a change.  I realized that the people who surrounded me where there for a specific reason.  A kind word of support or pat on the back worked wonders for my will to fight on.  I saw that the fortuitous encounter with a well-respected pastor with whom I shared my story recently was probably no accident.

I have prayed for strength for my recovery and I am still sober, 626 days later.  I have prayed for support and understanding from family and friends and I have that.  I have prayed for healing and learning to forgive myself and I am on the right path.  I have prayed for guidance with some tough situations and have gotten it.  I have prayed for the ability to sit quietly and listen and I’m getting better at that. Sometimes I will need a kick in the head to remember to turn to prayer and my HP when things get really rough, but hopefully I will get that kick too from the people who care about me and whom God has put in my life to help me.  As for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s, that can help immensely as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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