Archive | July, 2016

Finding (and Using) My Voice

28 Jul

Chicken: noun meaning “coward”. When I drank, I did a really good job keeping everything inside and swallowing my feelings with each gulp of alcohol.   The more things that piled up inside, the more difficult it was for me to use my voice. I never wanted to rock the boat and I hated confrontation. I still do. When I got sober, part of what I needed to work on was finding my voice again and using it.

We are all born with a voice or some means of expressing ourselves.   As children, we were fully capable of asking for what we needed and conveying our feelings. Sometimes they came across in the form of crying or screaming or stomping our feet. I want an Oompa Loompa NOW daddy! We didn’t take into account how these outbursts would be received. We didn’t care if they hurt someone else’s feelings. That was a foreign concept to us then.

As we grew, we started to learn that our words and deeds affected those around us. There were repercussions to our tantrums. We began to realize that our words had the power of making other people feel good, or bad. We even learned that sometimes our words carried the ability to come back and haunt us. Once we opened our mouths and spoke the words, we couldn’t rein them back in.   Today with social media this is even more true. I try to tell my kids that once they put something “out there” it’s out there for good.

The good thing about constantly working on my sobriety is that I can see when I start slipping back into old habits. I realized recently that I was letting things build up and not using my voice to communicate my feelings. It’s often easier to sit at the keyboard and type away rather than having to talk to someone face-to-face. That’s not necessarily the best approach. Sometimes you need to be able to see someone’s reaction to what you say — body language, facial expressions, etc.

I often wish that I were more assertive. I respect people who are. People who are able to clearly state and stand up for what they believe and what they need. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come a long way since I got sober. It’s easier to see what’s important with a clear mind.   It’s a little bit ironic, though, to talk about losing my voice while I was drinking. Many times alcohol gave me the liquid courage to say things I probably shouldn’t have. But most of the REALLY important stuff got gulped down or temporarily washed away with the booze.

Lately I realized that I had built stuff up to create a humongous problem in my mind instead of tackling it head-on. Chicken. Afraid of what result my words would have. Would they hurt someone else’s feelings? Would I regret something that I put out there that I couldn’t take back? This is where self-worth comes in. Believing that I am worthy of expressing my feelings, believing that how I feel and what I think are actually important. And they are.

I finally did use my voice. And things went very well. Better than expected. I could have saved myself a great deal of stress and anxiety if I had just opened my mouth sooner. But I’m getting there. Stronger every day that I am sober. Wiser every day that I have a clear mind. Braver when I acknowledge that I am worth it.

“Be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to your heart, and strong enough to live the life you’ve always imagined.” — Unknown




The Fortress of Solitude

15 Jul

I have a friend who has shared with me a little about what it was like growing up with alcoholic parents. After hearing some of her stories, I am so grateful that my children will grow up with a recovering alcoholic and not one still actively drinking. She is one of the smartest and most generous people I know, which is all the more impressive knowing the circumstances under which she was raised.

Unfortunately, she’s packing up to move a few hours away. Although I’m sure we will keep in touch, I will miss our tea time together, often several times during the week. I’ll also miss her as a confidant, loyal advisor and wonderful friend. The friend who introduced us also moved away, and she is sorely missed.

Back to the alcoholic upbringing. The few stories she has relayed to me are horrific. She was pushed down the stairs and left temporarily blinded by her mother when she was in an alcoholic rage. Often times when her mother started drinking and Mrs. Hyde’s appearance was imminent, my friend would hide inside a small, round table in their house. Her mother would never find her in there and would become even more infuriated.

As my friend is packing up her belongings, she is getting rid of a huge amount of “stuff” since they are downsizing considerably. The time has come to decide what happens to the round table. The Fortress of Solitude. The Safe Haven. To those who might look at it in an estate sale, it would just be a normal table, suitable for putting drinks or little knick-knacks on. To her, it carries a Pandora’s box of memories.

Alcoholics are cautioned to avoid people, places and things which may be triggers for their drinking. But what about things that just trigger difficult memories for someone who isn’t an alcoholic? Do you hang on to those things because they hold so much meaning or let them go to try to alleviate the pain that they can bring? Packing up the “stuff” that you have accumulated over the years can bring a barrage of memories. Perhaps that’s why I have so many boxes of crap up in my attic. Too much to go through. Or perhaps too difficult to go through because of some of the memories associated with the “stuff.”

A move is an emotional upheaval. The prospect of a new start is exciting but the sadness over what you leave behind can be tough. I haven’t moved much in my life – I’ve been in the same area for over 25 years. While a move would be good in that it would force me to go through all the stuff in the attic, I think I have had enough change in my life the past four years while getting sober.

Everyone has stuff and baggage from the past. How they sort through it and deal with it is a very personal. Lately, I’ve been sorting through mostly intangible items from my past– my character defects that led me to drinking and the repercussions of my actions. Slowly but surely, I’m working through them and trying to become a better person for doing so.

As for the Fortress of Solitude, my friend has decided to let it go. Hopefully she will let go of some of the pain along with it. We may have scrapbooks of memories in our attics or simply in our minds – maybe in the corners of our minds, as the song goes. They are no less real than the table. My friend can put a pricetag on the table and sell it. The memories that go along with it have no monetary value, but the feeling of letting them go: priceless.

There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” – Shannon L. Alder

On the Road Again

1 Jul

Once again I find myself on a train…this time heading to NYC for the weekend with my daughter. We are going to spend the weekend with her godparents who have an apartment in the city. Shopping, show and super restaurants. Can’t wait.

So while on the train, do I do my fourth step work that my sponsor has assigned me or do I write a blog piece? I guess you can tell which one is winning. Can you say procrastination?   One of the things my sponsor told me to do when I do my fourth step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) is to list some character defects that could be making it hard for me to do my fourth step. To put it into perspective, I’ve been stuck on my fourth step for four years now.

As I’ve said before, the fourth step is known to be one of the hardest steps, if not the hardest, among the twelve. Many people have a very hard time looking at their own character defects and digging into the past, often uncovering numerous demons. I’ve known a few people who never made it past step four because it was just too painful to face. But some of the worksheets that offer guidance on how to go about doing the fourth step remind us that we are taking an inventory. They compare it to a business inventory, where everything is recorded, not just the bad or unnecessary items but also the good and useful. So when an alcoholic looks at their “moral inventory,” we must consider not only our defects but also our assets. For many, this can be hard as well if we have a hard time finding the good qualities in ourselves due to low self-esteem, among other things.

I’m not going to list all my character defects, or my assets, here. But I will say that it’s obvious that procrastination is a big defect of mine. And perhaps when it comes to doing this step, fear. If I knew what exactly I was afraid of, I might be able to deal with it better. But it will take some digging. Some digging that I keep procrastinating on doing. I know that there are many things that led me to drink, and many things that I regret having done when I did drink.   But a big part of this program is forgiveness and moving forward. As they say in the program, “We do not dwell on the past nor wish to close the door on it.” We revisit the past and learn from it what we can, and then move on.

In the past four years of sobriety (I’m coming up on 1,500 days next week, but who’s counting?) I’ve learned so much.   I’ve done a great deal of soul-searching and introspection. There’s a lot that I saw that I didn’t like, but also some that I did. We should all take the time to see our good qualities. My sponsor calls me “AG” for Atta Girl. I’m a firm believer in patting oneself on the back when it’s called for.   In my case, those days and nights I make it through a rough craving without picking up a drink. Or when I have a major breakthrough of understanding or come to a great revelation about myself or my drinking. On some days, I literally give myelf a pat on the back just for getting out of bed.

I’ve had a few reasons lately to be both displeased with myself for some of my actions, but also proud of myself for trying to correct them. Overall, I’m going to give myself and atta girl pat on the back. Sometimes I’m a little slow, but as long as I learn from my stupidity and mistakes it’s not so bad. I’ve also got a few amazing people in my corner who I can always count on for a kick in the head when it is called for instead of a pat on the back. Believe me, often that’s what I need. Everyone should be so lucky to have friends who care enough about them to kick them in the head sometimes.

Not sure if being nostalgic falls into character defect or asset column, but I’m coming up to that part of the train ride when we pass by my old alma mater in Philly. I can see the stadium and high rise buildings and even some of my old haunts as the train passes by.   I was just there a few weeks ago for my 25th college reunion (see my piece called “Once I Was 20 Years Old.”)   My daughter says she would love to go there one day. Raising smart kids—definitely falls in the asset column.   J

For more nostalgia this weekend, I’m going to see one of my oldest and dearest friends tonight.   She and I were actually in incubators next to each other in the hospital when we were born just a few days apart. Really looking forward to seeing her. Keeping in touch with old friends—asset.

And I can’t make a trip to NYC without being hit with the memory of it being the city where I had my last hurrah when it comes to drinking.   Memorial Day weekend, four years ago, my hands shook until I got a drink in me at lunch. Not this time. Sober and happy to be able to remember every minute I get to spend with my daughter and dear friends. Progress—asset.

Now on to my step four work…

“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” – Augustine of Hippo

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