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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
 

 

 

Love, Freedom and Sisterhood

27 Jan

Last night, I had the great pleasure of going to see Glennon Doyle with my mom in Naples, Florida at an event called “Love, Freedom and Sisterhood.” I’ve written before about “God winks” and this was a pretty big one. I made plans to take my boys to Florida to see my parents and found out afterwards that Glennon and her new wife, Abby Wambach, would be holding an event only about eight miles from my parents’ house while we would be visiting.

For those of you who don’t know who Glennon Doyle is, check her out here: Glennon Doyle. In a nutshell, she is a woman for whom I have a great deal of admiration for several reasons: she speaks her truth, she has learned to find the silver linings in life, and she inspires others to be the best, most honest version of themselves they can be.

After getting sober and writing the blog Momastery and the book Love Warrior, Glennon focused on philanthropy and activism and started a non-profit called Together Rising. The website says “At Together Rising, we believe that the surest way to lift a family or community is to lift a woman — that when a woman rises, she raises her people up with her.  Our mission is our name — To Get Her Rising — and we exist to heal the world, one ‘Her’ at a time.”

I wish everyone could have heard her message last night. There were cameras there filming, so maybe at some point you will be able to see it, but I can at least share some highlights with you:

Become the ones we are waiting for. Through Together Rising, Glennon Doyle has brought immediate help to families that would have otherwise been waiting for long periods of time for aid and assistance. Sometimes, we need to be the first responders. I see this firsthand in both my job with the National Breast Center Foundation and as someone in recovery who tries to help and guide others struggling with alcohol or addiction.

The number of women in my own community who don’t get the medical treatment they need for breast cancer is staggering. I am blessed to work for an amazing physician who saw this need and started a foundation to address it. Women don’t have weeks or months to wait when they are scared, overwhelmed and lacking insurance or financial resources to get the help and treatment they need.  The foundation helps women who need it now.

I also have the privilege of working with many people who turn to me for help with their battle against substance abuse. They may have waited years for help, not knowing where to turn or being too scared to ask. While there are those who disagree with my being so open about my recovery, I think it’s fair to say that if I wasn’t “out there” with it, I wouldn’t have become one of the ones that many are waiting for.

-Don’t abandon yourself to please the tribe. This was the story of my life until I got sober, worked on my character defects and stopped being a people-pleaser who was afraid to rock the boat.   I spent my life trying to make everyone else happy and worrying about what everyone else thought. I lost myself.   I thought for a while that I could find myself in the bottle. Not so much. It only made it worse.   Five years and eight months sober (2070 days but who’s counting), I have only recently started to find out who I really am and speak my truth. Sometimes it’s hard as hell, but it’s much better than living my life completely numb and abandoning myself to please the tribe.

Get to your own voice of wisdom. Glennon talked about how she often turned to friends for advice and help with major decisions in her life. But she learned that everyone’s opinion depends on where they themselves are coming from—their tribe. No one else knows.   Only you know. You need to listen to that voice inside of you. Some call it intuition. Some call it wisdom. Glennon described it as “feeling warm”. When something doesn’t quite feel right, she said she doesn’t “feel warm” inside. I think you know what she means. I do. I am blessed to have a few people I trust and confide in and often run things by to make sure I’m on the right track. But ultimately, I have to listen to my gut. As Glennon said last night, “your life has never been tried before. Every woman is a pioneer.” We will make mistakes in the choices we make in life but that’s okay. The important thing is to learn and grow from them. My mistakes and bad choices made me who I am today. Glennon talked about having our own built-in GPS. It’s okay to make a wrong turn and get that voice that says “redirect”.

-Be still. “Shut out every single voice in your life.”   We often find our brains on overload with a zillion voices shouting at us, people clamoring for our attention, overwhelmed with life’s daily demands. We need to take the time to just be still and tune everything else out. A good friend of mine reminds me often to simply breathe. I’ve learned in recovery the importance of prayer and meditation, which comes only with being still. Being still allows me to connect to my HP (Higher Power) and refocus. Being still allows me to get to my own voice of wisdom. Being still is also something that is not always easy, especially for someone who is used to going a million miles a minute. But it is essential for us to find our true selves.

-Allow nothing but love onto your island. We have the ability to surround ourselves with what we choose. We don’t have to allow other people’s fear, anger, prejudices or judgments into our space. Enough said.

-Be desperate to tell the truth. When asked about when she started writing her blog, Glennon said that she found it to be something just for her. That she “wrote her heart out.” She said that her writing was “raw and real and true, like someone who actually believes she is forgiven.” I feel exactly the same way about my writing. There is something amazing about getting it all out and seeing the words on the page. And there is something even more amazing if those words on the page help someone else.

There was so, so much more but that gives you a good idea. I learned a great deal last night from a fellow recovery warrior, including even a little about carpentry. As Glennon explained, “sistering” means strengthening weak joists with additional material. Adding a board on each side can help a weak one stand stronger. Sometimes we could all use a little sistering. I’ve been blessed to have strong women and men stand up beside me to hold me up when I needed it. I hope that I can be a strong board for others when they need it as well.

“If there’s a silver lining to the emptiness, here it is: the unfillable is what brings people together. I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness and my emptiness.” 
― Glennon Doyle MeltonCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed

Martha Carucci is a blogger/author from Alexandria, VA.  Her book Sobrietease is a humorous yet heartfelt account of her journey through recovery and sobriety into a  better life.  Follow Martha’s blog at www.sobrietease.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Little Candle

20 Dec

I spent all last week in the hospital. I was admitted Sunday after a trip to the emergency room. Long story, and I’ll spare you the nasty details, but I had a bad bacterial infection called c diff.   It basically tore up my stomach. I wasn’t released until Saturday evening. Still on a strong antibiotic, quite weak and nursing my stomach, but very, very happy to be home.

No, it’s not an ideal time to be down and out with the holidays here. But it’s never really a good time to be sick. It is what it is. Christmas is going to have to be low key this year. People will just have to understand. More importantly, I will have to understand. Which is hard. I’m used to going full speed and I just can’t do that right now.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my recovery is gratitude. I’ve written about it many times. One of my dearest friends always reminds me to find the silver lining in everything. I have miraculously been able to look at this whole situation and find the good. My family really rallied. The kids and my husband got the Christmas tree up and decorated, kept the house running, and lifted my spirits. My amazing sponsor spent almost every day with me in the hospital and showered me with TLC. Friends have been beyond generous with prayers, kind words and dinners for my family.

My son’s fifth grade religious education class that I teach made get well cards for me. I was blessed with an amazing assistant catechist whom I didn’t know until this year but has been an absolute angel. Just another example of how HP puts people in your life for a reason. She thoughtfully had the kids make cards for me and checks in often as well.   We also got a new student in our class just two weeks ago. A sweet girl who brought me a little candle for Christmas with a nice card. That simple gesture meant more than she or her family can know. I had that candle next to my bed in the hospital and it kept the room smelling like a Christmas tree. All the nurses and doctors who came in commented on it. It brought me a little Christmas cheer in an otherwise scary time.

The candle smells amazing. But it is also a symbol. A symbol of light. A symbol of hope. There’s a song called “One Little Candle” which a couple of artists (Perry Como and Chicago) have covered. I think I sang it in chorus when I was in sixth grade. I found the lyrics:

It is better to light just one little candle,
Than to stumble in the dark!
Better far that you light just one little candle,
All you need’s a tiny spark!

If we’d all say a prayer that the world would be free,
What a wonderful dawn of a new day we’ll see!
And, if everyone lit just one little candle,
What a bright world this would be!

 This world could use a little spark and brightness right now. I know I could. Imagine if everyone did light one little candle and saw that candle as light and hope too. Some friends lit Hanukkah candles on their menorahs. Many will go to churches on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and light a candle in memory of a loved one. I will light my little candle and remind myself to find the silver linings and my gratitude.

I’m grateful that the last thing I have wanted through all this is a drink. My sobriety is truly a gift. I know this is a hard time of year for so many people who struggle with alcoholism, addiction, depression, and more. To them I say this: have faith. Stay strong. No matter how bad things get, find something for which you are grateful. It may be as simple as a warm place to hang your hat. Trust me. It works.   Just as a single little candle goes a long way, so does gratitude.

Best wishes to you all for a happy, healthy holiday season. Thanks for the continued support.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

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Feet in the Water

26 Oct

Wow. July 9 was the last time I wrote a blog piece. Thanks to everyone who has reached out. So much to say but I don’t know where to start. I feel like I did when I first started my blog in 2013—I didn’t quite know where to start but I knew that if I waited for the perfect time or for the perfect words to come, I would never begin. So this isn’t going to be a typical piece. It’s really just for me to dip my feet back in the water, to let you know that I am still here, and that yes, I am STILL sober. 1977 days sober. And that’s nothing short of a miracle.

I don’t have the energy to get into all the details, nor do I want to bore you with them, but I’ve been really sick for over 3 months. Exhausted, extremely weak, chest pain, difficulty breathing….was in the ER once and the hospital for a few days as well. I’ve been to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, and have had more tests done and blood drawn than I can keep track of. I’ve tried traditional medical routes as well as alternative. I’ve done therapy, med evaluations, energy healing, massage, nutrition and chiropractic. I’ve even changed the water I drink (which I’ll have to explain in another piece). I’m down about 17 pounds and my entire body is just achy and weak. I could go on…

As frustrating as this has all been (and I still don’t have any concrete answers), miraculously I haven’t wanted to pick up a drink. And thanks to my sobriety, I have been able to look at all this and find some silver linings. I’ve learned a great deal about myself –emotionally and physically. I know that stress is playing a huge role in all of this somehow. And I’m starting to learn that I have to listen to my body and make some necessary changes in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed by friends who have been supportive, caring and helpful. I’ve met some amazing people who have been through similar health issues and graciously shared their experiences and wisdom with me. I’ve let go of things that I simply can’t do and am starting to set up some healthier boundaries. I’ve begun to practice what I preach and have reached out for help. Not something alcoholics are typically good at.   I guess basically this whole situation has made me really reassess what is and isn’t important in life.

So there. It’s a start. I know there is a reason I am going through this. I know I’ll come out of it even stronger. I know how much writing has helped me in the past so maybe just this small start is a step toward healing….

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” — Hippocrates

 

How Big is the Damn Onion – Part II

4 Jul

A while back, I wrote a piece called “How Big is the Damn Onion.” It was about working on ourselves and peeling the layers of the onion to get to the root of our issues. I’m revisiting this concept because I find myself with more layers peeling recently and I don’t really like it. Frankly, it scares me and I worry about my sobriety as some of these major layers peel away and lead to things I thought I had shoved down into my subconscious for good. Not deeply enough I guess.

Today is the Fourth of July. A time when many people are getting out their red Solo cups (another piece I wrote a while ago) and there is a lot of alcohol consumed. I feel like I am totally surrounded by it. Tomorrow is my daughter’s sixteenth birthday. I’m finding it stirring up a lot of things for me. First off, I can’t believe how quickly time has flown since my life changed when I became a mother with her birth. It makes me think of my own sixteenth birthday and I REALLY can’t believe how quickly time has flown since that day over 30 years ago. My mother managed to arrange a surprise party for me and gave everyone where I worked for the summer t-shirts to wear that said “Martha is 16 Today!” I still have mine.

My daughter’s request for her birthday was to celebrate it with two of her friends and me at the lake. A beautiful, serene place where we are enjoying time on the water and some simple things like making s’mores at a fire by the lake, getting ice cream and just relaxing – something I don’t do very often. But as I relax and unwind, I peel more of the layers of the onion away.

I had a bad drinking dream the other night. It was the kind where you wake up in a sweat thinking it was real. It was most likely prompted by a thought that came into my head about celebrating my daughter’s birthday and not being able to toast her with some champagne. Same with her wedding someday. These are the times when being an alcoholic can frankly suck.   But they are also the times when it is crucial to remember the simple saying: “One day at a time.”   When I first got sober, I was completely overwhelmed by the idea that I would never have a drink again. Some sober friends gave me excellent advice and reminded me that all I had to do was not drink for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow or the future. I also remembered a friend telling me that she threw away her sobriety after one sip of celebratory champagne to toast her son’s engagement. Her mistake became my lesson and, thank goodness, one that someone reminded me of the other day.

So I bought some sparkling cider and lemonade to toast with my daughter and her friends tomorrow.   We plan to go on a hike by some local falls. We’ll go back on the water in kayaks and canoes. I’ll take some time to write and read. And I’ll continue to peel back the layers of the onion. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but as I wrote before, it’s necessary to process things and then let them go. I’ve managed to do that with many things but there are always more layers of the onion to peel. As a great friend pointed out, you’ll probably peel away the last layer when you take your final breath in this world.

Happy Birthday America and Happy Birthday to my beautiful daughter. I’m glad I can celebrate both – sober and present.

“I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth. ” ― Ovid, Metamorphoses

Sober Cum Laude

25 Jun

 

It’s graduation time. A time when so many young people move up and move on. Happy celebrations that mark one chapter in life that is ending and a new one beginning. I was delighted to celebrate some of these special occasions with dear friends recently and to be able to do so sober.

In the midst of the festivities, however, yet another friend in recovery went back out “to do more research”. They fell off the wagon. They went back out to their old world of drinking. Often, the action is facilitated by one particular thought: “I’ve got this now.”   However long they have been sober—10 days or 10 years—they think that they can now “control” their drinking. Sorry to say, that ain’t gonna happen.

If however, you are able to prove me wrong, my hat is off to you. No one I know or have met in my five years of sobriety has been able to do that. In fact, I’ve shared some pretty heartbreaking stories on my blog about people who went back out and never returned – they lost their lives to the disease before they could get back in to recovery.   Once a pickle, you can never go back to being a cucumber.

But many people who go back out come right back in. They get themselves back into a recovery program immediately. We are all human. We make mistakes. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful, so kudos to those who get knocked down and get back up again. I hope that I won’t find myself in that situation but…

Recovery is not a program from which one ever “graduates”. But then again, neither is life. If we aren’t constantly learning, we are going backwards. I can honestly say that some of the most important and most helpful things I’ve learned have been in recovery. And they are pretty basic things that can help anyone, alcoholic or not.

Sobriety 101 teaches us “one day at a time.” Sounds so simple but yet often so hard to live by. When I first got sober, the idea of never having a drink again, EVER, was completely overwhelming to me. What helped the most was when someone would remind me that I don’t have to do it forever, just for today. Tomorrow is another day, and I will tell myself the same thing. In tough times, this may get changed to “one hour at a time.” Make life manageable for yourself. Break things down into attainable goals.

We also learn another crucial axiom: “do the next right thing.”   Again, alcoholic, addict or not, everyone can use this reminder.   When you come to crossroads, make the right choice. It’s not always easy, believe me I get that, but ask yourself what the next right thing is and find a way to do it. If you need to, ask for help.

In AP Sobriety, things get a little more complicated. We hear things like “change I must or die I will,” “attitude of gratitude,” “stinkin’ thinkin’” and, my personal favorite, “turn it over.” Again, all of these can be useful to non-alcoholics as well. Who doesn’t have “stinkin’ thinkin’” sometimes?   Many of us could use an attitude adjustment, and we can all stand to have a little more gratitude. I realize that is very difficult when times are tough. That’s where the “turn it over” part comes in. One thing I’ve learned on this journey of sobriety is to trust in my HP, my Higher Power. When things get really difficult, I have to remind myself to turn them over. Some things are bigger than I am, but not bigger than HP. Whatever your Higher Power, your Spirit, your God, remember to turn things over to It/Him. I know that without my HP, I wouldn’t be sober right now.

Whether you are in recovery or not, there are certain things in life that we could all use refresher courses in.   Sometimes we just need to go back to basics, like the lessons above. I’ve had 1854 days in sobriety school and I learn something new every day. Thanks to all of you who have taught me life lessons along the way. You have my attitude of gratitude.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” William S. Burroughs

 

 

 

 

Respect

7 Jun

As many of you know, I tend to be very open, raw and honest in my writing. I know no other way. It is my strong belief that this is what I am being called to do—to share my story openly so that I may help others struggling with alcoholism, addiction or other issues. To turn my mess into a message. I am always so grateful when someone reaches out to me for help. So encouraged that they got something out of my writing and felt that they could trust me enough to open up and reach out their hand.   One thing they trust me with is their anonymity. I want to strongly emphasize to all my readers, followers, friends and fellow alcoholics that I would never violate anyone’s anonymity or trust.

 

I often struggle with the concept of anonymity. It has been suggested that I look carefully at Tradition Eleven of AA, which states that “our public relations policy is based upon attraction rather than promotion, we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films. “ I have done several radio, television and Internet interviews and have shared my personal story. I do not in any way, shape or form, speak on behalf of AA or anyone else. An AA pamphlet, conference approved literature, entitled “Understanding Anonymity” says the following: “AA members may disclose their identity and speak as recovered alcoholics, giving radio, tv and Internet interviews without violating the Traditions so long as their membership to AA is not revealed.” The pamphlet also says that “Experience suggests that AA members respect the right of other members to maintain their own anonymity at whatever levels they wish.” While it is my choice to share my experience, strength and hope very openly, I am very respectful of the fact that many people choose to remain anonymous and work their recovery privately. Again, I completely respect this and would never violate anyone else’s anonymity.

 

Step 12 says that “having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” I have always been confused by what seem to me to be contradictory statements (Tradition 11 and Step 12). How do we carry the message to other alcoholics without revealing ourselves as alcoholics who can empathize with what they are going through?  How can others get the message that they are not alone, that they do not have to suffer without help? How can I give someone hope by letting them know that 5 years into my sobriety, my life is so much better?   I can tell them that I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, and I am also alcoholic. And if I can fight this disease and turn things around, they can too.

 

Perhaps the most important message to quote from AA is this one:
“Our primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.” Everyone’s story is different. Their recovery is different.  There may be many similarities, but your story is your own. The way that I stay sober is to give back what has been given to me—the experience, strength and hope that can help other alcoholics like this one.

 

Unfortunately the need for me to write this blog piece demonstrates just how much of a stigma alcoholism still is in our society. That there is a great deal of fear for many of being found out and labeled as an alcoholic. We have a disease. A very unfortunate, cunning, baffling and powerful disease. It is not a weakness. It is not a lack of willpower. But I get it, people can lose their jobs and more if their alcoholism is revealed. It’s so sad that this is how things are for alcoholics in our culture. To have to battle the disease secretly in church basements.   I am truly blessed to have a family and friends who support me and my journey. I realize that not everyone is so fortunate. And because they may not be, all the more reason for me to let them know that someone like me is here to point them in the right direction to get some help and let them know that they don’t have to do it alone.

 

Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.” Pema Chodron

 

Cinco de Derby

7 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Welcome to Fantasy Island

12 Mar

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The End of the Affair

24 Oct

I had an affair. A tawdry affair that lasted years longer than it should have. It could have destroyed everything. Several people’s lives could have been ruined. Even worse, I carried out my affair out in the open, for all to see. I was seduced at a young age and the romance grew. It took all I had in me to gather the courage to break it off, but my love affair is finally over. The sultry, sexy, stimulating liquid that once gave me a warm glow and made me feel amazing (albeit temporarily) is no longer a part of my life. The break-up was years ago, but I still think about my love affair with alcohol.

There is a story in the Big Book (of Alcoholics Anonymous) that talks about the “mellow glow” that alcohol brings to a young man who first experiments with it (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 209). He describes his introduction to alcohol as follows:   “I gulped it down and choked. I didn’t like it, but I would not say so. A mellow glow stole over me. This wasn’t so bad after all. Sure, I’d have another. The glow increased. Other boys came in. My tongue loosened. Everyone laughed loudly. I was witty. I had no inferiorities….This was the real thing!”

As with many stories in the Big Book, reading this account the other day I could totally relate. I knew exactly the warm glow to which he was referring. The fuzzy feeling that came after the first few sips. The warmth, comfort, escape. But as is the story with many alcoholics, it went downhill from there. He became completely dependent on the feeling that the booze brought him, seeking it out at any cost. It was destroying his life until he was able to get a grip on it and accept the fact that the truth would set him free.

The truth has set me free. The truth is that I am an alcoholic. It was an affair that was destined for disaster. It’s out in the open now and I share my story willingly in hopes of helping others to avoid the pain. Don’t start the affair. If you do and feel it’s gotten out of control – that the affair has taken over your life – break it off. If you need help to do so, get it. It’s out there and available.

Many of you know the story of my affair. You may even relate to it a little too well. The drinks that are fun at first. That help you relax and unwind. That help give you the liquid courage to walk into an otherwise uncomfortable or intimidating social situation. That you can’t wait to pour at the end of a long day. That you seek out first thing at a party.

But do you know the ones that you start to crave earlier and earlier in the day? The ones that you seek to make you feel a little better after a rough night—the hair of the dog? The ones that you don’t just want but must have? The ones that you start to hide because they are becoming too numerous? The ones that temporarily put an end to your hands shaking? These are the ones that often make the affair more insidious and dangerous.

The first step in AA is admitting that your life has become unmanageable and that you are powerless over alcohol. The affair is notorious for this.   After the seduction by the powerful temptress, alcohol takes over your life.   Your thoughts are consumed by where and when you are going to get your next drink. When you will be with your lover again.

For many, the affair with alcohol has destroyed their lives. They kept it up at huge costs. They may have succeeded in keeping it hidden, but most often they can’t. Those close to them usually find out. In my case, many knew. Some expressed their concern and others even tried to talk me out of it.   I’m incredibly blessed that I didn’t have to face a horrific rock bottom.   I came close to losing a great deal but thanks to a tremendous amount of love and support, the break-up occurred before too much damage could be done.

My life is so much better now that the affair has ended. My husband and my family know that I have moved on and I have made my peace. The temptation is still there occasionally, but I am stronger. I am no longer so easily seduced. I know the dangers of the temptress. I know the seductive singing of the Sirens in the form of a deep red bottle of wine…and I can now turn my sails in another direction.

It happened this way: I fell in love and then, because the love was ruining everything I cared about, I had to fall out.”Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story

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

 

 

 

Easter Miracles

27 Mar

On this particular Easter Sunday, I  focused more than ever on the miracle that Easter represents. The miracle of Christ rising from the dead. Not just rising from the dead, but ascending after a horrific and brutal yet incredibly symbolic crucifixion. As it says in the bible, “Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” He bore our sins, our diseases, our sicknesses and our pain for us so that we may live free forever.

On this particular Easter Sunday, I remember that verse as I pray for a sweet little boy who was in a terrible car accident a few days ago. His mother, who is strong in her faith, reminded her friends that life can change in an instant. But as she sits in the ICU with her son, her faith grows even stronger. It is understandable that someone would look at this situation and ask why? Why, if Jesus bore our pain and grief, would this happen to an innocent child? I ask the same question why about another dear friend’s daughter who has a tumor on her spine that she battles with chemotherapy and possibly surgery. Why would a just God allow this to happen?

On this particular Easter Sunday, I have many more questions than I do answers. But yet I find my faith growing stronger as well, inspired by my friends who handle these situations with the utmost grace and faith. I don’t know that I would be able to handle such difficult, trying times as well as they do. I pray that I won’t have to. And I feel helpless, sitting on the sidelines, unable to do anything for them. But I can do something. Something important. I can pray. I can pray to the God who sacrificed his only Son for us, the Son who bore all our sickness and grief on the cross, for hope, health and healing. And I can believe, as I do with all my heart, in the power of prayer.

On this particular Easter Sunday, as I went to church with my family, I gave thanks for all that we have, especially our health. And I prayed. I prayed for my friends and for their children. I prayed for my friend whose partner is suffering from the grave repercussions of her alcoholism. I sang and remembered why we celebrate Easter. I rejoiced in the miracle that Easter represents. That Christ has risen from the dead. That miracles do happen. I turned to my faith more than ever. And I have the utmost faith that God will take care of all His children.
“The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Relapse or Renewal?

22 Mar

There have been several times in meetings when I have heard someone share about relapsing. One would think that the agony on the person’s face and the guilt and shame they relate would be enough of a deterrent to anyone in the room from ever picking up a drink again. I’ve been at meetings where people who have been sober for years and years have swallowed their pride and admitted to their fellow alcoholics that they “went back out.” It’s always so tough to hear and difficult to watch them suffer. And always one hell of a wake-up call and reminder that we can never get too complacent when dealing with this disease.

Recently, however, one person’s relapse hit me quite hard. I went to visit a friend who was recovering from major back surgery. She was remarkably strong and in relatively good spirits considering her situation. She had expected to be convalescing in her home under the loving care of her partner of many years. But she was there alone, having to fend for herself and rely on friends and neighbors to bring groceries and meals. Unbeknown to my friend, her partner, who had been sober for 24 years, had started drinking again a year ago at Christmas. She was not there to help my friend in her recovery from her surgery because she was in the hospital herself. Fighting for her own life because her liver was failing. She had done so much damage to her liver when she was drinking so heavily, 24 years ago, by picking up again she went right back to where she left off. There’s a reason that alcoholism is described as “cunning, baffling and powerful.”

No one in their right mind would choose to do something to themselves that would cause one of their major organs to stop functioning. That’s just it – she wasn’t in her “right mind.” Apparently, over Christmas last year, this woman was around friends who were drinking and that evil little drink devil reared it’s ugly head and made her think that she should be drinking too. Just one drink couldn’t hurt, she must have thought. But that’s never how it works, is it? Not for an alcoholic. It may not be the first time you pick up. Then you may just be able to have that one drink. But inevitably there will be more. And more. Until you drink yourself to death. Literally.

I’ll spare you the details of what is happening to her body physically. Suffice it to say it’s not pretty. I can only imagine what is going on in her head emotionally. Fear? Guilt? Shame? Remorse? Regretting not being there for her partner who needs her now? Anger? Anger at this horrific disease. A disease known by so many but a disease with such a huge stigma attached to it still. So what does my friend say when people ask where her partner is? How about that she is in a battle for her life, up against a most formidable foe? Why is there so much shame surrounding the disease of alcoholism? It’s not something we brought upon ourselves. Yes, how we choose to deal with it is something that we control. But we didn’t catch this disease. We weren’t careless or weak. We didn’t let our defenses down and somehow acquire it. Yet most people are quite reticent to admit to anyone that they are an alcoholic.

I choose to admit it freely for several reasons. It’s my hope that by putting myself and my story out there, I can somehow help others who are suffering. I used to be horrified at the thought of anyone finding out but as I said, it’s a disease. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a lack of will power or self control. People need to learn about it and need to try to understand as much as they can. Chances are very good that you may know someone who is an alcoholic. But think about it. If you ever told someone else about them, did you whisper when you got to the part about them being an alcoholic? Maybe you didn’t want anyone else to hear the embarrassing word.

I want people to know that they are not alone. I want them to know they should not feel ashamed. I want to pass on what has worked for me to keep me sober. I want other alcoholics to know that it is in fact possible to fight this disease and win. Relapses can happen, and given the recidivism rate for alcoholism, they happen quite often. But a relapse doesn’t have to mean total failure. You can get back up and return to the right path. You can renew your quest for sobriety and a better life. Fear, guilt and shame can be replaced with bravery, determination and pride. But we can never sit back and rest on our laurels. That opens the door for the cunning disease and the evil little drink devil. It requires constant vigilance and work. For many, it’s an every day battle. For my friend’s partner, it’s a battle for her life. If you are an alcoholic, think of her next time you want to pick up a drink. If you’re not an alcoholic, please say a prayer for her. You don’t have to whisper.

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