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Love and Laughter

24 May

There’s a reason why my tagline is “God, grant me the serenity to laugh at life.” In critical situations, what are the choices? Tears or laughter?

I know people talk about families coming together in times of crisis, but the family I was with this week did more than just come together.   Facing an extremely risky surgery to remove a tumor from her spine, the 14 year-old daughter of my best friend carried herself with grace and bravery leading right up to the surgery. The risks and danger of the procedure were explained to us. All the pertinent questions were asked. But there was laughter. Lots of it. Sure, some of it may have been nervous laughter but it was jovial and comforting to all. In fact, my stomach actually hurt from laughing so hard.

What was the alternative? Allow anxiety, stress and worry to take over? None of those things will do anything to improve the outcome of the surgery.

And then came the waiting. And the waiting. 8 hours into the surgery and still waiting. But with the waiting came more laughter. I was amazed at my friend’s ability to stay calm and wait patiently for the updates every two hours. Any nerves and anxiety that were there were quelled by the fact that not only is she in the hands of some of the best surgeons in the world, she is in God’s hands. As I wrote in my last piece, I’m learning to “let go and let God.”   I’m also learning that as much as I may sometimes think I should be able to, I can’t control everything and everyone all of the time.   And as much as I joke that everything is about me, I really do get it that this isn’t about me at all but is about some pretty spectacular people.

I’ll repeat a quote I’ve used before: “If it’s sanity you’re after, there’s no recipe like laughter.” – Henry Rutherford Elliot

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

A Wild Ride

23 May

One of the things I didn’t anticipate in sobriety was the vividness of the feelings I would experience now that I no longer numbed myself with alcohol. The last few weeks have had me on a roller coaster of emotions, and the ride continues now as I begin another journey. I wish I could say I was traveling just for fun, but I’m not. That was last weekend when I wrote about heading to my 25th college reunion in Philadelphia.

I’m now on a plane to Houston where I will meet up with my best friend and her two children. Her daughter is having surgery at one of the top cancer centers in the world to remove a tumor that has been decimating her upper spine. It’s a major operation with a great deal of risk involved. So once again, I have a knot of nerves in my stomach – eager anticipation of the removal of the malicious growth in her body and return to her “normal” life and fear of complications or potentially dreadful outcomes. But I can honestly say that the positive thoughts of a successful surgery and recovery far outweigh the fear. Why? Prayer and faith. Not only my own, but lots from those who surround this girl and her family with love.

In my last post, I wrote about the bundle of nerves I felt while on a train to Philadelphia for my reunion – nervous anticipation of seeing my former roommate and closest friend after 20 years of not speaking, fear of difficult tests of my sobriety as I would be surrounded by people, places and things that were all major triggers of my drinking, and nostalgic yearning for the “old days,” when I was 20 years old and before the demons of alcoholism reared their ugly heads.

The weekend was wonderful.   My roommate and I managed to pick up right where we left off, both agreeing to leave the past behind us and move forward with our friendship.   We stayed up until almost 3 a.m. reminiscing about numerous hilarious adventures together. We walked the campus where we roamed confidently and carefree, 25 years ago and saw familiar faces and classmates that have grown much older.   I got to spend time with three other close friends and enjoyed catching up with them immensely. I was thrilled to see my book in the university bookstore in the section with other alumni authors.   Very humbled to even be associated with most of them.   And proud of myself for making it through the whole experience without the need to pick up a drink. Nervousness, fear, nostalgia, humility and pride were enough ingredients in my emotive cocktail for the time being.

I got on the train home, intending to write a follow-up blog piece but was far too tired. I actually managed to doze off for a bit. The emotional roller coaster can be exhausting. I got off, spent a week at home with my family (a wild ride in and of itself) and just got back on for another go.   Twenty-thousand feet up in the air, my current concoction is one of fear and anxiety mixed with awe at my friend’s grace and bravery as she faces this ordeal, gratitude for the opportunity to be there with her and her children, and appreciation of my faith and of my new-found ability to let go and let God and to turn over the things that I can’t control. Oh and I can’t forget, thankfulness for my sobriety which affords me the ability to be strong for someone who has been a rock for me every step of the way on my journey.  Please pray that this ride comes to a happy stop.

 

 

Once I Was 20 Years Old

14 May

 

I’m on a train on my way to Philadelphia for my 25th college reunion. I can’t even fathom the concept of having graduated 25 years ago. I just don’t feel that old. While I’m very excited to see old friends on my former stomping grounds, I have a bundle of nerves wrapped up in my stomach. But I’ve already got one huge God-wink to embrace and eagerly anticipate more.

 

I’m going to see my old roommate and best friend whom I haven’t seen or talked to in 20 years.   We had a very stupid falling out a few years after we graduated and never spoke again. I barely remember the conversation, as I was well into my first, if not second, bottle of wine while we spoke on the phone. Many times over the years, I thought of what it would be like if I ever saw her again.   What would I say? What would she say? Would she still be upset with me? She was like a sister and we did everything together. I became part of her family and traveled with them. She and I went cross-country when we graduated from college and enjoyed numerous adventures together. Memories that will never be forgotten, despite what happened.

 

I thought of her often over two decades, but had no idea where she was or what she ended up doing. Enter the age of social media and the opportunity to track anyone down quite easily. I tried a few times to find her and eventually came up with a phone number on the Internet, but chickened out on getting in touch with her. Several months ago, what popped up on my Facebook page but a friend request from her.   I took a deep breath and clicked “confirm.”   We started sending messages back and forth via Facebook. Then moved on to emails. Then texts. Neither one of us held a grudge or mentioned what happened, but rather moved on and picked up the friendship pretty much where it left off.

 

Here’s the God-wink: I told her that I was sober now and had stopped drinking almost 4 years ago. Her response? “Welcome to the club.” She had 13 years of sobriety under her belt. As much as I am looking forward to the reunion this weekend, I can also see it as a HUGE threat to my sobriety.   There was a whole lot of drinking in college. On every corner, a bar that I used to frequent, a fraternity house where kegs of beer flowed, a friend’s dorm room where we partied. It’s pretty much a miracle I graduated on time with a degree.
There is a big dinner/party tonight for our class and with the tangle of nerves in my stomach at the thought of walking into the twilight zone, I’m comforted by the thought of going with my sober friend. In the past, a situation like that would scream “get a drink” to me. I would orchestrate my plan for immediately heading straight to the nearest bar for a large pour of liquid courage. This would be a really tough weekend if my friend were still drinking.   It would be way too tempting for me to resort to old, alcoholic behavior and go back to partying like the old days. People, places and things that are triggers are killers for alcoholics. I’ll have them all wrapped up in a nice bow for me this weekend.

 

But the old days are just that. These are the new days. I’m going back to a place in time and memory. I don’t have to go back to the same actions and behaviors..   People change and grow and over these last 4 years of sobriety, I’ve grown more than any other time in my life. I’m guessing that with 13 years of sobriety, my roommate has changed and grown quite a bit as well. As have many other classmates I’m sure.

 

I’ll also get to see my book displayed at the school bookstore along with those of other alumni authors. It feels very surreal to me. But I worked so hard with my awesome publishers and editor to get the book finished in time for this weekend. I never would have thought 25 years ago I’d return to college having written a book. I never would have thought 25 years ago that I’d be dealing with alcoholism. And I never would have thought just 4 short years ago, in the throes of a wretched disease, that I’d be walking onto my college campus again, with my head held high, a happy, proud, recovering alcoholic. Or with my long-lost roommate, back together again for new adventures and memories.

 

“An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.” ~ Dalai Lama

Sobrietease is OUT

28 Apr

Sorry I haven’t posted a blog piece in a while.  I’ve been a little busy with, well, life.  The good news is that my book is now out!  Sobrietease is available on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.  Please feel free to go on either site and leave a review.   Stay tuned for a new blog piece soon!

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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.

Finding Peace in the Chaos

5 Mar

It’s been a while since I’ve written a piece. Life is a little chaotic and super busy, but all good. We held our Second Annual Mocktail Mania party a few weeks ago. Some really great and clever entries again this year. The winning drink, for both name and taste, was a take off on a Moscow Mule: the Alexandria Ass. Delicious concoction and awesome name. I’m really happy that people get so into the mocktails and hope they know how much I appreciate the support.

This past weekend, I had what I consider a huge turning point in my sobriety. I had to attend a charity dinner with my boss. Not just a dinner, but a five-course meal with wine pairings. Perfect for an alcoholic. I tried turning my wine glass over, but the wait staff kept bringing new glasses with each pairing, already poured. I decided to offer the gentleman next to me my wines as they came. He asked me if I didn’t like wine and I simply said that I did, just a little too much. After I slid a few glasses his way, he put his arm around me and said I was the best person he’s ever sat next to at a wine dinner. The amazing thing was that being surrounded by all that wine didn’t even bother me. In the earlier days of my sobriety, I would have been totally stressed out, sweating bullets and texting my sponsor for help. It’s a huge relief to know how far I’ve come. I don’t expect that it will always be that easy, or that I won’t have cravings still, but I’ll take this as a giant step forward.

But after the dinner, I managed to lose my phone. Stone cold sober. Long story, but someone who was at the dinner found it and brought it home for me. I retrieved it Monday, but managed to drop it in the toilet on Thursday. I’ve decided that perhaps this is HP’s way of telling me I need to SLOW DOWN. Running like a lunatic trying to do too many things at once. I know I can’t let my sobriety slip down my list of priorities though, and am trying to make sure I fit meetings into my chaotic schedule. I am lucky to have a sponsor who stays on my case about that.

Life is going to be chaotic and busy for quite some time with three kids under the age of 14, work, planning charity events, PTA events, writing a book, etc. In the melee, It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. For me, that’s my sobriety. Without that, there would be a very different kind of chaos. And it wouldn’t be good at all. I can handle busy, but I’ve learned that I can’t handle out-of-control, which is what happens when I drink. That’s why the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is perhaps the most important: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Unmanageable just won’t do.

Following the 12 Steps of AA helps us restore some order to our lives. The steps can bring back manageability. They can instill serenity. The eleventh step, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out,” helps immensely to bring us some peace. Through prayer and meditation, we can restore some semblance of order to our lives which had become utterly chaotic and unmanageable. The key for me is both remembering to pray and meditate and to make the time to do so. I always feel so much better when I do. Yoga helps immensely as well.

Chaos can make it’s way into everyone’s lives at some point, whether one is an alcoholic or not. The key is how we deal with it and manage to restore order. I feel blessed to have the tools I have and the support of people around me to get back to a place where I can breathe and carry on. I’d write more but I’ve got a zillion things to do…

Chaos was the law of nature; order was the dream of man.” – Henry Adams, “The Education of Henry Adams”

I Have a Dream….or a Flag

18 Jan

 
In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but rather the silence of our friends.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most people remember Martin Luther King, Jr. for his “I Have a Dream” speech from August 28th, 1963. He had so many other memorable quotes, it’s hard for me to choose just one for this piece. The one above really resonated with me. But on this weekend when we celebrate Reverend King, I am reminded of another remarkable civil rights figure, Rosa Parks. I had the distinct honor of meeting Ms. Parks back in 1991 at a Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington, D.C., which I attended with a very good friend of mine. Rosa Parks was nearly 80 years old and in a wheel chair, and I remember getting goosebumps when I got the chance to shake her small, frail hand.

Fast forward about fifteen years, when my daughter was in first grade. She told us one day that she was learning about Rosa Parks in school. I told her all about my encounter with Ms. Parks and what an honor it was for me to meet her, and encouraged her to share that story with her teacher and her classmates. I thought it would be pretty neat for a first grader to tell her class that her mom had met someone famous they were studying.

A few days went by, and I asked my daughter if she told her teacher and her classmates that I had met Rosa Parks. Her eyes welled up with tears and she said, “Yes, I did, but they didn’t believe me.” “What do you mean they didn’t believe you? I met her! It was such a great privilege! I’ll have to talk to your teacher.” So the next time I was in her class volunteering, I broached the subject with her teacher. Prepared to provide the details of my experience with Ms. Parks, I said to the teacher “My daughter said she shared with you and the class that I met Rosa Parks and that you all didn’t believe her. It’s true. I did meet her. At Congressional Black Caucus in 1991. She was in a wheelchair…..” I was prepared to go on but I realized I already sounded more than a little defensive. I shut up long enough for the teacher to speak and tell me this: “No, we didn’t believe her.  Because she told us you met Betsy Ross.” Ouch. I may be old….but not THAT old.

Each person must live their life as a model for others. – Rosa Parks

A Bridge of Silver Wings

1 Jan

I think I’ve mentioned it many times before in my blog, but I hate New Year’s Eve. I hated it when I was drinking and I hate it now that I’m sober. At least I could tolerate it more when I drank. But as an alcoholic, I considered it amateur night. What most people drank on New Year’s Eve was about what I consumed on a normal day. And, as someone who suffers from depression, the end of the year wrap-ups and forced look back at my life always bring me down. The news channels faithfully play some sappy song and run through all of the people who have passed away throughout the year. People use New Year’s Eve as an excuse to get stinking, obnoxiously drunk. You couldn’t pay me enough money to stand squished between a zillion other people in NYC to watch a ball drop. What’s the attraction? I don’t know if there is an Ebenezer Scrooge equivalent for New Year’s, but if so, I think I would fit the bill.

For the past few years, I’ve stayed home and just avoided the whole scene. It was too hard and too tempting that early in my sobriety. My friends invited me to their New Year’s Eve parties, which I greatly appreciated, but I just couldn’t do it. This year, I decided to go, at least for a little while. It was nice to be with friends in a beautiful house with delicious food and lots of warmth. But also lots of drinking. It got louder and louder. They were having a great time—drinking, dancing, eating, partying. Most of them told me that they were glad I came and that they understood that it must be hard for me to be around so much drinking. I left when I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to be strong for that much longer, nowhere close to midnight.

I felt badly leaving, like a big party-pooper, and felt like I was cheating my family out of staying and having a good time. These are the times when it sucks to be an alcoholic. My son asked me this morning why we are always the first ones to leave the party. Ouch. But if I don’t keep myself sober, I’d feel like I’m cheating my family out of a hell of a lot more.

Thank goodness this time of year, around the holidays, you can pretty much find a meeting any time, day or night. I knew it was important for me to go to a meeting yesterday, New Year’s Eve, and I’m so glad I went. No matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there’s always someone who is worse off. I heard several people talk about how rough 2015 was for them, and I mean rough. They were more than ready for the year to come to an end. Most importantly, I heard the speaker talking about how crucial it is to never forget the pain or the “gift of desperation” that brought us into the rooms of AA. I felt incredibly blessed to have somewhere to go where I could be with other alcoholics who get it. And I realized that my 2015 really wasn’t so bad.

So I woke up this morning, a new day, a new year, ready for a fresh start. I can choose how I’m going to face this upcoming year and what my attitude will be. It’s already off to a good start. I went to walk a friend’s dogs and ran into a bunch of families playing kickball in the park. I joined them for a little while and had a great time. One of my friends there told me what she was feeding her family, a tradition of New Year’s foods for “health and wealth” (black-eyed peas and collard greens). I told her I’d take all the health and wealth I could, and she showed up at my door a few hours later with a sample for us.

Hopefully now the toughest parts of the holidays are behind me and I can stop my whining to you all. Thanks for being there to listen and for your encouragement to stay strong. I really appreciate it. For those of you out there who are still struggling, don’t give up. It’s much better on the other side of the bottle. Much better. Happy New Year.

 
“A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.”
― Aberjhani

Rigorous Honesty

27 Dec

Here I am, 1308 days into my sobriety, and just plain pissed off. Pissed off that I still want to drink as badly as I do 3 1/2 years later. Yes, the holidays are hard. And for many people, they are much more difficult than they are for me. People who have lost loved ones and desperately miss them during this season. People who find themselves all alone. People battling serious illnesses. But I am battling a serious illness. One that no one likes to talk about. Alcoholism is no joke. And frankly, it sucks.

There is drinking all around during the holiday season. I’m surrounded by it. I look at people enjoying their red wine and I salivate at the sight of it. When I’m feeling strong in my sobriety, working my program like I should, I am able to turn the other cheek and get on with whatever I’m doing. When I’m not where I should be in my sobriety, not going to enough meetings, not keeping in touch with my sponsor, that salivating turns into a desire, an urge to drink, that simply grows stronger. It almost takes on a life of it’s own.

When it does, I feel like it’s an old friend that I miss very much. A friend that I have been forbidden from seeing again. I know deep down the bad things that will happen if I start hanging out with that friend again, yet I long for that camaraderie once more. Other people can drink, why can’t I? I start to throw myself my own little pity party. It’s not fair. Then the stinking thinking starts in. Maybe now, since I’ve been sober for a while, I’ll be able to control my drinking. Never mind that it’s pretty much never worked for anyone else, but somehow I think I’m different. I actually tried it before and went a while with my drinking “under control”.  It very quickly, however, spiraled out of control.

In the battle against alcoholism, it’s literally all or nothing. There’s a chapter in the AA Big Book entitled “How it Works” that says “half measures availed us nothing.” To me, these are 5 of the most important words in the entire Big Book. You have to be all-in to successfully fight this disease. The chapter also says: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of be­ing honest with themselves. There are such unfortu­nates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasp­ing and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.”

Rigorous honesty. That’s tough. Try it. You may even think that you are being completely honest with yourself but it’s not as easy as it sounds. And even if you are completely honest with yourself, that’s not enough. Steps 4 and 5 in AA are two of the toughest steps there are. Step Four states that we are to have: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” and Step Five says we should have “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Many people never make it past these steps. It’s just too hard to deal with some of the skeletons in their closets. Some people think that just by being honest with themselves and identifying their character defects is enough. It’s not. The program states that we must admit them to another human being. The Big Book says “if we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time, newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives…..Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but they hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only THOUGHT they had lost their egoism and fear; they only THOUGHT they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.”
I’ve been stuck on Steps 4 and 5 for a while now. I thought that I had done Step 5 pretty thoroughly. But as I said, “pretty thoroughly” doesn’t cut it. It’s got to be done completely. I’ve shared some of “the exact nature of my wrongs” with my best friend, some with my sponsor and some with my therapist. But unfortunately, some still sit inside of me and until I deal with them, I may continue to be pissed off at how often I crave a drink. Rigorous honesty.

While the holidays are tough, the New Year brings with it new opportunities. I’m going to work on my fourth and fifth steps and continue on with the rest of the steps. I’m going to work my program thoroughly, completely, and honestly. I’m tired of the struggle with the cravings and tired of whining about trying to understand why I can’t have a drink. I can’t. I’m an alcoholic. And that’s rigorous honesty right there.

Can you honestly love a dishonest thing?” — John Steinbeck

Gimme Twelve Steps

17 Nov

I used to love the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Gimme Three Steps.” I remember dancing to it with my friend Lisa in high school at her house while getting ready for a party. Inevitably, I drank too much and don’t remember the rest of the night. The irony hit me when I realized today’s dance for me would somehow revolve around a twelve step program, since that is such a huge focus of my life. In other words, you can gimme three steps, but I’ll need nine more.

I’ve talked about the twelve steps to recovery before (see my piece from April 17th entitled “Slowly I Turned, Step by Step”). I feel like I’m treading on thin ice when I do because there are those diehards with respect to the anonymity aspect of AA who get extremely nervous when there is a mere mention of them. Like I am violating a secret code. As I have said before, I have the utmost respect for the program and wouldn’t ever want to disrespect any of its rules. But it is easy to find the twelve steps anywhere on the internet.

The wonderful thing about the twelve steps is that they can be applied to many problems in life, not just alcoholism. There are so many situations where I would be much better off if I would simply third-step them. The third step states that we “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Think about the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done.” THY will, not MY will. Turning things over to God (or whatever Higher Power you follow) brings about a whole new world of peace. Being able to recognize the things that are not in our control is not only humbling but pacifying. I’ve pretty much always been a worrier. Now I’m a warrior. I can’t tell you the serenity that the third step has brought to my life.

Then there’s the eleventh step: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.” If we are uncertain what God’s will for us is, we can simply pray for that knowledge. And if we doubt our strength, we can simply pray for power. Look how much this simplifies life. Everyone should have some form of a twelve step program.

But perhaps the most helpful, and most difficult, is the fourth step: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Could you imagine a world where everyone did this, not just addicts or alcoholics? A searching and fearless moral inventory. A list of our good and bad. A real and honest look inside ourselves. If we can identify our own flaws and character defects, and then pray for God to remove these shortcomings (as we do in Step 7), we can become a better, new and improved person (Martha 2.0 as my friend calls me). But believe me, step four is not easy. For many, it opens up the closet to too many skeletons and demons that are just too difficult to deal with, especially sober. The good thing is, if you are able to get through step four, and then in step 5 admit them to yourself, to God and to another human being, you can leave the past behind you.

So that you don’t have to go and search the internet, I’m going to list all Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for your here. If you know someone in recovery, this will help you to understand what they are going through better. If you are just curious and wonder if these steps might be applicable to your life somehow, try them out.

1. Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Even step 12 advocates for practicing these principles in all our affairs. I try to carry this message to other alcoholics, as well as to other people who may benefit from it. Of course you may not have any shortcomings or character defects, but I sure as hell do. But I’m working on them and I’m asking them to be removed.

I didn’t give much attention to steps eight and nine—making a list of people we had harmed with our drinking and making amends to them. That’s for another post. I wish I could just do a blanket apology here and say sorry to all those I hurt, but I can’t. I need to do the work. But when it gets tough, I still may just ask you to gimme three steps towards the door.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

Mocktail Mania — Part II

14 Nov

We held another Mocktail Party this past weekend. Unlike the last party, where people created and named their own concoctions, drinks were provided this time by Mocktails Beverages, Inc., an awesome new company that makes delicious non-alcoholic beverages. Two of the company’s cofounders, Ali and Jim, brought plenty of their product and served as bartenders for us for the evening. They were two of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.

There are four flavors of Mocktails: Scottish Lemonade (like a Whiskey Sour), La Vida Loca (Margarita), Karma Sucra (Cosmopolitan) and Sevilla Red (Sangria). I did a review of them in a previous blog. The only one I hadn’t tasted before was the Scottish Lemonade, and that turned out to be my favorite (and the favorite of many other people as well). The best thing about this product is that there are no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, they are gluten free, Kosher, all natural, allergen free, and BPA free. As I said in my earlier review, I expected them to be sickeningly sweet and they absolutely were not.

When I spoke to Mocktails President and Founder, Bill Gamelli, a few months ago, he told me why they started the company. He and a few college friends (including Jim) had members of their own families who found it difficult to find any good options when they were in social situations where most people were drinking alcohol. He said that the product is for those who want a different choice when they go out and aren’t drinking alcohol. Take it from me, water and seltzer get a little boring. Whatever the reason someone isn’t drinking alcohol—whether they are pregnant, an athlete in training, the designated driver that night, on medication that can’t be mixed with alcohol, or, like me, an alcoholic—Mocktails can be a great choice. And for those who do want to drink, alcohol can be added to any of the four products.

When I first got sober, I pretty much hibernated in my house alone. I couldn’t handle the idea of going somewhere and having to answer the questions of why I wasn’t drinking. People were definitely used to me having a drink in my hand. What I finally know now is that no one really cares if I am drinking or not and it isn’t a big deal to just say I’m not drinking. But back then I was scared and hanging on to my sobriety for dear life. If I had Mocktails back then, it would have been easier for me to socialize because people wouldn’t have been able to tell if I was drinking or not and I wouldn’t have had to deal with the questions.

Our party guests were all pleasantly surprised by the flavors of the Mocktails. We served them in the appropriate glass for each drink. Jim and Ali poured with smiles and explained to those who asked all about the product. It was a Saturday night and I was actually having a party at my house—not sitting in my pajamas reading a book as usual.

A huge thank you to Ali and Jim, as well as Bill and the rest of the team, and kudos on an excellent product. What they have created is so more than just a non-alcoholic beverage—it’s an open door to a whole new world of possibilities for the non-drinker.

Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” Edward de BonoIMG_0200

Liquid Courage Down the Drain

29 Oct

I had to speak at an event for work this past weekend in front of 100 people. Normally, I would have pounded a drink (or several) beforehand to calm my nerves—a little liquid courage if you will. Now, almost 3 1/2 years into my sobriety, I had to do this without my usual crutch. Was I nervous? Yes. Very. But somehow when I got up to the podium, I managed to stay calm and actually speak coherently. It certainly helped to have so many friendly faces in the crowd – a sincere thank you to my friends who were able to make it. I truly appreciate the support.

I started a new job about 2 months ago. I’m working as the Executive Director of the National Breast Center Foundation. It was started by a local doctor a little over a year ago to ensure that low-income and uninsured women have access to screenings, mammograms and treatment for breast cancer. Turns out that the DC area, where I live, has the highest incidence and mortality rate from breast cancer in the country. It also has one of the highest rates of late stage breast cancer in the nation. It is truly a privilege to work for someone who is actually trying to make a difference and address this crisis.

It’s been over ten years since I hung up my hat as a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry. I left when my middle child turned one to stay home and be a mom. Best decision I ever made. But there were definitely days when I missed the interaction with other adults and putting on real clothes to go somewhere other than my laundry room. I truly enjoyed my work but something had to give. I felt as though I was doing everything half-assed and nothing well. There are heated debates about both sides of the concept of being able to have it all as a woman—career and family —but that is a blog post for another day. Back to liquid courage.

My former job as a lobbyist involved a great deal of drinking and socializing. Lots of receptions, dinners, fundraisers, etc. And I drank through all of them. I downed my liquid courage before I had to walk into a social situation where I didn’t know anyone. A drink at a business lunch helped facilitate the conversation, or so I thought. Drinks with colleagues after work were a common occurrence. Drinks on the golf course too. But now, 10 years since I worked and 3 1/2 years sober, there is none of that. I’m on my own without the crutch of liquid courage.

I was very open and honest about my alcoholism when I applied for the job. It’s pretty easy to find my blog and connect me to it. That’s intentional. I explained when I interviewed that I am very forthcoming about being an alcoholic and about my blog. I do it so that others in similar situations will know they are not alone and to shed a little light on a subject that still isn’t talked about enough in our society. One of the board members who interviewed me asked me flat out if I thought my alcoholism would affect my job. I said it would. It would make me better at it. I know who I am and I am getting more comfortable in my own skin. I am finding my own voice and am able to use it without needing liquid courage to do so. Better to be open about being a recovering alcoholic than to have an employee who comes in trying to hide a miserable hangover. Or worse.

So here’s to pouring that liquid courage down the drain. Cheers.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. “ Nelson Mandela

Life Outside the Comfort Zone

14 Sep

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Life begins outside the comfort zone”. A very dear friend suggests doing one thing every day out of your comfort zone. I started to think about my journey through recovery and thought about how much of it has been outside what I would consider my comfort zone.

From the very moment when we admit our weaknesses, in my case being powerless over alcohol, we become vulnerable and take a giant leap of faith outside our comfort zone. Alcohol was my comfort zone. I turned to it when I was sad and depressed, I turned to it when I was happy and wanted to celebrate, I turned to it for pretty much everything. Admitting that my life had become unmanageable because of alcohol was step one out of that territory.

The next monumental step for me was walking into the rooms of AA. I’ll never forget how desperate I was for help (often called the “gift of desperation”) but how scared I was to walk into my first meeting. I sat outside in my car on the phone with my friend who told me to go in because I would be with people who understood exactly what I was going through. She was right. Next step out of my comfort zone was saying the words out loud—“my name is Martha and I am an alcoholic”. I could barely get them out of my mouth.

As I continued on my path to recovery, there were several other turns away from what had become my norm. Asking someone to be my sponsor. Sharing at a meeting. Leading a meeting. Working the twelve steps. Surrendering and turning things over to my Higher Power. Asking for the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of my character defects. Making a list of all the people I had harmed when I was drinking. Making amends to those people. And now, trying to help others as they go through this process or similar ones. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Whatever your demons are, having the guts to face them and working to overcome them inevitably takes you out of your comfort zone.

As human beings, familiarity and routine are comforting to us.. Breaking out of those can be scary, sometimes terrifying. But without making a decision as to which path to take at the crossroads, and often choosing the more difficult one, we cannot grow. Another friend of mine often says “Sometimes the only form of transportation available to us is a giant leap of faith”. We can stay on the path of what is familiar and comfortable, even though in my case it could be fatal, or we can take that road filled with potholes and bumps which leads to a better life.

Growth and emotional maturity are the rewards of that step outside the comfort zone. But it takes work. Michael Barbarulo said “God has given you the power and desire to change but you still need to be willing to do the work. Doing the work means facing your fears and getting out of your comfort zone.” It has also been said that courage is not a lack of fear, but rather a mastery of fear with the help of your Higher Power. Although the work can be challenging to say the least, we don’t have to do it alone. We can use the resources available to us to smooth the potholes and bumps in the road and help us along our journey.

“Life is a never ending journey of reaching out of our comfort zone. We can always reach new levels.”
― Matthew Donnelly

Mocktail Mania

24 Aug

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When Friday night rolls around and my friends are all picking up their first cocktails of the weekend, I’m usually fixing myself a seltzer with lime or, if I’m really feeling crazy, mixing it with some cranberry juice. Three years and almost three months into my sobriety, that’s getting old.
Many of you will remember that in February, to celebrate my 1000th day of sobriety, we hosted a mocktail party. We held a contest to see who could come up with the best mocktail name and the best tasting mocktail. There were some very clever entries. (See my post from February, 2015, “One Thousand Shades of Sober”). I’m happy to report that some very clever people have taken the concept a step farther and started a company called Mocktails. They currently have four different flavors of nonalcoholic beverages on the market: Karma Sucra (Cosmopolitan), Sevilla Red (Sangria), The Vida Loca (Margarita) and Scottish Lemonade (Whiskey Sour). I had the pleasure of sampling two of them this weekend.

They come in their own glass shakers, ready to go. All you have to do is add ice, shake and pour into your favorite glass. I will say that I had to pour a little out into a separate glass to fit the ice in—-I’m not complaining though. I’d rather do that and have them fill the shaker up as much as possible than cut back on the amount. I invited two friends, also nondrinkers, over to do the taste tests with me.

There are many who participate in 12-step or other programs for recovery who are adamantly opposed to the concept of non-alcoholic beers or pseudo-cocktails. In fact, my therapist refers to them as “mental masturbation”. I guess they feel that you are perpetuating the whole ritual and habit of drinking alcohol by drinking even a non-alcoholic beer (which does have a very small amount of alcohol in it). It still smells like a beer and looks like a beer. And pouring these Mocktails into martini glasses, they look like, well, cocktails. BUT, I did check with my sponsor and got the okay. We agreed that since there is NO alcohol in the new Mocktails and since we are often looking for something new and creative to drink while others enjoy happy hour, we could give it a try.

We tried the Sevilla Red Sangria first. I poured some out into a separate glass, filled the shaker with some ice, put the top back on and shook away. It has been a long time since I shook a martini shaker. The sound did drum up some old memories for a split second. I unscrewed the top and poured some through the strainer into three very pretty martini glasses. Hey, I know that sangria isn’t supposed to be served in martini glasses but give me a break somewhere. I think it is fair to say that all three of us expected a sickeningly sweet concoction that was going to leave our lips puckered. We were all very pleasantly surprised. After the first few sips, we decided to add some cut up fruit into the glasses like true sangria. Even better. The shaker says it serves four, but we got almost 2 full glasses for all three of us.

Next, we moved on to Karma Sucra, their version of a virgin Cosmopolitan. Also sweet tasting without being overly sugary, but this one had a little bit of a medicinal taste to it. We added a little seltzer (watermelon and lime flavored) which gave it a smoother taste. These drinks are only 50 calories per serving, with no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, gluten free, BPA free, allergen free, and Kosher! And, for those of you who don’t have a broken “off” switch like me, feel free to add alcohol to them if you want.

Bottom line—-I’m very happy to have an alternative to seltzer now to drink at a happy hour. Having the drinks did not make me want alcohol at all. I was happy to have the yummy taste and the pretty drink without it. And happy to wake up without a hangover the next day. Bravo to the Mocktails folks!

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