Tag Archives: addiction

Apprehended by Grace

22 Jun

 

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      Many people ask me what my rock bottom was. What finally made me stop drinking.  When I admitted the fact that I was an alcoholic and surrendered. I can give you a long list of when it SHOULD have been.  When friendships were torn apart. When my marriage started suffering.  When my mother and close friends expressed their concerns about how much I was drinking.  When I looked in the mirror and saw how bloated and puffy my face was and how red my eyes were.  When I started having health problems. When I was doing even more idiotic, embarrassing and shameful things than usual.  When I fell down a steep set of stairs, completely intoxicated, and should have been killed. When I continuously woke up not remembering what I had done or said the night before. Nope.  None of those things did it.

Everyone’s rock bottom is different.  I know many people in recovery who spent time in jail, received DWIs, crashed cars, lost jobs, homes, families and friends, lived on the streets or in their cars, and had much lower rock bottoms than I did.  Others, like me, had what may be considered “high bottoms”, but they are just as much alcoholic as the others.  I once heard someone say that it’s not how much you drink but how the drinking affects you that matters.  Just as there are different rock bottoms, there are different types of alcoholics. Binge drinkers. Daily drinkers. Maintenance drinkers.  Bar drinkers.  Isolation drinkers.  Social drinkers.  Heck, I even went to college with a girl named Margarita Drinker. No lie. Her parents had quite a sense of humor, I guess.  Or named her after having a bit too much tequila themselves.  But I digress…

The point is that there is no singular description of the alcoholic.  No scale that tells you once you fall below a certain level, you have hit your rock bottom. It is different for everyone.  But at some moment, at some point, many people are somehow, and perhaps miraculously, apprehended by grace. I believe that is the moment when people finally surrender.  It may be in utter despair.  It may be when you realize you are simply sick and tired of being sick and tired. It may be while looking in the mirror and not able to face the person look back at you any longer. It may be after fighting back and resisting, be it an intervention, attending a recovery program as a “guest of the judge”, while at rehab or in the pscyh ward, or while dishing out your last dollar at the liquor store.  However it comes, it is when you finally realize and accept that you cannot continue to live your life like this.  That you cannot fight this battle alone.  That only power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.  It is when you wave the white flag and surrender to your Higher Power, whatever that may be for you, and at that moment, I believe that you are apprehended by grace.

 For me, my surrender came seven years ago in NYC. I’ve shared the story many times.  My hands were shaking until I got a drink in me at 11am. I was a mess, physically and emotionally.  Looked and felt horrible.  I had known for so long that I could not continue drinking the way I had been, but I could not imagine my life without alcohol.  It dominated every aspect of my life. Hell, it was my life.  It was both my best friend and my worst enemy.  How do you fight your worst enemy or get rid of them while losing your best friend at the same time? But as I sat there with my true best friend who lost her husband to alcoholism, I was, in fact, miraculously apprehended by grace, and I was finally able to admit that I had a drinking problem.  It was as if a 3,000-pound weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I believe that being apprehended by grace goes hand in hand with receiving the gift of humility.  To accept and realize that we are only human, that we cannot fix everything, including ourselves, and come to understand that our Higher Power can is a true blessing.  We somehow grasp that not only can we turn things over, we must. One of the definitions of grace is the “free and unmerited favor of God”.  Free. Unmerited.  We don’t need to do anything to earn it or receive it.  We simply need to be willing to ask.  And surrender.  To allow ourselves to be apprehended by grace.

Because we are human, we can forget.  We can stray. We can try to escape after having been apprehended.  Foolishly. But yet we still do it.  Staying on the right track, whatever that looks like for you, can keep you living a life of grace.  It may be prayer, meditation, working a recovery program, or however you continuously remind yourself to rely on and turn to your Higher Power.

I am so incredibly grateful to have been apprehended by grace. To have found the path to a better life. Free from the bondage of addiction. It doesn’t come easy many days, but if I remember to practice what I preach, to turn things over to my Higher Power and stay humble, it gets easier to find my way back to the right path.

For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” –Saint Augustine of Hippo

“Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness.”-     Thomas Adams

“The meaning of life.  The wasted years of life.  The poor choices of life.  God answers the mess of life with one word:  ‘Grace,’” Max Lucado

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

 

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”

Is It Too Late Now to Say Sorry?

1 Feb

Many people are familiar with the concept of alcoholics having to make amends. They may think it’s as simple as going around and apologizing to those people you somehow screwed over or offended (or worse) in your prime drinking days. Not exactly. I thought about how nice it would be if I could just write a blanket apology in my blog for all the idiotic things I had done to various people and hope that they read it. I would venture to guess that my sponsor would veto that option.

Step 8 prepares us for our amends and says that we are to have “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”. Step 9 tells us to “make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” I’m not “officially” up to Steps 8 and 9 (as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been stuck on Step 4 for quite some time. It’s a really tough one: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”). But I had a chance recently to make an amend that I knew I needed to make, so I seized the opportunity.

I have to admit that I was quite nervous, as I had no idea how it would be received. I’m incredibly fortunate that my first amends went very smoothly. It was to a dear friend from college. I’d prefer not to say what I did to screw things up, but let’s just say it involved my behavior at his fraternity formal. Ugh. We had gone several years without speaking and I just attributed it to us both being busy and losing touch. It turned out that he was very upset with me. When I stopped drinking and saw things more clearly, I was able to look in the mirror and see the giant jackass that looked back at me.

I asked him to go to lunch. I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring it up but HP works in wonderful ways — the opportunity was handed to me on a silver plate. I told him he looked great and he said he had cut way back on drinking and that had helped. It was like he rolled out the red carpet for my ninth step. I told him that I was now sober and that I was sincerely sorry for what I had done. Now was the tough part—waiting for the reaction. His eyes welled up with tears a little, he said how proud of me he was and that it was all “water under the bridge now”. Exhale. Phew.

I don’t expect them all to go that smoothly but hopefully many will. There are some that I can’t make because the people are either gone or I have no idea where they are. There are some that can’t be made because to do so would in fact “harm them or others”. What can I do? Write a letter. Share it with my sponsor. Turn it over. And I will have to do those things to move forward in my sobriety. As it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out our past.”

So what should you do if you are on the other side of the amends—the one to whom the apology is made? First of all, please try to realize how hard it probably was for this person to come to you. You may be extremely pissed off with them because they left you stranded somewhere when they were drunk and forgot to meet you. You may be angry because they hit on your boyfriend when they were hammered. It might be much more serious than that–they may have ruined part of your life along with theirs.  You may be furious for any number of reasons.  Here’s the thing: it’s up to you what you do with that apology. You don’t necessarily have to forgive them for them to move on and consider their job done. At least you know that they are trying to improve their lives, get sober and stay sober.

Ideally, you would try to make them comfortable through the difficult task. As I said, you may be very angry with them, but perhaps you are able to see them now and know that they were a different person then. A person who was under the spell of alcohol. A person with a progressive disease. How do you know if they are sincere? If they are truly working the steps, have a sponsor, going to meetings, and making an honest effort to not just stop drinking but to tackle the demons that led them to drink in the first place, give them a chance. If they have thoroughly done a fourth step, they are genuinely working toward making themselves better and healthier.

Is it too late now to say sorry? For me, in some instances, yes. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make amends where I can. And for this alcoholic, I consider a “living amends”, making an effort every single day to be a better person, the most sincere way that I can show that I am truly sorry.

What do I say when it’s all over? When sorry seems to be the hardest word?” Elton John

Black(out) Friday

25 Nov

 

The looney time of year has arrived. The holidays are upon us. For many, they bring up all kinds of memories—good and bad. For some, there is a struggle to search back into the recesses of our minds to see if we can even find the memories or if they are still as dark as the blackouts that may have enveloped them. For me, Thanksgiving reminds me of few times I’d rather forget.

Thanksgiving was always a huge drinking day for me. I would start quite early with champagne or mimosas as family arrived and I cooked. I had a full glass of something for the rest of the day and night. Wine flowed throughout the Thanksgiving meal. Most people stopped drinking and had coffee with dessert, watched football, or took a walk or a nap, but I continued to drink. Didn’t want to lose the buzz. We used to go to close friends’ for dessert where I welcomed the opportunity to have a plethora of new wines to “sample”. But often by this point in the day or evening, I was slurring, stumbling or literally falling down drunk. How embarrassing to look back upon. What’s even worse is to have to just imagine and wonder what I did when I passed that point and maybe even blacked out. I always laugh at meetings when people say they don’t think they were blackout drinkers. How the hell would you know if you were—you certainly wouldn’t remember?!

There were those totally inebriated Thanksgivings. One where I cried before I got up the courage to talk to my brother on the phone when he was in jail. One where I had a total meltdown in front of my friends about my unhappiness in my life and my marriage and said a bunch of things I still regret to my mom. Ones where I passed out in my wine-stained clothes, most likely leaving it to my husband to tell the kids that mommy is just really tired from all the cooking. Again, alcohol is a depressant. Adding that to an already depressed person is a recipe for disaster.

In just three more days, I’ll have 3 1/2 years of sobriety (God willing). One important thing that I have learned in that time is that I have a choice as to how I look back and how I move forward. Looking back, I can wallow in the miserable, drunken episodes, beat myself up and struggle to remember and relive the embarrassment. Or I can look back and use them to remind myself of a place I never want to return. Use them to “keep it green” as they say. And I can dig deep to remember the good times instead. The Thanksgivings where my grandparents were with us and inadvertently had us all cracking up. The Thanksgivings where we were all together. The Thanksgiving where my kids made little turkeys out of their hands and wrote the things that they were thankful for.

Going forward, instead of focusing all my attention on where my next drink is coming from, I can focus on the things for which I am truly grateful. That I’m not in that deep, dark depression but in a much better, happier, healthier place. That I am sober and present for my family. That I can wake up the day after Thanksgiving and not be completely hungover with a pounding headache or even still drunk. And that I am blessed with amazing friends who have been with me through thick and thin.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” —Dr. Seuss

Misunderstanding Being Misunderstood–Part 2

24 Jun

Thanks for all the great feedback on my last post, and thank you for sharing your additional questions about alcoholism. As I said previously, I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I can only share what I have learned from my personal experience and my journey into sobriety and recovery so far. You’re always welcome to contact me at martha.carucci@gmail.com.

The most basic question I received was how did I know I had a problem? The simple answer is that I knew that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. Conveniently, this is Step 1. Drinking had gone from enjoyment to need. Bandaid to crutch. Occasionally to almost daily. White (wine) to black(outs). I drank to celebrate every occasion and to give myself liquid courage when I needed it. I drank when I was sad so I could wallow further in my depression. I drank when I was angry to try to make the anger go away. I drank when I was happy to take it to a higher level of joy. I drank when I was anxious, scared, lonely, proud, embarrassed…..you get the idea. Once I started, the concept of moderation flew out the window. My “off” switch was broken. I drank before I went out to an event, on my way there, and when I got home. I thought I would just have a glass of wine while I made dinner and it inevitably turned into a bottle or more. I knew it had taken over my life.

Another good question: how and when did I know I needed to stop drinking? I’ve shared before how ashamed I was when my daughter asked me why I didn’t remember something we talked about on a particular evening. And I remember how badly I felt when I was in bed, too hungover to do normal things with my kids. Then there was watching my hands shake until I got some wine in me at lunch in NYC. I think all of these things bubbled up inside and culminated in me coming clean to a friend who lost her husband to alcoholism. Even after I got sober, there were days when I had terrible cravings and told her I wanted a drink and she responded “go ahead, have a drink. The last time I touched my husband’s hand it was cold.” I don’t mean to be totally morbid here, but this disease is no joke. I need my kids and the people I care about to know and understand that alcohol kills. It destroys your body and carves out a path of destruction throughout your entire life.

More than one person has asked what they should do if they know someone who they think may be an alcoholic or have a drinking problem. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how much you want to help someone, you can’t until they want it and are willing to help themselves. Getting sober is something no one can do for us, but also something that we cannot do alone. I have friends who knew I had a drinking problem long before I admitted it and either said they felt guilty about not doing anything to help or said that they knew if they tried to talk to me about it, our relationship would change and I might just try to hide my drinking from them. Until I was ready, no one could have done anything. Can you sit down with a family member or friend and tell them you are concerned? Absolutely. And that may be just what they need to push them to go get help.

Several people wanted to know if they are having a party, happy hour or event where there will be alcohol, is it better not to say anything to me because it would probably be hard for me to be there or if they should invite me anyway. Great question and I could see how people may not know what to do when they are trying to be sensitive. For me, I would definitely prefer to be invited and be given the chance to make the choice myself whether I attend or not. I have good days and bad days, just like everyone else, but on a bad day, being around alcohol may just be too tempting. On good days, I’m happy to go and be with friends. I may not be able to stay too long however, so please don’t take that personally.

Another thing that shouldn’t be taken personally is if I attend some events and not others. Again, it depends on how I’m feeling that particular day/night. And, what’s really important to understand here is that alcoholics are supposed to avoid triggers—-people, places and things that remind them of their drinking. It may not be too hard to handle one of those, but a perfect storm with a combo of all three can be both overwhelming and dangerous.

What do I do when I get a really bad craving and think that I just can’t do it any more? Well, other than think of my friend telling me about her husband’s cold hand, I adhere to some other good advice that was given to me—think the drink through. Think it all the way through. Not just how good that drink may taste, but what happens after that first sip? After that first drink? There would be many more. And how would I feel about throwing away three years of sobriety? How guilty would I feel? Would I be able to look my kids in the face? All these things help me when I think about picking up a drink.

I have to remember that while I am learning all this as I go, my family and many of my friends are as well. If it’s your first time dealing with someone who has a problem with addiction, you may have lots of questions. Very early on in my sobriety, I wrote a piece called “How To….” about how to be friends with an alcoholic. Interestingly enough, on this journey, I’m learning how to be a good friend to this alcoholic as well.

“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” – Chinese proverb

Life Is All About Me

27 Feb

Those who know me well know that I constantly joke that life is all about me. In keeping with that tenet, I brought up the subject of selfishness at a meeting the other day. Does putting my sobriety first make me a selfish person? I was reminded that when we travel on a plane, the flight attendants always tell us during the safety demonstrations to put our own oxygen masks on first and then help our children or anyone else who may need assistance. We must first take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Without oxygen to breathe, we won’t be able to help anyone.

In my world, without my sobriety, I can’t be of any use to anyone else, especially my children. Without my sobriety, I’m not there for them. I’m not even there for me. When I drank, however, it really was all about me. And my drinks. And my time to drink. And my deserving to drink. So am I selfish now when I put sobriety first? I don’t think so. Without my sobriety, I slip back into a dark place— a hole that I would have to struggle to get out of.

By putting sobriety first, I mean that it is my first priority, every day. I have a friend who says she starts every day with her own “happy hour”—some quiet time of prayer and meditation. Many in recovery know that SLIP stands for “Sobriety Lost Its Priority”. There were too many really bad “selfs” while we were in the midst of our drinking—-self-doubt, self-loathing, low self-esteem, no self-confidence and very little self-worth. The selfish drinking washed those all away, for a little while at least. But in the numbing, dull ache that came with inebriation, I lost my “self”.

As hard as I work my program of recovery, a whole lifetime set in self-centeredness cannot be reversed all at once. But on this journey into sobriety, I have found a whole new world of “selfs”—self-awareness, self-discovery, self-respect, self-preservation. A twelve-step program has very little room for ego. In fact, in step three, we “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Self-will is traded in for God’s will. Ego is thrown out the window.

When we get to the twelfth step, we encounter the dichotomy of helping others after all the time spent on helping ourselves. The truth, however, is that in helping others, we are in fact helping ourselves. Our selflessness is actually to our own benefit. Back to our selfishness as a recovering alcoholic. I find that the following quote from the Dalai Lama explains this best:

It is important that when pursuing our own self-interest we should be ‘wise selfish’ and not ‘foolish selfish’. Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.

I hope that I fall into the category of “wise selfish” and compassionate rather than foolish selfish. A few people have expressed their opinions that my life is too focused on my sobriety. That my recovery shouldn’t define me. My past mistakes and addiction may not define me, but they made me who I am today. And after 1,005 days without a drink, I am pretty proud of who I am today.

Namaste

24 Jan

I went to yoga yesterday for the first time in quite a while. I haven’t been able to go because I broke my collarbone badly. How? Falling off a motorcycle. And in full disclosure, it wasn’t even moving. Yup, ambulance ride and all. Five days in the hospital. Surgery. And pain meds. The E.R. doctors immediately started pumping me with morphine to handle the pain. And I immediately started telling them that I am a recovering alcoholic. I’ve heard too many stories about cross-addiction to take any chances. I wanted to get off the pain medication as soon as I possibly could. My husband kept track of them for me and doled them out on a strict schedule.

But back to the accident. Who falls off a stationary motorcycle? That takes real talent. Thank you very much. Then again, I also allowed a ladder to swing down from our attic and hit me smack in the face, giving me a nasty concussion and stitches right between my eyes. What’s even more pathetic is that I was completely SOBER for both of these accidents. In fact, I’ve done more bodily harm to myself sober than I did when I was drinking (not counting the hideous toll the alcohol took on the inside of my entire body). How is that possible? When I drank, I know I fell down countless times. I also know that one night, I went tumbling down a very steep staircase, which honestly could have killed me. Somehow, ironically, we become invincible (or so we think) when we drink.

I figured yoga would be relatively low risk for me to injure myself. Then again, if anyone could turn yoga into a dangerous, contact sport it would be me. Instead of some graceful swan pose, I’d be more likely to transition into falling crane, losing my balance and tumbling into the person next to me. I love yoga but it requires me to be still and sit quietly with myself, something I am not very good at. The teacher instructs us to allow thoughts to come into our mind, acknowledge them and then immediately dismiss them. If I could control my mind like that, I’d be pulling some Uri Geller moves and bending spoons or doing the laundry just by thinking about it. It actually takes practice to be able to sit still and be quiet inside yourself. I need way more practice. While I get into warrior pose, I start going through my grocery list in my head. And then I look at the cool yoga pants on the woman next to me and think to myself that I should get some like that. I wonder where she got them. Oops we have moved on to the next pose, which requires balance. Time for me to hit child’s pose. I’ll stay here for a while. And try to remember what kinds of ice cream I have in the freezer or if I have to go get some on the way home from yoga. As you can tell, I clearly need more practice at quieting my mind.

There were days early on in my sobriety when I tried to do yoga and after about ten minutes, I just slumped into child’s pose and wanted to give up. I was tired, weak, miserable and sometimes still shaking. I also liked to lie flat on my back and call it corpse pose. Luckily, the yoga teacher was very understanding and simply asked if I was ok. I hope what will come with the practice will be longer periods of time where I can be still and just be. If I can take this practice with me out into the real world, perhaps I can even learn to simply acknowledge the thought of wanting a drink and then let it go. Right now, that thought sometimes comes and sets up camp in my brain and won’t leave. Like last night and tonight. It would have been nice if the concussion could have somehow knocked that part of my brain out too.

The quiet, reflective time is not just a suggested practice but is actually an active part of recovery. Meditation and prayer work wonders. As I’ve said many times before, I have to constantly remind myself of the serenity prayer as well as of the need to turn things over to my HP. When my mind is quiet and I can be still, I can remember to do those things. If you haven’t tried yoga, I highly recommend it. And if you see someone in the back of the room wearing a helmet and spending most of the class in child’s pose, that’s me.

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders” –Lao Tzu

A Skewed (or Screwed) Point of View

28 Dec

People often say that we should try walking in someone else’s shoes. Or they will tell us to try to see things from their point of view. We may hear “if I were you, I’d…..”. But you’re not me. And I could put on your shoes and, whether they fit or not, the path I take is still my own. I can try out your glasses, even if they are rose-colored, and still not see things from your point of view. When we get lost in ourselves, or try to be someone or something we aren’t, it helps to take a step back and try to find a way out. If we can’t, we need to throw out a lifeline. It’s who is there to catch it and reel you back in that matters. You need someone real to reel you in.

It’s human nature to be self-centered to some point. We have to. Ultimately the only person who can take care of us is us. There are varying degrees of how much people put themselves first and how crucial they believe it to be. There are those who will tell you it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Or every man for himself. Then, there are those who like to remind others that “there is no ‘i’ in teamwork. No man is an island. There are also people who constantly surround themselves with others but still feel incredibly lonely. Others like to be alone and are perfectly content to be their own best friend.

But back to being lost in ourselves. That can take us to a scary place. Our self image is a conglomeration of judgements, feelings, thoughts, intuitions and ideas. Watch a baby when they first look into a mirror. They are completely fascinated. They will reach out to touch their new friend. Do they know it’s them? I don’t think so. They reach out and the image’s hand reaches back. They knock their forehead up against the glass and their little friend does the same. Now think about someone who has completely lost herself. I think at some point in life, we all look into a mirror and ask who the hell it is we are looking at. It’s often surreal. It’s the closest we can come to taking a step back and looking into our own life. We SEE what others see when they look at us. But we can feel something completely different. When we reach out our hand, there may be a deep-seeded doubt, or fear, whether or not the other person in the mirror will in turn reach back to us. We see a physical appearance that everyone else sees. But the feelings that the image churn up are unique to us. There are days when we look at that person with pride, and the shoulders go back a little more, the chin goes up, and the corners of the mouth turn upward in a complacent grin. Other days, we can look at that person with complete disgust, remorse, guilt and incredulousness that they did the things they did. Not us, but them.

We may attempt to splash cold water on our faces as if it could somehow change or clean up the image and the feelings associated with it. There was an old Saturday Night Live skit with Al Franken (now a United States Senator) as Stuart Smalley, where he would look into a mirror and tell himself aloud: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me!”. The segment was called “Daily Affirmations”. Sometimes, we do need to convince ourselves that what or who we see in the mirror is okay. A little pep talk. Being able to do this ourselves, self-affirmation, is a hugely important skill. For most of my life, I have been way too hung-up on what other people think of me. My need for external validation was surpassed only by my need for ice cream. Learning to rely more on myself and my own gut-check and less on the approval of others is a life-long lesson in growth.

Without a drink in my hand, the mirror becomes less cloudy. The Greek in me has used the Windex to wipe it clean, little by little. And I try to remember this:

“And here is my little secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Why Ask Why?

12 Dec

I have a friend whose father, a brilliant man and artist, drank himself to death. I have another friend whose husband got lost in his addiction and also lost his life far too young. I have another friend who not only suffered the loss of someone very close when they committed suicide after battling alcoholism and depression, but also lost a friend in a car accident, and was clinically dead herself for a short time, when the car she was in was hit by a drunk driver. My great grandfather drowned in a boating accident when he was drunk. I hear countless stories in meetings, day after day, night after night, of women and men who have no relationships with their children, or aren’t allowed to see their own grandchildren, because of their alcoholism. Other stories of intelligent, educated, “normal” people who spent years living on the street or behind bars due to their drinking or other addictions. So many lives affected and forever changed because of someone else’s addiction and disease. Like storms with paths that left utter destruction. But yet here I sit, and somehow I can actually write that I wish I could have a drink right now. Mind-boggling. And it scares the crap out of me.

I know what can happen if I pick up a drink and go back down the horrendous path that I was on. There is a reason why people say “change I must or die I will”. There is no happy ending to alcoholism. Ever. I know all that and still salivate at the sight of, or often merely just the idea of, a big glass of red wine. It is insanity at its best. To think for a single second that I could miraculously now control my drinking. But this time of year there is alcohol all around and the little Drink Devil in my head is constantly being fed ammunition. Every holiday-cheer cocktail party fuels the fire. And I need to ask and be reminded why I can’t drink.

I liken it to the stage that most toddlers go through which is commonly referred to as the “Why” stage. Their little minds start expanding and curiosity takes over. The period may be brief, but for at least some length of time they ask “why” after just about everything you say. Time for bed. Why? You have to eat your vegetables. Why? Don’t poke your baby brother in the eye. Why? How about because If you don’t stop asking why I’m going to lose my mind. Why?

Call it the circle of life, or the oval of crap, or whatever you want to call it, but sometimes in my recovery and sobriety, I feel like I am reverting back to the maturity level of a toddler. I want to ask why to everything, starting with why can’t I have a drink. To which I get the answer, because you are an alcoholic. Ok, why? Because you have a disease. Why? Umm, could be partly genetic, partly mental, partly physical, circumstantial, connected to depression…..Why? It is what it is. Why? Because sometimes it is what it is and it just plain sucks.

And, sometimes when toddlers don’t get the answers they want when they ask “why?”, they throw a tantrum and stomp their feet. Along with my whys often comes anger. It doesn’t make sense to me and it isn’t fair that other people can drink and I can’t. Waaa—waaaa—waaaa. Some people simply do not understand alcoholism and have had no experience with it. They cannot fathom why someone just simply can’t stop drinking when they see all the problems it is causing in their life. Just stop drinking. If only it were that simple.

I hope to never leave a path of destruction behind me and I hate that people that I care about are still struggling because of one that was left for them. Does it suck? Yes. Do I want to be able to join the holiday fun and raise a glass with my friends? Yes. But it won’t be one glass. Why? Because I am an alcoholic. So the simple “just stop drinking” for me comes with a whole lot of effort. And sometimes I get tired and want to stomp my feet. But when I’m tired and make it to the end of the day, I can sigh and smile. Why? Because I made it through another day without picking up a drink. How? One day at a time.

“I never wake up in the morning and wonder why I am here. I wake up and wonder why I am not making here better.”
― Jeffrey Fry

“He who has a why can endure any how”—Nietzsche

War of My Worlds

22 Oct

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles narrated the famous Halloween episode of The Mercury Theater on the Air radio drama anthology series that would go down in history. That episode’s broadcast featured an adaptation of H.G. Wells’  “The War of the Worlds”, creating widespread panic due to the radio reports of an alien invasion by Martians. In 1997, director Barry Levinson played on this theme in the film “Wag the Dog”, in which a fictitious war is created by a political campaign spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer in order to divert attention from a presidential sex scandal.

Now take that down about a million notches….here’s my own little War of the Worlds. A purely selfish piece for me to turn to whenever I may get that strong urge to drink. What has helped me the most when I have a really overpowering craving is when someone tells me to “think it all the way through”. In other words, don’t just stop at the thought of how much you want a drink, and how good it would taste and feel, but continue the thought process all the way through to what happens AFTER.

Hopefully you won’t skip this introduction and think this is real post about me picking up again……or I’ll have a lot of ‘splainin to do! The Walking Dead,  Friday the 13th, even the Exorcist do nothing to me compared to this—this scares the crap out of me. It doesn’t have to be drinking or alcohol addiction—it can be whatever temptation you face that you know you have to fight. When your defenses get down and that little devil (temptation) on one shoulder is beating the crap out of the angel (conscience) on the other shoulder, think it through to the end.

Thanks for tuning in and letting me “think it through” with my blog:

I guess it was a matter of time. I could only fight for so long. Salivating at the sight, or even thought, of a tall, smooth glass of wine. I picked up the drink, put the glass to my lips, closed my eyes and tilted it back. It was like a long lost friend giving me a huge hug It warmed my entire body as it went down my throat, into my stomach and sent little sparks up to my brain. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in such a long time. Almost two and a half years. A huge wave of thoughts came rushing back. First sip—check. Second sip here we go. This one was a little bigger, and faster. More warmth. More thoughts. And we’re off to the races.

The glass was empty before I knew it. And I was feeling good again. That happy, euphoric feeling was coming back, pushing reality back down deep inside. The depression and anxiety were dissipating. The bottle wasn’t far away—it was almost like a reflex that I always kept it close to my glass. I refilled my glass and put the bottle down, close again. As I sat and drank more, cares were rapidly thrown to the wind. This is totally fine, I thought. I got this. I can drink now and stop when I should, when I’ve had enough. It will be a one-time thing. Perhaps I could just return to my current path of sobriety and no one would know. I don’t want to throw away all the time, days and chips I have accumulated. I don’t want to have to change my sobriety date. No one will know. Fill ‘er up again. And on it went, until the bottle was empty.

I felt great. More alive, carefree, and happy. Since I’m already drinking, just this one time, I may as well keep going. All in if I’m going to be in at all. I look for another bottle. Not my preference, but it will do. It’s got alcohol in it, which is really the only requirement at this point. I put on some music and sing along. Oh, how I missed this feeling. Better get something to eat. That’s a smart plan. That will keep the alcohol from affecting me too much. Look, I’m even making sound decisions and using good judgement. That and the fact that I have the munchies.

But just then I hear the garage door. Crap. I can’t let my family see that I’ve been drinking. I hide the empty bottle at the bottom of the trash can. I hide the open bottle, still half-full, behind a cabinet in the living room. As usual, I can’t conceive of letting any of that precious liquid go to waste. A swift cleanup of the crime scene— a skill I had nearly perfected over the years. I quickly opened the peanut butter jar, swirled my finger in it and then rubbed it on my tongue. That should do the trick to hide the smell of the wine. I look in the mirror and rub the redness from the wine off my lips. Turn the music down. Grab my laptop. Just a normal night.

I listen to my children’s updates from the day – school, sports, activities etc. I listen but I don’t hear anything because the entire time my brain is preoccupied with trying to make sure I didn’t leave out any incriminating evidence and that I don’t appear at all tipsy. I go overboard trying to seem like super mom who is engaged and listening. Yet I have no idea what they are talking about.

My husband kisses me and I’m praying that all he can smell/taste is the peanut butter. He looks at me and I start to panic, wondering if he can tell. Or am I just being paranoid? He heads to our room to change, not appearing to suspect anything. But I turn around and see my daughter. She’s looking at me with her beautiful blue eyes and seems to be looking right through me. Nah, she can’t tell anything. She’s only thirteen. I ask her a few questions about her day, being careful to enunciate every word and not slur. I’m confident that I sound totally fine. I guess just as confident as I was all those other times. She heads off quietly to get ready for bed.

I think about staying up and finishing the open bottle when they are all asleep. I hate to waste it. And I would have to get rid of it somehow anyway. But I’m starting to feel pretty lightheaded. And tired. And drunk. It was just because I didn’t eat, I’m sure. Brush my teeth and hit my pillow and I’m guessing I was out cold in a matter of seconds.

I woke up to the sound of one of my boys slamming the toilet seat down in the bathroom down the hall. I open one eye and quickly close it after it is attacked by beams of light breaking through the wood shutters. My head is pounding. Why? My mouth is dry and feels like a cat crawled in during the night and camped out on my tongue. Oh. Shit. I have that horrible feeling I haven’t and in quite a while—the confusion and fear over trying to remember why I felt the way I did. Hungover. No, it can’t be. Let me think…ouch that hurts. Think more gently. Grab some water on my nightstand. As I guzzle it down, memories of gulping down wine last night start to emerge. Holy crap. There’s no way I did that. Why? How am I going to face my family? I tell myself that they don’t know. How could they? And how could I feel so hungover after only a bottle and a half of wine? It used to take much more than that.

I get up to go to the bathroom and my head pounds with each step. I’m feeling pretty nauseous now too, thinking that a tall glass of Coke on ice would hit the spot. When I make it to the bathroom, I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It’s not pretty. A glimpse is all I can handle because I realize that there’s no way I can look myself in the eyes. No one else may know. But I do. And no one else could possibly make me feel worse than I feel about myself right now.

I should get some coffee but I don’t think I could stomach that. I need a Coke. But we never have any in our house. And that would be a dead giveaway as it was always my hangover drink of choice. Maybe a few crackers. Or a banana. Or stick my head in the freezer for a few seconds. All those things rushed into my brain, like instinct from the old days. I start to realize the significance of what I had done. All those battles I fought and won, only to lose the war by picking up a drink this one time.

How am I going to face anyone? My family? My friends from the program? My friends who have supported me? My friend who hasn’t missed a day of checking in on me? My therapist? My blog readers? Myself? Shit. All that hard work just went down the toilet, along with the spit that was building up in my mouth as I got more nauseous. Almost 900 days. Ruined by one. Actually a few hours. Now my confusion started making its way to anger, then to guilt and on to shame. What have I done?

I have activated that ever-present, cunning, baffling and powerful disease inside. It is strong. It is clever. It is victorious. Game over. I lose. The dead guy in the hockey mask has caught me. The zombies have me cornered. My head is still spinning around in a complete circle despite the attempted exorcism. And I have become just another one of the high percentage of alcoholics who have relapsed. One publication, from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcholism states that approximately 90 percent of alcoholics will experience one or more relapses during the four years after treatment. Other studies have relapse rates that range between 50-80%, and some say only one alcoholic out of three will be able to maintain sobriety. These are not very good odds. And they are very, very scary. I always believed I was special. An exception. That I could beat the odds.

And now, I can either hang my head in shame and continue down a path that will eventually kill me, or I can pray for forgiveness and strength and get back on the right track to sobriety and what, I know for a fact, is a much better life.

I DID NOT DRINK.   Above was all fictitious, and about me “thinking it through”, perhaps a bit too realistically, since many people thought this was me talking about actually picking up.  Real fear for me is not of Martians invading or the zombie apocalypse.  It is fear of failing, i.e. going back to drinking.

Bill Cosby said something that rings true to me: “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” My desire to succeed in staying sober IS greater than my fear of failure right now.  I will NOT pick up a drink.  I don’t want to feel like I imagined I would and described above.  So Drink Devil on my shoulder, take a hike.

 

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”—Confucius

Extra! Extra! Drink All About It……

20 Sep

The news these days is nothing short of devastatingly depressing. The terror group ISIS is beheading innocent people and trying to instill fear and horror throughout the world. The deadly Ebola virus is spreading at an exponential rate. There is a terrible respiratory illness that is sending hundreds of children to emergency rooms nationwide. Nationally recognized and idolized sports figures are being exposed for brutally beating their partners and even their children. And, what hits closest to home, a local girl who is a sophomore at the University of Virginia has been missing for a week now and foul play is suspected. I cannot possibly begin to imagine what her family is going through and can only add my heartfelt prayers for her safe return.

So when we are bombarded from every direction with negativity, fear and sadness, what do we do? Everyone has their own way of dealing with difficult times — their own coping mechanisms. Some meditate, many pray, some repress it and continue on, some seek help, some shut down and, if you’re an alcoholic, chances are you drink. It’s usually the only coping mechanism you know. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, you may struggle to refrain from picking up a drink.

I can only speak about my own experiences and feelings as an alcoholic. Thank goodness I am an alcoholic in recovery who hasn’t had a drink in over 2 years (845 days to be exact). With each day that I am inundated with bad news, however, the brick wall that I have been building, one day at a time, to protect me and keep me away from the bottle, gets chipped away. It’s like a chisel is breaking out little holes through the wall that give me glimpses of past coping mechanisms in the form of liquid. There’s a tiny voice in the back of my head that tries to tell me that with all these horrible things that surround me, what the hell could be so bad about taking a drink? My brain still fights the many years of training that taught it that when things were tough, I could always pick up a drink and feel better. The insanity of the disease of alcoholism tries to tell me that a drink will wash all my cares away.

The reality, however, is quite harsh. A drink will not destroy ISIS, cure Ebola or deadly respiratory illnesses, stop domestic violence, or bring a missing girl home. A drink will do absolutely nothing to help make things better. Absolutely. Nothing. Not only will it do nothing to make things better, it will make things worse. Much worse.

I’ve had crappy days when I have wanted to have a drink. I’ve also had wonderful days, when all seems right with the world, or my little world anyway, when I have also wanted to pick up a drink. Good times, bad times, happy times, sad times, a drink seemed appropriate for all. But it was never “A” drink. It was a drink followed by another drink, and then another, and then another…..I like to explain my alcoholism to people as a broken switch in my brain wiring. I believe that “normal” people have a little light that comes on in their brain that tells them they have had enough to drink and need to stop. The little switch is flipped and they make the rational, prudent decision not to drink any more at that time. In my brain, the light, and the switch, are either broken or missing. As I approach too much to drink, instead of telling me to stop, my brain tells me to keep on going. More is better.

What scares the hell out of me now is that if I can crave a drink at times when things are going well, how in the world am I going to resist a drink when something really difficult happens? And not just out in the world, but to me, or in my immediate little world. An integral part of recovery is breaking down your ego and your self-centeredness. When I drank, it was all about me. First and foremost. Me, where my next drink was coming from, when I was getting my next drink, what was going to make ME happy, what I was dealing with in my life. Me.

But I’m not just me. I am a mother of three wonderful children. I am a wife. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a godmother, and a friend. People count on me. With a clear brain, not all clouded up with alcohol, I know now that my children deserve a mother who is there for them. My husband deserves a wife who is present. And friends who have cared for me deserve the same in return. They will have their times when they need support, just as I have. My children will hear the news and be afraid, curious, worried, and confused. I am the one who is supposed to comfort them and protect them. I can only try to take that confusion and fear and try to turn it into solace and hopefully life lessons that will help them. There will always be bad news. Thanks to a wonderful friend, I am learning to look for the silver linings.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise—Victor Hugo

Consider It Pure Joy

22 Jul

I had never even opened a bible. Perhaps I looked at one or two sitting in nightstand drawers at hotel rooms. That’s about it. I participated in my first bible study at the same time I started my battle against alcoholism, a little over two years ago. A friend asked me to join her, thinking it would be a good idea to get me to turn my attention to activities that didn’t involve drinking. While I didn’t know too much about bible studies, I was pretty sure they didn’t involve sitting around doing tequila shots every time someone said the word “Jesus”. It was amazing how much the two things were compatible and reinforced each other. In my twelve-step program I was learning about the need to turn to faith in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. The bible study taught me the need to turn to faith in order to achieve and maintain sanity and grace.

The study focused on the book of James, which has been described by Bible Hub as “a book about practical Christian living that reflects a genuine faith that transforms lives”. A good place for a bible newbie to start, and an excellent place for someone seeking transformative faith to start. I’ll never forget one of the first lines of the book of James: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”. My personal translation was this: “Be glad that you are going through living hell because it will make you stronger.” In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and there is a reason for it. Whatever your struggle, there is a reason behind it and somehow, someway, even though we may have a hard time seeing it or understanding it, God has a plan and will produce some good from it.

With the bible study homework, I did a fair amount of soul-searching. This is going to be great, I thought. I can’t wait to figure out just how the hell my decades of alcoholic drinking, blackouts, falling down stairs, etc., would bring about something good. So far, all I could figure out was that it got me to open a bible and to meet some very interesting women. Not to mention the fact that I went to an activity from which I emerged as sober as I was when I arrived.

But I noticed that while I started to read “the word”, worked on turning my will and my life over to God (Step Three), and simply became more present in my life by being sober, I began seeing “God-winks” all around me. Squire Rushnell has an excellent book called “When God Winks at You”, all about certain “chance” circumstances that can only be explained by divine intervention (God-winks). I started writing a blog about my journey through recovery. The more I wrote, the more cathartic it was, and the more it helped in my soul-searching and self-awareness. People started to comment about my blog, pull me aside and tell me that they shared it with their friend/mother/father/cousin/uncle/aunt/brother/sister/butcher….anyone they knew struggling with addiction. The more I heard, the more I realized how much addiction touches almost everyone in some form or shape, and the more I wanted to help.

There were several other God-winks, but one of the biggest came on a Sunday morning when I grabbed my coffee and turned on the television. I flipped it to the well-known evangelist, Joel Osteen, at the exact time he was saying these words: “God can take your mess and turn it into your message. God knows how to use what you’ve been through. He doesn’t waste any experiences. He can use what you’ve been through to help others in that situation. Nothing is wasted—the good, the bad, the painful.” It was as though he was speaking directly to me. It strongly reaffirmed my feeling that I am supposed to take my mess, my bad, my pain and not waste it, but rather use it to help others in a similar situation. That situation doesn’t have to be alcoholism. It can be whatever trial or tribulation you suffer in your life. It reinforced the fact that it’s never too late to change something bad into something good. To consider it pure joy.

Another major God-wink came in the form of an opportunity a few weeks ago to speak to women in a local jail. It was a small group of women in what they called the “Sober Living Unit”, who had committed to try to live a clean and sober life when they left their incarceration. I had no idea what to expect, and even less of an idea what I was going to say. But somehow, the words just came. God gave me the guidance and the words I needed.

I began by telling my story, and then went on to share two pieces from my blog, which were very well-received. At the end, there was no awkward silence as I feared, but rather an extensive, interactive discussion. Each woman shared some of her story, but not all explained what they had done to land themselves in this dreadful place. Several were there for selling drugs. One woman drank so much that she passed out with her small child next to her, only to be awakened by a police officer and arrested for child abandonment/neglect. That prompted me to share the story of a friend of mine who had relapsed twice after brief periods of sobriety, each time with major repercussions. The first time, she picked up a drink simply because it was a nice, sunny, spring day. She finished a bottle of vodka and decided to drive to the ABC store to get more. She realized she was in no shape to be driving, pulled over and passed out in her car. She, too, was awakened by police officers, and lost her license for a year for driving under the influence. The second time, she drank so much after being upset by an argument that she again passed out. This time she woke up to find police and Child Protective Services at her door because someone had called saying that the children were alone with an incapacitated mother. Two relapses. Two major screw-ups. But her mess turned into my message. God didn’t waste it. Does she consider it pure joy? I doubt it. But perhaps just one of those women will remember it when they return to their normal lives and think twice about picking up a drink or selling drugs.

The entire time, I was well aware of how incredibly blessed, and lucky, I am. But for the grace of God, I could be in there with them myself. Have I driven when I shouldn’t have? Yes. Have I been incapacitated around my children? I’m so incredibly ashamed to admit yes. All the more reason why I feel strongly about my need to make what they call living amends. I have been given the chance to live my life in a much better and healthier way, so why wouldn’t I take that and use it in the best ways I can? I’m in no position to preach or give advice, but I told the women as I was leaving that it was not too late for them to change and turn their lives around. They have to start in there as we do out here, one day at a time.

The book of James also includes what I like to call the “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” message. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Sometimes it’s really hard to look in the mirror. Often we don’t like what we see. Look. Really look. Listen and act. Read and do. James also says “faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” I have faith that I can stay sober. But if that faith is not accompanied by action—by hard work, rewiring and praying—it is dead. For a relatively short bible book, James contains so many other powerful messages. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Quick to listen and slow to speak. Advice everyone could benefit from. And “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark”. There is so much good stuff in here. Why didn’t I pick up this book in the hotel rooms?

Finally, the last chapter of James leaves us with this: “….if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins”. I’m not sure I have the power to bring someone back from sin or wandering in the wrong direction. I have to start with myself. However, I have a friend, an older woman, who is a very nervous driver and gets completely frazzled when people behind her are driving too close. She called me over to her car in the parking lot one day after a meeting and said she wanted to show me something. There, taped on her steering wheel, was a piece of paper with a simple message and reminder to herself: “Consider it pure joy.”

Turn the Beat Around — Part 2

12 Jun

After my post “Turn the Beat Around“, a good friend of mine, who happens to be a huge
country music fan, sent me a nice note.   She said while she liked it, “to defend her love of country”, I had to “give country music some accolades for recognizing addictions too”. Sounds totally fair.  She gave me just a few examples of songs I should check out. Yes, she was right.  In my other piece, I wrote a long list of songs romanticizing drinking.  In deference to my friend, here are a few examples of lyrics from country songs that really capture the evils of addiction:

That’s Why I’m Here–Kenny Chesney

This old boy stood up in the isle
Said he’d been livin’ a life of denial
Then he cried, as he talked about wasted years
I couldn’t believe what I heard
It was my life word for word
And all of the sudden, it was clear

It’s the simple things in life
Like the kids at home and a lovin’ wife
That you miss the most, when you lose control

And everything you love starts to disappear
The devil takes your hand and says no fear
Have another shot, just one more beer
Yeah I’ve been there
That’s why I’m here

Choices– George Jones

I was tempted, by an early age
I found I liked drinkin’, oh, and I never turned it down
There were loved ones but I turned them all away
Now I’m living and dying with the choices I’ve made
I’ve had choices since the day that I was born
There were voices that told me right from wrong

If I had listened, no I wouldn’t be here today
Living and dying with the choices I’ve made
I guess I’m payin’ for the things that I have done I
f I could go back, oh, Lord knows I’d run
But I’m still losin’ this game of life I play
Losing and dying with the choices I’ve made

Some People Change —  Montgomery Gentry

She was born with her mother’s habit…
You could say: “It’s in her blood.”
She hates that she’s gotta have it…
As she fills her glass up.
An she’d love to kill that bottle,
But all she can think about,
Is a, a better life, a second chance,
An’ everyone she’s letting down.
She throws that bottle down.

Here’s to the strong; thanks to the brave.
Don’t give up hope… some people change.
Against all odds, against the grain,
Love finds a way… some people change.
Thank God for those who make it…
Let them be the Light.

Hold On–Wilson Phillips

You could sustain
Or are you comfortable with the pain?
You’ve got no one to blame for your unhappiness
You got yourself into your own mess
Lettin’ your worries pass you by
Don’t you think it’s worth your time
To change your mind?

I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and
Break free the chains
Yeah I know that there is pain
But you hold on for one more day and you
Break free, break from the chains

I have to admit, that’s good, powerful stuff.  Thank you to my friend for sharing those with me (the last one was my own addition).   In response to the songs above, I agree, I don’t have anyone else to blame for my unhappiness.  When I put the bottle down, I did break free from the chains.  And I’m not giving up hope, people do change.  I’m a living, breathing example of that.  We all live and die with the choices we make.  Dr. William Glasser, the psychiatrist who developed the “choice theory” said that “it is almost impossible for anyone, even the most ineffective among us, to continue to choose misery after becoming aware that it is a choice.”  There is way too much for me to say about choice here, that’s for another post.  For now, suffice it to say that I choose to stay sober and I choose happiness.  And yes, I choose to agree that country music ain’t so bad.

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