Tag Archives: alcoholism

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”

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

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

Set Free

11 Aug

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”—Unknown
There is some confusion over the authorship of the quote above. Many attribute it to Richard Bach, a novelist born in 1936, while other say it is from an unknown source. Regardless, its meaning is broad and deep. It’s particularly applicable to my life right now. Someone lovingly “cut me loose” to stand on my own two feet and gain the strength I need to stay sober. It hurt at the time, and left me quite bewildered, but now that I look back, I can see it clearly and understand why.

No matter what our issues are in life, we all deal with some amount of codependency. Melody Beattie, author of several books on the topic says “There are almost as many definitions of codependency as there are experiences that represent it.” One simple definition is excessive emotional or psychological reliance in a relationship. There’s an expression I hear often in the rooms that says “detach with love”. That’s a healthy, admirable way to deal with codependency, though often much easier said than done.

While I have had a great deal of support throughout my recovery, I leaned quite heavily on one particular person who had a personal history with the other side of alcoholism. She got the texts when I longed for a drink. I turned to her to keep me from jumping off that ledge back into the world of alcohol. She had to listen to me whine and ask why I couldn’t have a drink. And I realize now that that’s an awful lot to put on any one person.

In another miraculous example of how God works, my decision to grow up and stop leaning so heavily on this person seemed to coincide almost exactly with when she decided it was time to cut me loose. She knew that I needed to develop the right tools to stay sober. More importantly, she understood that the only person who could keep me sober was me. And I knew that it was unfair to continue to lean so heavily on her, especially as she had her own trials and tribulations to deal with.

So what happened when she “detached with love”? I got my wings. I learned to stand on my own two feet and use the helpful instruments that I’ve acquired in my sobriety. I turned to my awesome sponsor and attended more meetings. I picked up some recovery literature. I learned to pray and to ask for help, and to turn things over to my HP (Higher Power).

Our friendship is stronger and deeper now and no longer allows alcoholism to dominate it. So to my friend, thank you for caring enough to let me find my own strength and plant my feet firmly underneath me. HP has now given me the strength and tools to help others. And to all the people I lean on heavily, thank you for being there for me throughout this journey.

Taking care of myself is a big job. No wonder I avoided it for so long.”—Anonymous

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

Misunderstanding Being Misunderstood

15 Jun

There used to be a time when the weekends brought about a deep exhale and a break from the chaos of the week. The exhale used to come with imbibing large quantities of alcohol. For most people, weekends kicked off on Friday afternoon/evening. For me, I was usually well lit by then. Weekends are now chock full of sports and kid activities. This particular week AND weekend were rough.

I went to my youngest son’s end-of-season soccer party the other night. It was held at the coach’s house and I didn’t know most of the other parents of the kids on the team. I was already having a tough day when I walked out to the patio and saw everyone drinking cold Coronas with limes. Ugh. I was so tempted to do a 180 and high tail it out of there. But I didn’t. I decided I needed to suck it up for my kid’s sake and stay.

The hostess offered me some sparkling water, knowing I don’t drink, and I gladly accepted. Having something in my hand immediately upon getting to a party is usually helpful. She saw me fidgeting and could tell how uncomfortable I was and said she would understand if I needed to go. Isn’t this supposed to be easier now that I have three years of sobriety under my belt?? I guess the fact that I could sit down surrounded by people I didn’t know, with no liquid courage in me to get to know them, while they were drinking cold beers, shows that I have come a long way. There’s no way I would have been able to endure that situation a year ago.

I started talking to the couple sitting next to me and we went through the usual round of DC-area pleasantries—-where you were from, what you did for work, where you went to school, etc. I shared that I used to be a lobbyist and they asked if I would ever want to go back. I told them no, because I didn’t want to put myself back into a career that involved social functions morning, noon and night. I added that I was considering going back to work, I just wasn’t sure doing what. Then I went on further and opened myself up for the conversation that ensued. I told them that I am currently a writer, that I have a blog and that I am hopefully publishing a book. On what they asked. A perfectly reasonable question, and one for which I’m going to have to work on having a better answer. I stumbled a little bit, but managed to convey to them that my blog was about my personal journey into recovery and sobriety. That I want to raise awareness about alcoholism among women just like me and that it’s a huge problem in our society that is rarely talked about.

I waited nervously to see what their response was going to be. They seemed quite interested and followed up with numerous questions. While I felt like I was in the hot seat, I was well aware of the fact that I put myself there. If I’m going to wear my Sobrietease hat out in public, talk about my blog, and wear a necklace with recovery symbol, I have to be able to be held accountable and not babble like an idiot or be at a loss for words when asked about these things. In fact, a woman at a golf tournament recently asked me about my necklace. You would have thought I was speaking Swahili back to her. I literally made no sense and told her that I forgot what the symbol stood for. Well done, jackass.

Others around us at the party were half-listening but I could tell that when they realized what the subject matter was, they didn’t want to join in the conversation. The couple wished me well with my writing and said they would check out my blog. I hope they have.

On Saturday night, my husband and I went to a 50th birthday party for a very dear friend. It was a lovely party and I had been looking forward to it. As soon as we walked in, however, that social anxiety I used to keep at bay with my liquid courage grabbed a hold of me and nearly choked me. Once again, I quickly got some sparkling water from the bar to have something in my hand. Everyone was drinking. The smell of red wine wafted through the air and right into my nose, almost poking at me with every inhale. I tried to talk to a few people but was very uncomfortable. I didn’t know if I would be able to stay long but wanted to be there to celebrate with my friend. When I started to feel some “stinking thinking” coming on, I immediately texted my sponsor. She asked if I could get out of there if I was struggling. I told her I could, but I was trying to be a big girl and stay. She told me to keep her posted and I went back to the party.

I saw a familiar face—a mother of one of the girls on my daughter’s lacrosse team and felt a huge sigh of relief. She knows I don’t drink and I would be comfortable talking to her for a bit. Someone else I was talking to wasn’t drinking either, trying to stay in good shape for an early morning commitment. And here’s where the misunderstanding that so many people have about alcoholism steps in. People who aren’t drinking for the night, for whatever reason—-they may be the designated driver or have to be up early (and not hungover) for something—try to rationalize why I can or cannot drink. There’s the camp of people who say “I’m not drinking tonight and I don’t see what the big deal is. This isn’t so hard. Why is it so hard for you not to drink?” Then there’s the other camp: “It’s been three years. I don’t understand why you cant just control it and have one or two drinks then stop.” How I wish that any of that were true. Well, actually, some of it is true. I’m sure it isn’t so hard for you not to drink on a given night. But for me, it is. It’s actually very hard when every which way I turn I see and smell alcohol and watch it being consumed happily.

As for the questions of why can’t I just have one or two drinks then stop, if I had the answer to that, I’d be beyond rich. The millions of alcoholics who ask that same question wish they had the answer to that as well. We are alcoholics. We cannot just “have one or two drinks”. Maybe some days, we can. But on most days, one or two leads to nine or ten. Once we put alcohol into our systems, the disease is triggered. The switch is turned on, and as I have said before, my “off” switch is broken. Alcoholism has been described as both an obsession of the mind and a physical addiction. That first sip feeds the physical addiction and the obsession of the mind immediately follows. Alcoholics are powerless over alcohol.

When I am at a party, I miss what alcohol used to do for me. Caroline Knapp describes it perfectly in her book “Drinking: A Love Story”:

“That may be one of liquor’s most profound and universal appeals to the alcoholic: The way it generates a sense of connection to others, the way it numbs social anxiety and dilutes feelings of isolation, gives you a sense of access to the world. You’re trapped in your own skin and thoughts; you drink; you are released, just like that One drink, and the bridge—so elusive in the cold, nerve-jangled sensitivity of sobriety—-appears, waiting only to be crossed.”

Trapped in my own skin. That is a perfect description. The stigma of alcoholism isn’t going away any time soon. Many people don’t see it as a disease but rather a weakness of character- that I can’t stop because I have no self-restraint or limited self-control. I wish I could explain it as eloquently as Knapp does:
“Alcoholism seemed more to me like a moral issue than a physical one. This is one of our culture’s most basic assumptions about the disease and one of its most destructive: we figure that drinking too much is a sign of weakness and lack of self-restraint; that it’s bad; that it can be overcome by will.”

For those who ask me if I will ever go back to drinking, and I know people who have, even after 18 years of sobriety, I will once again quote Knapp:

‘Science may also explain why relapse rates are so high: those neurological reward circuits have extremely long and powerful memories, and once the simple message— alcohol equals pleasure—gets imprinted into the drinker’s brain, it may stay there indefinitely, perhaps even a lifetime. Environmental cues, the sight of a wineglass, the smell of gin, a walk past a favorite bar—can trigger the wish to drink in a heartbeat, and they often do.”

“Once you’ve crossed the line into alcoholism, the percentages are not in your favor:
there appears to be no safe way to drink again, no way to return to a normal, social, controlled drinker.”

Hopefully that helps address some of the misunderstanding. I don’t blame people for not getting it. Why should you be expected to know these things if you aren’t an alcoholic?. I hope that part of what I can do with this blog is help put aside some of the misconceived notions and educate people who want to understand this disease better. I’d love to hear from you—-what questions do you have about alcoholism? What would you like to ask an alcoholic? I can address them in my next piece. I don’t have all the answers by any stretch of the imagination but I can share my own experiences.

Misunderstanding must be nakedly exposed before true understanding can begin to flourishs.”
― Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read

Poor Me Some Whine

21 May

I went into downtown Washington, D.C. today to have lunch with three women I worked with nearly 25 years ago. I still can’t get it through my head that I can say I did anything as far back 25 years ago. (Yes, I worked when I was five years old). I hadn’t seen them since I “came out” about my alcoholism. I know they read my blog so they are aware of my sobriety.

We met at an old favorite Mexican restaurant and I watched the waiters bringing margaritas, cold beers and shots of tequila to other diners. The cold beers looked really good. So did the margaritas. The tequila shots seemed a bit much even for me, an alcoholic, on a normal Wednesday afternoon. I thought about how in the old days, pre-sobriety, I would have been knocking back margaritas without giving it a second thought. But my friends all ordered non-alcoholic drinks, as did I.

I used to drive into DC from Northern Virginia every day when I worked as a lobbyist. Today, I felt like I was driving to Mars. Driving in the city brought a tsunami of memories as I passed bars I frequented, restaurants where I wined and dined colleagues and offices I visited for meetings, usually hungover. The liquor store near my old office was still there. Always a convenient place to pick up bottles of wine for Christmas gifts for others, or bottles of something stronger for Hangover Thursday gifts for myself.

The memories were both good and bad. Certainly many laughs and lots of good times. But also lots of mistakes and escapades I’d rather forget. The flood of memories came just after a string of several big disappointments the past two days. Suffice it to say that I had gotten my hopes up for a few things only to be slammed back down. In addition, a friend relapsed. And I have a nasty sinus infection. And none of my summer clothes fit. So my point with all this whining is what you ask?

Any of these things on their own would be enough to feel like a kick in the stomach, but the perfect storm of crap that has blown in the last few days has me thinking how nice a big (huge) drink would be right now. It’s that swirling around of so many different feelings in my head (much like the swirly margaritas I drooled over today at lunch) that makes it tough as an alcoholic. I used to drink to get all these feelings in check, or, more accurately, to get them to go the f— away. I drank to numb, so I didn’t have to actually feel the feelings. But now I do.

While feeling the bad feelings hurts (immensely sometimes), feeling the good ones can be an inexplicable joy. Memories fall into the same category. And the farther along I get in my recovery, the more memory bubbles that keep popping up. As much as my head hurts at times like this, and I’m not sure what to do with all these feelings since I no longer wash them down with booze, I’d still rather feel the ups and downs than not feel anything.

Yes, I know that life is full of disappointments. And yes, I understand that I just need to suck it up and put on my big girl panties. But sometimes I need to whine. And whining is better than wining. So thanks for letting me.

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter could be said to remedy anything– Kurt Vonnegut

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.

One Thousand Shades of Sober

22 Feb

Today marks the 1000th day of my sobriety. 1000 freaking days without a single drop of booze. Gotta say I’m pretty amazed by that myself. There were so many days and nights when I thought I would cave. But I didn’t. So what did I decide to do? Celebrate. Yep, I threw myself a big ol’ par-tay. A mocktail party. With all the people who have supported me and been there for me when I needed help. People who took time out of their busy lives to send me a quick text or email or share a few words of encouragement. In this case, though, I wasn’t sure that if I built it they would come. But they did. Through a miserable snow/sleet/freezing rain storm on a frigid night. They came out, despite those conditions, and no booze, to celebrate with me. I was truly overwhelmed.

Like I said, I had my doubts about throwing this party. Would people want to go to a party on a Saturday night with no alcohol? For a few, the answer was no. For many, the answer was hell yes. I’m sure the fact that we have all been cooped up in our houses with our kids due to the weather added to everyone’s enthusiasm for a night out. The invitation asked that guests bring a creative, non-alcoholic drink and that prizes would be awarded for Best Tasting Mocktail and Best Mocktail Name. There were some REALLY creative names and drinks. A few favorites were: “Abstinence on the Beach”, “Sans-gria”, “No Way Jose Mango-rita”, “Berry-Lime Hickey”, and ‘You Bet Your Blueberry Ass!” But the most votes went to “Still Have My Hymen Sangria.” Pretty funny. People seemed to have a fun time tasting and voting for their favorites.

In addition to the mocktail mania, we had a “Candy Bar” with all my favorite sugary treats. A few sugar hangovers today, but I’ll take that any day over the old days of puking and spending the entire day after in bed. It was definitely more fun than I had even imagined and, for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed a party and wasn’t drooling over the wine I couldn’t drink or searching for the door to plan my exit. We built it. They came. And it meant a great deal to me. One friend said as she was leaving “You know, no one came for the food, or for the drinks, or to have a night out. They came for you. To celebrate your amazing achievement.” What does one say to that?

I am happy that my kids were there helping and mingling so that they could see adults having a great time WITHOUT any alcohol. I am happy that I was able to have coherent conversations that I actually remember. I am happy that we all woke up feeling refreshed and not hungover. I am happy that people came and enjoyed themselves on a nasty, wintery night. I hope that everyone who came, and those who couldn’t, know how much I appreciate their kindness and support. God willing, they will be there with me to celebrate 2000 days. When I get the urge to pick up a drink, I can think of that and continue to fight even harder. There’s a whole world out there that can be just as fun, if not more so, sober.

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin Roosevelt
If you build it, they will come.” -Theodore Roosevelt

When the Pastor Needs the Prayer or the Doctor Needs the Care

13 Feb

There’s a guy who is often seen running around here, bandana on his head, beard keeping his face warm and boyish countenance looking a little older, and short shorts showing off his runner’s legs. If you didn’t know who he was, you might be a little surprised to learn that he is a pastor. Not just a pastor, but a darn good one. And he’s not even my pastor, but I’m honored to call him a friend. He’s also one of the smartest people you will ever meet. And one of the most humble. He’s a father, a husband, a leader of mission trips to other parts of the world and an incredible writer/blogger. He’s a source of comfort to so many in our community and even around the world. And now, he has cancer. While I usually don’t consider myself at a loss for words, all that comes to mind now is that it sucks. Plain and simple. It. Sucks.

I wrote a guest blog piece for him a while back called “Consider It Pure Joy” about the Book of James. I quoted the opening lines of that book of the Bible: “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 lay translation of that was this: Be glad that you are going through living hell right now because it will make you stronger. At the time, I was linking this passage in James with my alcoholism. Somehow I don’t think this young pastor or his family are considering any of this joy or feel the slightest bit of gladness right now.

So what happens when the one who gives the prayers needs the prayers? I have no doubt that he will have many many prayers heading his way. They have already started rolling in (or up). I am reminded of a similar situation when it was the doctor who needed the care. My father, who helped so many people over the span of decades as an excellent urologist and skilled surgeon, suffered a stroke himself just six months after he retired. A man who never smoked, hardly drank at all, was meticulous about what he ate and exercised regularly. I guess in many cases, if it’s in your genes, well, you’re screwed. A little like alcoholism. But my friend’s cancer? Don’t think so. He is another guy who takes excellent care of his body and mind.

My father learned what it was like to be the one lying in the bed being cared for and waiting anxiously for the doctor’s updates instead of being the one giving them. He was quoted in an article that was written about him called “When the Doctor Becomes the Patient” as saying that he thought every physician should spend some time on the other side (or in the bed) to gain an appreciation for what the patient goes through and experiences. He gained a new appreciation for the nurses, staff and physical therapists who helped him back on his feet, literally, as he was paralyzed on his right side by the stroke.

But what about the pastor? Is this the other side for him? Being the one needing to receive the prayers and blessings instead of being the one to administer them? He just wrote a blog piece himself that said “not only is my faith is expected to be a resource for me while cancer tries to kill me, it’s expected my faith vs. the cancer will be a resource to others too.” Yes, high expectations when you are public with your struggle. But you can see his thoughts are already turned to others in this tough time.

I wrote another piece recently called “Why Ask Why?” In this situation? Who the hell knows why. It doesn’t make any sense. But we are supposed to believe that there is a reason and that God has this all in his plans. We may not understand the plans and certainly don’t have to like them. But somehow we have to keep the faith. Don’t ask me why. I would ask Him.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
― Corrie ten Boom

I See a Ship in the Harbor

7 Feb

As awful and difficult as they can be, funerals provide an opportunity to reflect, take a look at your own life and reassess the path you are taking. I went to a funeral yesterday for a wonderful woman I met during my recovery. She took me with her to speak to a group of women at the local detention facility. She had been going faithfully to meet with women in jail for over twenty years. That was just one group she reached out to help.

On the evening we rode to the jail together, she shared with me some of her amazing story. She had lived a fascinating life as a journalist and traveled all over the world. She worked for various organizations and associations that helped women around the globe. I could have listened to her stories for hours, and hoped to have more opportunities to do so. But I won’t. I told her she should really write a book. But she won’t.

Her husband spoke at the funeral and gave a detailed biography and list of selfless achievements. He said that the thing she was most proud of, of all these things, was her sobriety date. She considered it the day that God removed from her the compulsion to drink. September 21, 1981. Not a drink since then. He shared with the small group gathered to pay their respects that she did not want to just experience this wonderful, new, sober, improved life alone, but wanted to share it with others. So she reached out wherever she could and was a mentor and support to many people, mostly women, along her path through sobriety.

A young rabbi presided over the funeral and recounted a well-known and comforting story based on a quote from Ecclesiastes 7:1: “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth.” He explained that when a person is born, people rejoice and when one dies, everyone cries. That, he told us, is backwards. He said that when a person is born, everyone should cry because there is no way of knowing whether he or she will follow the right path in their life. When a person dies, however, everyone should celebrate since they know that he or she left this world in peace after living a good life on the correct path, like my friend.

The rabbi went on to say that this story can be compared to two ships that were in the water full of cargo. One ship was coming in to port and the other was leaving. People were focused on and praising the ship comping into port, and not the one going out on it’s new adventure. Why? Because the incoming ship had departed in peace and arrived at its destination in peace. But no one knows what the future holds for the ship that is just beginning its journey.  “So it is with a person who is born: we do not know the nature of his future deeds. But when he leaves this world, we know the nature of his deeds.”  (Yalkut Shimoni Kohelet 7:1.)

The Beth El Synagogue Center website sums this up beautifully: “This tale knows that we cry when someone we love passes. At the same time, it asks that we focus on how the person lived, rather than on a death which comes to us all. It values the deeds the person engaged in, and views the totality of human life as a lesson from which we can learn; and it does so with a sense of humility. We cannot know with certainty what life holds in store for us, nor what awaits us after we die, even though Judaism believes in an afterlife of the soul. But we can choose to live with God and with righteousness regardless of what storms come our way.”

As sad as it was to lose someone wonderful, I was comforted by this service. It did indeed focus on how she lived a life on the right path and with great humility. Something to think about and hopefully learn from. On the way out of the funeral, another friend from recovery took hold of my arm to walk out together. She asked me if I thought that the other people there knew who we were—-the group of recovering, alcoholic women who sat together and came to pay respects to their friend. I told her that I was pretty sure they did, and that I was proud of that.

On September 21, I’ll have a pint of Ben and Jerry’s out, with 2 spoons, to toast my friend’s sobriety date and the wonderful woman that she was.

On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Home of the Brave

1 Feb

I went to a meeting today because I started to feel a craving coming on. I stopped on the way at 7-11 to get candy, thinking it might help as a substitute for alcohol and fulfill my sugar craving. I’m learning that when I really want to get to a meeting, it means I really need one. A young guy led the meeting and told his story. Really tough to listen to. He said he joined the Army with his best friend when he was 18. They served in Iraq together and on two occasions, his best friend saved his life. On the second, he was killed while doing so. He continued to share about how he was wounded and hospitalized, and also how he suffered from PTSD. I hear so many horrible stories in meetings but this one really got to me. He had only 52 days of sobriety but had such a positive attitude and determination that I know that count will continue to go up.

People tell me that they can’t imagine how hard it is for me not to drink. They say they admire my courage in sharing my story so that it might help others. What I do is nothing compared to this man. That’s real courage. To go through and witness the horror he did and be determined to get himself healthy again. That’s bravery. To build up his strength to fight a disease that tempts him constantly by providing a temporary respite from the torturous images in his mind. Heroic. My guess is that his determination comes from knowing that his best friend didn’t save his life and lose his own so he could kill himself with alcohol. He killed many enemy combatants on his tour, but the toughest, strongest one he has to battle is inside himself.

I often think about whether or not I would be strong enough to maintain my sobriety if something traumatic happened. In an earlier piece I wrote, called Weak Enough, I talked about the need not to be strong enough, but to be weak enough to turn it over to God. Of course I hope nothing traumatic happens, but to show how twisted an alcoholic’s thinking can be, another man at the meeting said that sometimes he fantasizes about something tragic happening so he would have an excuse to drink. Think about that. Wanting something bad to happen to give you an “excuse” to reunite with your old friend the bottle. That’s why I go to meetings. Every meeting is like putting a deposit in the sobriety bank so that when the shit really hits the fan, I will have plenty in there to withdraw. Maybe this young, newly sober soldier sees meetings as ammo that he stores up for himself, and extracting from that cache when he needs to fight that vicious enemy inside. You have to do whatever it is that works for you to fight the battle with a disease that is cunning, baffling and powerful. For this young man, and for all like him who served our country, thank you for your service. And thank you for thinking enough of yourself, and your best friend, to make this life the best you can, one day at a time.

“Gold is good in its place, but living, brave, patriotic men are better than gold.” —Abraham Lincoln

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