Tag Archives: anxiety

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

Squirrelly About Seven

24 May

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It usually happens to some extent every year.  A little before the anniversary of my sobriety date, I get squirrelly.  I get anxious.  Restless, irritable and discontent.  Excited but scared.  Proud but cautious.  This year seems worse than previous ones.  Maybe it’s the number 7.  Seven seas. Seven continents.  Seven days of the week.  Seven colors of the rainbow. Seven years of sobriety, God-willing, on May 28th. Many people would say I shouldn’t even write that and risk jinxing myself. But I do. Because it’s an important date. It’s the day my life changed for the better.

So why squirrelly? Why anxious?  Do I want to pick up a drink?  No.  Have I thought about it?  Many times. It’s a bittersweet weekend for me. Memorial Day weekend in 2012 was the last time I drank.  And I drank a lot.  And then some.  My hands shook at 11 am until I got some wine in me.  The weekend ended with me admitting that I was powerless over alcohol.  That my life had become unmanageable.  I made the decision to get help and it was the best thing I have ever done.  It was hard as hell, but 2553 days later, I have not had a drink.  I had that scare I wrote about in my last post (A Sip Not a Slip), when I accidentally picked up a drink with vodka in it, but I have not intentionally picked up a drink in a long, long time.

From what I have learned over these past nearly 7 years, my squirrelly feelings are quite common among people in recovery.  There’s something about facing the anniversary of the last drink that brings up a lot.  I look at the weekend ahead, which will be filled with those #^%@#& red Solo cups at pools, backyard barbeques, parties, etc.  Coolers filled with cold beer.  Wine glasses with beads of sweat dripping down the side.  And more.  And then I think about making it through the weekend to Tuesday.  And about reaching another milestone in this personal battle.  And I think about how much better my life is without the booze.  Without the hangovers.  Without the blackouts.  Without the poison that took its toll on my body.

Don’t get me wrong…life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows just because I don’t drink.  The shitstorms still come, and if you looked at the Doppler radar in my life right now, you’d see a huge storm raging right above me that’s not clearing for quite some time.  But, as I’ve heard repeatedly, there’s no problem that picking up a drink won’t make worse.  Jose Cuervo has no power over the storm clouds. But my Higher Power does. Sometimes I write what I need to read, hear, and remind myself.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try and do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work:  you don’t give up.”– Anne Lamott

Present Emotions Included

28 Jan

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Most of the books piled up on the side of my bed fall under the category of Self-Help books.  There are so many amazing ones out there.  I could fill an entire book just sharing what I learned from some of them.  I’ve referred to the idea I call “recycling the light” in previous blogs that I have written.  I try to pass along things that I’ve read, heard or learned that might help others. I almost always include an inspirational quote with my pieces, because there are millions of wise people who have said things so much more eloquently than I ever possibly could.  A great deal of what I read focuses on being present, staying positive and living your life as your authentic self.  Wonderful concepts in theory, but often much easier said than done.

Books like The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, Change Your Thoughts,Change Your Life and The Power of Intention by Dr. Wayne Dyer, and The Law of Attraction and Ask and It Is Given by Jerry and Esther Hicks helped me understand that we can change our lives for the better by simply focusing on the positive and raising our vibrational level to attract what we desire.  The Secret by Rhonda Byrne took the world by storm a decade ago with the concept that by simply envisioning and believing that we will receive what we want will result in it ultimately manifesting itself.  I could go on….but like I said, great in theory but difficult to always stick to.  How do you stay positive and believe when life gets really tough?  Should I just sing that song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin and pretend all is well?

A woman whom I greatly admire and am honored to call a friend, Maimah Karmo, recently said “More so than my successes, it was the times of struggle that showed me what I was made of.” I had the pleasure of participating in Maimah’s “I Manifest Online Soul Summit” and doing a podcast with her called “How to Overcome Hurt by Being Present in Your Life”.  As an alcoholic, I was anything but “present” for so much of my life.  I used alcohol to escape reality or numb feelings I didn’t want to feel.  So “overcoming hurt by being present”?  Yes.  Facing your demons head-on. Using your tools to resist the urge to escape, numb or run away from reality.  Staying in the moment instead of beating yourself up and dwelling on the past or constantly investing in the wreckage of the future.

But back to Maimah’s quote. It’s easier to stay positive and be present when things are going well and we can celebrate our successes. Times of struggle show us what we are truly made of.  It’s when the shit hits the fan that we are really tested.  When faced with difficult challenges, Bobby McFerrin’s isn’t the first song that pops into the song chart in my head.    Maybe a little something heavier, like Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumors” perhaps.  Oh, no wait –The Smiths.  Morrissey is always great for wallowing in self-pity.  I digress.  My point is this:  bad things will happen in life, whether you are sober or not.  It’s how you deal with them and how you move on that shows what you are made of.

Not only are there zillions of Self-Help books out there, there is an entire movement happening that is bringing people to meditation, living in the present moment, and understanding our universal connectedness.  Some of the most popular downloaded apps these days are for mindfulness and meditation. There are countless workshops, retreats, seminars, webinars, conferences, etc. that focus on spirituality, emotional and physical health, and overall mind-body wellness.  I had the pleasure of attending an event last week at a local concert hall which has attracted some of the biggest names in the music business over the years.  But instead of music, the featured act was a man named Kyle Cease—a former stand-up comedian now a transformational speaker who incorporates his humor and personal evolution for an incredibly entertaining and inspirational evening.  Kyle emphasizes that “when you embrace your pain, fear, and vulnerability instead of pushing it away, you will discover an authentic creativity and power that is truly unstoppable.”

Embracing your feeling when you are being present is not easy, especially when that feeling is fear or pain.  But if we can somehow train ourselves to sit with being uncomfortable, embrace it and then LET IT GO, we can move on.  Life will have ups and downs.  As hard as the downs can be, I truly believe that it is better to be present for them rather than numb or escape them.  Experiencing the downs, although incredibly difficult at times, allows us to not only truly appreciate and treasure the ups, but hopefully learn something and take away a lesson that will help us in the future and ultimately make us stronger. I’m always grateful to my dear friend who teaches me to find the silver lining in all situations. Things could always be better, but they can always be worse too.  All we truly have is the present.  Don’t get caught up in the past or waste time worrying about the future, which is never guaranteed.  Breathe. Smile. And live.

“It’s not ‘When something happens, I’ll be happy.’  It’s ‘When I’m happy, things will happen.’” -Kyle Cease–Evolving Out Loud

 

 

 

 

A Faded Sparkle

7 Jun

 

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1-800-273-8255  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 This morning when I picked up my eyeglasses, I paused for a moment when I saw the Kate Spade name on the frame.  The news of her suicide was shocking.  A tragic death, leaving behind her husband and 13-year-old daughter.  She was a seemingly vibrant, incredibly successful woman in the public eye who clearly suffered privately, battling depression and anxiety.  One of the news reports I saw said that she “self-medicated with alcohol.”  A statement released later by her husband said there was no alcohol or substance abuse.  I don’t know whether alcohol was one of her demons or not, but it is clear that she had some very powerful ones.  I do know that addiction and depression, anxiety and mental illness often go hand-in-hand.

We hear news reports, see posts on social media and read articles about this fashion icon. But the sad fact is that Kate Spade is now another one of the nearly 45,000 people who die by suicide each year in the United States.  Far too many people deal every day with the devastating loss of a loved one to suicide.  Spade’s death is a harsh reminder that suicide does not discriminate against age, race, sex or socio-economic status.

Luckily, there has been an increased focus on suicide prevention in recent days.  The novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, released in 2007, was made into a television series in 2017, bringing to light the issue of teen suicide.  Just last month, 20 local skateboarders (The DC Wheels) skated 45 miles in pouring rain to fundraise for suicide awareness.  And, I’m incredibly proud of my dear childhood friend, Beth Levison, who devoted countless hours over the span of the past several years to produce the award-winning HBO film “32 Pills:  My Sister’s Suicide”.  The movie is about the suicide of a woman named Ruth Litoff and the struggles of her sister, Hope, as she tries to put together the pieces of her sister’s demise from mental illness.  During the process, Hope succumbs to the devastation and loss, and to her own addiction, and picks up again after 16 years of sobriety.  Check it out on Instagram and Facebook at  @32pillsmovie or click here.

I am also grateful to have an amazing friend who survived a horrific suicide attempt.  It was a long road to recovery, and she still works hard every day to battle her mental illness, but she is not just surviving, she is thriving.  She just reached 5 years of sobriety, is an extremely talented artist sharing her creative gifts with the world, and just got engaged and has found happiness and love.  A true beacon of hope for those who have reached the point of utter desperation to see that things can, in fact, get better.  Life is precious and it can be beautiful.

Many people are posting the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on their social media pages (1-800-273-8255).  Share the number.  There is help available.  You don’t have to suffer alone. Reach out to someone who is hurting.  You never know what is going on in someone else’s world. The woman you labeled a bitch this morning at Starbucks may be fighting a battle you cannot imagine.  Be kind to one another.  The 32 Pillsmovie website has an amazing page of information and resources (32 Pills Movie Resources).   Feel free to share other helpful sites in the comments here or on your own pages.  It’s a really tough subject but there is help and hope.   Help someone get their sparkle back.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”– Buddha

 

 

 

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

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