Tag Archives: drinking

Trigger Happy

22 Jul

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After being sober for seven years now, I’ve learned how to deal with several of the triggers that bring out my urge to drink.  It took several years before I was able to comfortably go to social events and be surrounded by alcohol.  But I learned how to formulate a plan that would enable me to go and be with friends who drank—I would get a nonalcoholic beverage in my hand as soon as I arrived, focus on other thing besides the booze, have an excuse ready for why I wasn’t drinking, try to make conversations with people who did not breathe wine on me, and have an exit strategy for when I knew I needed to leave.   And I knew when it was time to go.  I would start staring at that glass of wine, or martini, or whatever, just a few seconds too long.  The drink devil sitting on my shoulder would start trying to tell me how good it would taste.  That it would be okay if I just had one.  Ha. Thank goodness the tools I acquired in my recovery taught me better and prepared me for how to ignore this nonsense.

There are so many triggers for me.  People, places and things that I associate with drinking.  I shared most of them in a piece I wrote called “Miss or Miss Out”. Crabs with a cold pitcher of beer.  Spicy Thai food paired with a cold glass of Viognier.  Margaritas on Cinco de Mayo.  Mint Juleps at a Kentucky Derby party.  A hearty Italian red wine with spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna.  Cold beers at a tailgate at a concert or sporting event. Hot toddies after a day of skiing.  A nice martini (with three olives) after a round of golf.  I could go on… But right now, the trigger that’s taking its aim at me is the beach.  As beautiful as it is, and as much as I enjoy it, there are few things more challenging to my sobriety than coming up from the beach at the end of the day.  The beach houses that surround me are filled with people enjoying their cocktails, cold beers, or blender drinks.  It’s like a Pavlovian response that’s hard for me to break—that walk home from the beach, washing off the sand, and reaching for a cold drink of something yummy.  To me, drinking was synonymous with the beach. Hell, drinking was synonymous with breathing, but right now we’re talking about the beach.

It’s one of those things I didn’t think about until it whacked me like a crashing wave as I walked through the sand to go back to the house in the late afternoon on our first day at Fire Island. I actually said it out loud to my daughter, telling her that I forgot how much the beach made me crave a drink.  Her incredibly thoughtful response was that we could go to the little general store and make some fun mocktails. Great idea. We did.  And the craving passed.  Sometimes just speaking it out loud takes the power out a craving.  Ice cream didn’t hurt either.

The reminders of what the alternatives would be are also quite helpful.  I’ve shared before that what often helps me the most is remembering to “think it all the way through.”  What happens after that first sip?  In addition to throwing away my 2612 days of sobriety and dealing with the shame and disappointment that would come with that, I know it wouldn’t be just one sip. Or just one drink. It would be off to the races.  And to a nasty hangover.  And not being able to enjoy watching my sons jump in the waves. Or the beautiful sunset over the water. Or the serenity that I have gained in my sobriety.

So hopefully I can add the end of the day at the beach to my list of triggers that I am now better equipped to handle. There will be many more.  But I will handle them like I do my days….one at a time.

“When we heal the wounds of our past, we move forward into our lives with an unburdened sense of self and a higher awareness of what our own triggers are.” –Athena Laz

 

 

Dream Weaver

9 Aug

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I had a dream last night that I drank a glass of white wine, sitting at a table with friends at some kind of work event.  It seemed to be early in the morning, like a breakfast meeting or something.  Despite the fact that it was a dream (more like a nightmare for me), I could vividly feel the instantaneous remorse, regret, shame and guilt.  In the dream, I asked the people with me not to tell anyone that I drank the wine, and told them that I didn’t want to have to go back and start my count at zero days of sobriety again (as opposed to the 2265 days that I have accumulated since I stopped drinking 6 years and 2 months ago).  It was awful.

People in recovery often talk about having “drunk dreams” or “drinking dreams”.  Some experience them often in their early days of sobriety. Some have them even after decades of not drinking.  I woke up so grateful to realize that it was only a dream, but shaken by it enough to write down some thoughts to share.  The dream was a good reminder of just how cunning, baffling and powerful the disease of alcoholism is.  It’s always ready to pounce. It would be logical to think that most people relapse when things get really difficult in their lives, when tragedy strikes, or when they find themselves in bad shape emotionally, physically, financially or some other way.  But I know people who had gotten sober who simply picked up that drink when all was right in their world.  Just because it was a sunny, nice day outside.  Just because they thought that they could somehow now “control” their drinking.  Or without any forethought, they just poured one and started drinking.  They say in recovery that we pick up that drink in our minds long before the physical act actually occurs.

For those early in their sober journey, they may just not understand it yet.  They may still think that they are able to drink just one beer. Just one glass of wine.  If they are alcoholics, they simply cannot.  They think this time will be different.  That this time they can limit the amount they drink. The true definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Maybe that one particular time, they will only have one drink.  But then there will be the next time.  Once the alcohol primes the pump, fuels the disease, triggers that mental obsession and physical compulsion, it’s off to the races.  And back down to hell.

As we know, the first thing to go out the window when we drink is our judgment.  So after the first drink, our ability to discern the fact that another drink is not a good plan for us will be dwindling, if not gone already.  I have heard countless stories where that idea of just having one drink led down a dark, miserable path of self-destruction and pain.  Even death.

Do I really need to be so dramatic about this and use words like hell and death?  Yes, I do.  Because there are empty chairs in rooms I sit in where people thought that one drink wouldn’t hurt them.  Because I have seen first-hand the path of wreckage and destruction left behind by someone who made that choice to pick up the first drink, again. And because the cunning, baffling, powerful disease from which I suffer has tried to tell me that I, too, can maybe just have one drink now.  That maybe 6 years is long enough and I have somehow (miraculously) garnered the power and mystical ability to control my drinking.  It can tempt me with a dream that has me drink a glass of wine and seem fine.  But even in that dream, my gut told me it was wrong.  We tell our kids to listen to their guts to help them discern right from wrong.  If you get that bad feeling inside, you know you’re not on the right path.  How amazing that even in our dream state, we can get that feeling in our gut. As I said previously, I could vividly feel immediate remorse and regret after I drank the wine in the dream.  And shame.  Enough shame to ask the people around me to keep the fact that I drank a glass of wine a secret.  We are only as sick as our secrets.  Clearly, this alcoholic still has a great deal of work to do.

I’ve been told that these dreams will happen.  Cravings will still come.  Whether you have 6 days, 6 years, or 6 decades of sobriety, you have to always stay vigilant.  Do not let that drink devil that will sit on your shoulder and whisper nonsense in your ear win.  Do not get complacent.  The disease of alcoholism will continue to do pushups every day. Be stronger. Dream bigger. Dream brighter.  I’m on to day 2266 tomorrow—take that, Dream Weaver.

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I conquered my nightmares because of my dreams.”–Jonas Salk

 

 

Flying Sober

30 Mar

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I heard something really powerful today. A fellow alcoholic shared something that was passed along to him:  “Alcohol gave me wings to fly…then it took away the sky.” Just think about that for a few minutes.   You may not get that at all. Or it might make perfect sense to you. I completely understand it. I often turned to alcohol for liquid courage. To quell social anxiety when I had to walk in to a room full of strangers. To battle depression (it took me years to figure out that trying to fight depression with a depressant wasn’t exactly a smart plan).   To celebrate and chase a higher high. To escape. To try to stop the pain. To avoid feeling things I didn’t want to feel. And when I turned to alcohol for those reasons, I usually did get my wings to fly away from or high above whatever I was avoiding. Or sometimes to fly closer to something I was chasing.

Many people can remember the feeling they got from that very first drink. Most alcoholics will tell you that they instantly knew how much they liked it…a little too much. It may be gradual, but they will continue to try to recreate that buzz, often at great cost.   The kid who is shy and quiet might have put a drink or two in him and felt like he was the life of the party. The woman who was afraid to walk in to a crowded room full of strangers might have downed a glass of wine, let out a deep breath and marched in with a new-found confidence. Wings.

While we are drinking, sometimes we feel invincible. We feel no pain. Hell, I fell down a steep flight of concrete steps and should have been killed, but somehow in my alcoholic stupor, I hobbled away. We feel larger than life. We feel funnier, smarter, stronger, and braver. Wings. Yes, some of those times, maybe we were funny. Maybe we were enjoyable to be around. The life of the party. And then the party ended. But perhaps not for us. As I have said before, I look at my alcoholism as having a broken off-switch. Once I start drinking, there is no telling whether that switch will work or not. While other people may recognize that they have had enough and should probably put on the brakes, I’m only getting warmed up. If I felt good and buzzed, I only wanted to feel better and fly higher. The off-switch usually doesn’t kick in.

I am reminded of a Greek myth (hey, I was a Classical Studies major in college, so indulge me here a bit) – the story of Icarus and Daedalus. Daedalus built wings made of branches of osier connected with wax for his son, Icarus, and him to escape from the labyrinth in which they were imprisoned on the island of Crete by King Minos. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, too close to the sun, or the wax would melt and the wings wouldn’t hold up. Icarus was too exhilarated by the thrill of flying that he continued to soar upward. Sure enough, the sun melted the wax, and the boy plummeted into the sea (now known as the Icarian Sea).

Icarus was literally high, but sought to go higher. And paid the price of his life for it. That’s what can happen to alcoholics when they get their wings from alcohol. They may think that they soar. Until it takes away their sky.   What you think is liquid courage may be “instant asshole” potion. I don’t even want to know how obnoxious I truly was when I was lit. MaybeI had the courage to walk into a room full of strangers, but if I continued to drink, chances are I slurred, made little or no sense, embarrassed myself and others, and stumbled out. You seek the light and end up alone in the dark.

Alcohol gave me wings to fly… until I ended up on the cold bathroom floor with my head hanging over the toilet.   Swearing I would never drink again. Until I did.Alcohol gave me wings to fly…until my hands were shaking in need of another drink.Alcohol gave me wings to fly…until I lost sight of who I was and what was important in life, and I almost lost all that I cared about. What’s ironic is that the higher we try to go, the lower we end up sinking. The closer we get to the sun, the more we get burned. We think we are going toward the light, but we end up in total darkness.   Alcohol does, in fact, take away the sky.

The beauty of sobriety is that it is where we find the light. With each day sober, a little brighter ray of light breaks through the cracks. Now, almost six years without a drink, my future is so bright, I gotta wear shades (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And, I believe I can fly. Without alcohol. I can fly safely, without crashing. How? By relying on my HP. By reminding myself how much better life is sober than when I was wondering when the wax was going to melt. You too can F.L.Y.—First Love Yourself.

Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

 

 

 

The End of the Affair

24 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding (and Using) My Voice

28 Jul

Chicken: noun meaning “coward”. When I drank, I did a really good job keeping everything inside and swallowing my feelings with each gulp of alcohol.   The more things that piled up inside, the more difficult it was for me to use my voice. I never wanted to rock the boat and I hated confrontation. I still do. When I got sober, part of what I needed to work on was finding my voice again and using it.

We are all born with a voice or some means of expressing ourselves.   As children, we were fully capable of asking for what we needed and conveying our feelings. Sometimes they came across in the form of crying or screaming or stomping our feet. I want an Oompa Loompa NOW daddy! We didn’t take into account how these outbursts would be received. We didn’t care if they hurt someone else’s feelings. That was a foreign concept to us then.

As we grew, we started to learn that our words and deeds affected those around us. There were repercussions to our tantrums. We began to realize that our words had the power of making other people feel good, or bad. We even learned that sometimes our words carried the ability to come back and haunt us. Once we opened our mouths and spoke the words, we couldn’t rein them back in.   Today with social media this is even more true. I try to tell my kids that once they put something “out there” it’s out there for good.

The good thing about constantly working on my sobriety is that I can see when I start slipping back into old habits. I realized recently that I was letting things build up and not using my voice to communicate my feelings. It’s often easier to sit at the keyboard and type away rather than having to talk to someone face-to-face. That’s not necessarily the best approach. Sometimes you need to be able to see someone’s reaction to what you say — body language, facial expressions, etc.

I often wish that I were more assertive. I respect people who are. People who are able to clearly state and stand up for what they believe and what they need. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come a long way since I got sober. It’s easier to see what’s important with a clear mind.   It’s a little bit ironic, though, to talk about losing my voice while I was drinking. Many times alcohol gave me the liquid courage to say things I probably shouldn’t have. But most of the REALLY important stuff got gulped down or temporarily washed away with the booze.

Lately I realized that I had built stuff up to create a humongous problem in my mind instead of tackling it head-on. Chicken. Afraid of what result my words would have. Would they hurt someone else’s feelings? Would I regret something that I put out there that I couldn’t take back? This is where self-worth comes in. Believing that I am worthy of expressing my feelings, believing that how I feel and what I think are actually important. And they are.

I finally did use my voice. And things went very well. Better than expected. I could have saved myself a great deal of stress and anxiety if I had just opened my mouth sooner. But I’m getting there. Stronger every day that I am sober. Wiser every day that I have a clear mind. Braver when I acknowledge that I am worth it.

“Be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to your heart, and strong enough to live the life you’ve always imagined.” — Unknown

 

 

 

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”

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

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

The Ghost of Christmas Past

29 Dec

While writing this blog is immensely cathartic for me, my goal is to help other people struggling to overcome alcoholism. Not just alcoholism or addiction, but any demon that they face. As I work to stay one step ahead of mine and follow the path to a much happier, healthier life, I hope that sharing my stories will help others see that it’s never too late to turn things around. Whatever adversity they face.

The holidays are a rough time for many people, including alcoholics. The parties, the expectations, the stress, the associations and memories. Year after year, I remember just sitting, in the dark, looking at our Christmas tree and it’s beautiful lights and ornaments, with several glasses of wine or cocktails du jour, and crying. Quietly crying. Why did such a beautiful symbol of Christmas always bring me so down? Or was I just down and the Christmas tree smacked me in the face to remind me? Depression is its own monster (though intricately connected to alcoholism). While we usually think of it as the blues, this time of year it just comes in red and green.

Past Christmases brought some wonderful memories back to me. There were several years when my brothers and I would hike through the woods behind my grandparents’ house and pick out the perfect Christmas tree. My grandfather would chop it down with pride and carry it back down, through the snow, to our car. Often, the tree ended up looking quite like Charlie Brown’s feeble little tree, but we always loved it nevertheless.

When we were kids, our dear family friends, who were Jewish, would come decorate our tree with us. In turn, they invited us to celebrate a night of Hanukah with them and taught us about lighting the menorah and their traditions. It was a wonderful way to experience the holidays together. Not to mention the incredible potato latkes and matzah brie we got to eat! (Thank you Aunt B.!)

But this year, when the house was quiet and the kids were asleep, I was able to sit and look at our beautiful tree, and smile. It was decorated by my children. And it was a happy symbol to me. No wine. No cocktails. No tears. Believe me, there were times very recently when I thought I was losing the battle and that the Drink Devil was pouring a glass for me. Get lost. 31 months yesterday without a single drop. Take that.

I don’t do it on my own, however. I can’t. My battle gear is multi-layered. First and foremost, I send my HP (Higher Power) in first. Going to meetings stores up the ammo I need to fight. And my family and friends back me up and provide me with additional armor. Thank you doesn’t really cut it, but until I find better words, that’s all I can say. Thank you, each and every one of you, for your support and encouragement. All while you have your own battles to fight. I don’t think that you have any idea how much just a small gesture means—-a hug, a kind word, a pat on the back, a “like” or a “share” of my work, or even taking the time to explain to me what I could do better. Short emails that say “you rock” make my day. You are the one who rocks for taking the time to send that.

As I have said before, I realize that everyone has their own crosses to bear. Most people fight their battles quietly and bravely in their own way. I have chosen to share mine openly and publicly, which I understand not everyone will agree with. I get my share of criticism with my writing as well. I have to learn to take the good with the bad. But, the number of people who have written to me or told me how much a piece I wrote helped them makes it all worth it. Kneeling on the floor, throwing up in the toilet, head pounding, hungover, humiliated and ashamed, is a scenario I don’t wish to repeat and I don’t wish upon anyone else. I’d be right back there if the Drink Devil wins. My writing helps get those bad thoughts out of my head and takes away most of their power. I hope somehow it helps you too.

So Christmas is over…now on to New Year’s. Ugh.

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

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.”

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