Tag Archives: friendship

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

#wegetup

19 Nov

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The motto on the back of this year’s survivor t-shirts at the Walk to Bust Cancer a few weeks ago was “#wegetup”.  It’s the motto of a dear friend of mine, who inspires me and so many others with her unfaltering determination and positive attitude throughout her ongoing battle.  When she found out that her breast cancer had metastasized to her brain, she signed off on all her texts, emails and posts with #wegetup.  A reminder to herself and others that we will all get knocked down in life, but we have to get back up.  Many times, that is a very tall order.

#wegetup is the motto of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. When the campaign was launched in 2016, U.S. Figure Skating Association chief marketing officer, Ramsey Baker, said “We all fall, it’s how we get up that matters.”  My brave friend Mary reached out to the USFSA and explained why the motto was so important to her and received permission for us to use it for our local breast cancer walk. It was pretty amazing to look out at the crowd and see so many bright pink shirts proudly worn by survivors, those who had been knocked down but got up to fight, walk, support, and encourage others to do the same.

Throughout my journey of sobriety, I’ve known many people who have fallen/slipped/relapsed or “gone out to do more research”, as we like to say in recovery.  Unfortunately, some of them never made it back in.  But so many pull themselves back up, brush themselves off, throw away the bottles or pour the rest down the sink, and start at day one again.  At step one. Sometimes several times.  Progress not perfection.

I remember asking a close friend early in my sobriety what she would do if I drank again.  She said it would depend on if and how I get back up. I’ve made it almost 6 ½ years now, but that doesn’t mean for one second that I am out of the woods.  I never will be.  I can never take my sobriety for granted, get cocky or complacent, or think that somehow, I have this cunning, baffling and powerful disease beat.  When I hear of people who have been sober for decades slipping, it reinforces my vigilance.

I used to figure skate as a child.  That ice is cold when you fall.  And it’s hard and it hurts.  The longer you stay down, the colder you get and the more it hurts.  Same with drinking.  Add darker to that mix.  A darker, colder, harder, and deadlier spiral down.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for a hand to pull you back up.  #wegetup — but we don’t have to do it alone.

We all get knocked down at some point.  By something or someone.  Everyone has their struggles.  If you are lucky enough to have had a hand reach down and pull you back up, be grateful. If you pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps, be proud.  If you were down for longer than you had hoped, be gentle on yourself.  If you’re still down, ask for help.  Remember the brave warriors who have gone before you who told themselves that #wegetup… and did.

“Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.”  — Anonymous

 

Because I Came Into These Rooms

28 May

 

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Because I came into these rooms

-I found people who understand me and my disease
-I found a place where I am not judged, but rather loved unconditionally
-I met an amazing sponsor and friend who is always there for me, and who reminds me that it’s okay to give yourself an ‘atta girl once in a while and recognize and be proud of how far I’ve come
-I met a kind man who takes the time to write a nice comment on almost every piece I write and encourages me to continue to share my story
Because I came into these rooms…
-I made friends who care enough about me to bring a meeting to my house when I am too sick to get to one myself
-I learned how amazing a sober life can be
-I benefitted from the wisdom of those who have been in these rooms before me
-I shared my struggles and got help… from the great guy who listened to my disappointment about not being able to get my book published and connected me with his sister who ended up publishing it (!)  and from gentleman who heard my frustration at all the things that needed to be fixed at my house and showed up at my door to fix them.  He shared something quite simple but very true:  “We’re friends.  That’s what friends do.  They help each other.”
-I learned about being kind to myself and making myself comfortable and bringing what I need to have with me during the times in my life when I’m waiting in the hallway
Because I came into these rooms…
-I learned about turning things over to my Higher Power and that it’s not about being strong enough, but about admitting that I’m weak and I’m human.  I can’t. He can. Let Him.
-I made so many friends who care, who notice if I haven’t been here in a while and reach out.  And who gave me back the gift of laughter, sometimes making me laugh until I cry
-I get donuts.  And pastries.  And hugs.  And, of course, coffee
-I get the support of a group who makes me share when they can tell I’m hurting
-I am strengthened by the people who went out and bravely came back in to these rooms and shared their renewed experience, strength and hope with me
-I am humbled by the newcomers who struggle to say their name and add the word “alcoholic” to it, who still tremble from withdrawal and who, I pray, find the solace and comfort that I found in these rooms as well
-I have the honor to sit beside people who made it through huge personal losses and stayed sober, thanks to the support they got from people in these rooms
Because I came into these rooms…
-I am making  my way through the steps and working the program which has helped save my life
-I learned how to help another alcoholic and sponsor other women, who inspire me to be the best I can be
-I learned the simple sayings that help keep me sober every day:
-one day at a time
-keep it simple
-keep coming back
-do the next right thing
-think it all the way through
-I learned that I can say the serenity prayer over, and over, and over again whenever I need to
-I learned that I can start my day over at any point
-I learned how to speak my truth, and speak it with grace
-I discovered the power of gratitude
-I learned that my sobriety is a gift and that it is a daily reprieve, contingent upon the maintenance of my spiritual condition
-I learned that I can write.  And that sharing my experience, strength and hope can, and does, help others
Because I came into these rooms…
-my life is a thousand times better than it was during the dark days when I was in the throes of my addiction
-I will not pick up a drink today
And because I got all that when I came into these rooms, 2190 days ago, I will keep coming back.
Thanks for all the support and love over these past 6 years.  One day at a time…

Wings Optional

27 Apr

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I’m a hugger. I like to give and get hugs from people. I understand that some people have personal space issues, but if you’re a hugger too, bring it on. I’m also a waver. I grew up in a pretty small town in Western Massachusetts and we waved to each other—as we drove by in cars, rode on our bikes, went for walks, etc. It’s such a small, trivial thing but it makes a difference. People talk about random acts of kindness. We don’t have to make grand gestures – start with waving at your neighbor. I drive around, or go on my morning walks, and I wave at neighbors and people who pass by. Quite often, they look at me like I have two heads, squint and try to figure out who I am, and if they don’t know they keep on going.   Do they really think I’m some sort of friendly, waving serial killer? Is it that hard to put your hand up, make a gentle wrist motion and acknowledge someone? Thank you to everyone who waves back!! And just let me know if you want a hug…

You may have seen the video featuring US Navy Admiral William McRaven who says “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sK3wJAxGfs.   Take a minute to watch it—it’s so worth it. After you make your bed, I add to that wave to your neighbor. I’m not even pushing the hug thing. Admiral McRaven talks about the power of hope. He also says in the speech, “if you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart not by the size of their flippers.” I haven’t been able to measure the size of the hearts of some of the people in my life these days because they are simply too big. These are the people who go way beyond waving and hugging. They give me hope. These are the people who I look at and expect to see wings. They are my angels. I hope that they know who they are. Here are just a few angels I’m sending waves and hugs out to today:

To the woman who summoned up the courage to talk to me through her tears yesterday when I was having coffee and she overheard us talking about the foundation I run that helps women with breast cancer. You’re in my prayers.

To the foundation patients I work with who take the time out of their own battles and struggles to send me a note of thanks and tell me that I made a difference in their life. You inspire me.

To the people who reach out with a text or call just to say hi and check on me. And, of course, to the one person who hasn’t missed a single day in 2160 days of sending me my morning ray of sunshine. I’m beyond grateful to you for your unwavering, unconditional love and friendship.

To the man who came up to me at a meeting last week and told me that he read my book… and that it saved his life. Stay strong my friend.

To the reader in FL who sent me a tweet to tell me that he was going to be celebrating his first St. Patrick’s Day sober and as the designated driver thanks in part to me sharing my journey. Keep going, one day at a time.

To the sweet man in recovery with me who showed up at my door with two guys to fix my broken front door because he knew it was bugging me.   He simply said “I’m your friend. Friends help each other.” Yes they do.

To my brave friend “U.P.” who fights a brave fight every day and amazes me with her determination and fortitude. #wegetup

To my friends who donated, shared, re-tweeted, “liked,” re-posted, showed up, and helped me surpass our fundraising goal the other night for the foundation. Thank you each and every one of you. Together we can do great things.

To my dear sponsor who supports my every endeavor and is always there for me. Thank you SS.

I can’t possibly list them all…and I hope those of you I didn’t mention know how much I appreciate you too. Wave to your neighbor and smile at a stranger. You have no idea what is going on in their world. Measure a person by the size of their heart. Little things make a big difference. As Admiral McRaven says, “if you can’t do the little things great, you’ll never be able to do the big things great.”

“You’ll meet more angels on a winding path than on a straight one.” –Terri Guillemets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde

24 Nov

 

Sometimes I’m amazed at how dense I can be.  Getting sober has been a great exercise in humility and has opened my eyes to just how much of an idiot I was when I was drinking.  But the good news is that for some things, I can say that I wasn’t the real idiot, but rather the alcoholism was.  I can’t use it as a cop-out or to totally absolve myself from the guilt by any means, but it does provide a small cushion.  Disease or not, my drinking affected other people.  

 

I brought this topic up in a meeting the other day and it sparked a really interesting discussion.  Many women there had examples and stories off the tops of their heads, but others had to do a little memory-surfing and really think about how their drinking had affected those around them.  Some of them said they remembered things they hadn’t thought of in years.  

 

While we were living in our blurred state of being either buzzed or hammered most of the time, we thought that 1) we were absolutely brilliant, hilarious and gorgeous; 2) we were the life of the party and 3) everyone else around us was probably smashed too so they wouldn’t remember anything stupid we did.  But the best delusion was this one:  we thought that no one could tell we were drunk. Seriously, think about that.   We were slurring, tripping, yelling, carrying-on, singing, pontificating, solving the world’s problems with our infinite wisdom, and possibly even falling down or throwing up on someone.  But, no, absolutely no one would have known we had been drinking.  

 

I am starting to see how beyond ridiculous it is for me to be surprised or even disappointed  when I admit to someone who knows me that I am an alcoholic and their reaction doesn’t include the slightest bit of shock.   There hasn’t really been anyone who has questioned it or said: “You? An alcoholic?  No way.”   The fact that I would even consider that as an option is quite comical.  As if their response would be something like this:  “I always thought it was completely normal for you to drink several bottles of wine on a random Tuesday night.  I mean, who doesn’t celebrate Arbor Day like that?”  Or, “What kind of ass puts a wall right there where someone can walk smack into it?  Clearly a bad floor plan.”.   Perhaps I was expecting something like: “You can’t be an alcoholic.  I enjoyed telling you the same things over and over and over again and you not remembering them.  It was obviously my fault for not telling you in a memorable way.” 

 

Instead, it’s like a sigh of relief from the other side.  Phew.  You finally came to your senses.  Thank goodness you are getting help.  You were a nightmare to deal with when you were drinking.  But why does it still surprise me when someone tells me that they knew I had a problem when I thought I did such a great job of hiding it or “acting normal”?  I recently talked to a very close friend who told me that upon reading my blog entries, she felt guilty.  She felt that she should have done or said something when I was drinking so heavily.  She said she was very concerned but didn’t know what to do.  I told her that even if she had said something to me then, it wouldn’t have mattered.  I wasn’t going to change until I admitted to myself that I had a problem and was ready to face it.  That works the other way around too.  When one of my friends told me she knew I had a problem, I asked her why she never said anything to me. The answer she gave me was the same.  Because it wouldn’t have mattered until I was the one who admitted it and was ready to do something about it. 

 

I watched someone this past weekend who, after he got a few drinks in him, completely changed.  It was like a totally new person surfaced with the alcohol.  I didn’t like the new person.   There was just a slight edge–cocky, arrogant and a little obnoxious.  When I said to my friend that I found this completely unattractive, she pointed out to me that perhaps it was a little like looking in a mirror.  How attractive could I have been when I drank and morphed into an entirely different person?  Yes, I though that person was fun, gorgeous, brilliant, etc.  But maybe others thought I turned into Mrs. Hyde, and chances are pretty good that they found me completely unattractive as well.  

 

So I started looking back.  I looked back at the ridiculous, idiotic and embarrassing things I did when I drank too much.  Those actions didn’t only have consequences for me, even if it was just waking up with a miserable hangover.  They affected other people as well.  Other people whose enjoyable night out turned not so enjoyable when they had to hold me up, help me walk, and make sure I got home, the entire time having to endure my senseless babble.  They affected other people who were let down the next morning or day when I had to cancel my plans with them because I felt like dirt and spent the day in my bed trying not to puke.  And they affected friends, who years later told me that they felt guilty.  Why should my stupidity and incessant drinking binges be allowed to make someone else feel guilty?  Would I have made all those bad choices sober?  I think not.  But like I said, I can’t make the disease the scapegoat.  I have to own my actions, process them, make amends where possible and forgive myself.  

 

These friends may not understand that even if they had said or done something, I wouldn’t have gotten sober until I was ready to.  But they need to understand this: when I was ready to, I did.  And knowing that they were there for me then, and are here for me now, means more than I can say (or write).  

How To….

7 Aug

There’s a movie called How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.   There are countless magazine articles on How to Lose 20 Pounds in Two Weeks.   Cosmo will tell you all sorts of ways How to Drive Him Wild or something like that.   I haven’t seen much out there about How to Be Friends With an Alcoholic.  Especially one with whom you used to drink incessantly.   What happens when booze is no longer part of the equation?

They say in recovery that a changing of the guard is very common with friendships during the transition to sobriety.   Yes, it is sad to watch relationships, many of them long-established and seemingly solid, dwindle away, almost like those last ice cubes that sit in the bottom of the glass, melting and mixing in with the final remnants of liquor.  There remains only a small puddle of uncertainty and a very diluted relationship.   Neither side is quite certain where they stand.  The ice has succumbed to the heat and the chemical conversion to its liquid state.  The scotch, vodka, gin, whatever, has become watered-down, cloudy and less potent.   Somewhere in this mix, sometimes, its hard to salvage anything at all.

But there is also the happiness and restored faith that the new guard brings with it.   Some of these people may have been there along, some on the sidelines, the mixers if you will, and some brand new.  In any case, there’s a reason why they are there, right then, at that point in your life.  They have moved from the sidelines to the forefront to cheer you on and support you.   This is not to say that old is bad and new is good.   Remember the saying, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”.   But there’s another expression about not being able to have your cake and eat it too.   In order to succeed in sobriety, a person must completely change.   In fact, stopping drinking is not  necessarily the main part of sobriety.   I tried once to stop on my own, and lasted almost a year.   By on my own, I mean very little effort and stock put in the program, and barely any of the necessary reflection and self-actualization or mandatory change.   Didn’t work.   Without putting in the work and yes, sometimes sweat and tears, to labor through the twelve steps and change the very core of yourself and what made you drink, it is highly unlikely that you will achieve and maintain sobriety.

But here’s the rub, and back to the cake and eating it too (or not).   You change.  You identify your character defects and work hard to change them.  You dig deep down in your heart and your soul, fight with your demons, and hopefully win, and emerge a different but better (and sober) person.   Your friends, however, mostly remain the same.  Their interaction and involvement in your transition may vary, but for the most part, they aren’t going through the same metamorphosis.  They look at you, a different person now, through their same eyes.   You look at them, the same people, now through your own very different eyes.   They may have been the same the whole time and you chose to see them differently, ignoring their flaws, OR, missing their strengths and assets.   Whatever the vantage point, things are different.  A very good friend said to me once, you can’t expect to be completely different and have everything stay the same.   The cake.

So it takes understanding, patience and willingness to learn on both sides.   Newly sober, it’s difficult to know what to expect from your friends and what they expect from you.  Many of them are going through this for the first time as well.  Do they continue to drink in front of you?  Do they continue to invite you to things where there will be drinking?   Do you go even if it’s hard for you?  Do you decline and stay home, feeling worse for missing out?   Or feeling better knowing that you made the right choice for you at the time and did what you had to for your new lifestyle?  And that’s what it is, a LIFEstyle.   Not a phase.  Not a trial period.  Not the latest 21-day cleanse.  A lifestyle.

Here’s my advice for both sides (for what it’s worth):  be honest.  Tell each other what you feel comfortable with and what you don’t.  Explain to your friends what you need to do to stay sober.  If they are interested, tell them how you are working your recovery.   Tell them when you just can’t do something, and tell them what you can and would like to do.  Tell them what’s hard.  Tell them what works.  On the other side, be patient.  Ask questions.  If the friendship is important to you and worth keeping, remember that this is probably the most difficult thing this person has done in their entire life.   Is it hard to be with your old buddy who used to slug down bottles of wine with you on a Tuesday night?  I’m sure it is.  But, hopefully, the real person inside, without the booze, is an even better person to be around and a better friend.  For some people, it’s just too difficult, or too painful, for whatever reason, to continue, and that’s okay.  Ideally, at the heart of any true friendship is the desire for the other person to be happy and at peace.   And if the only way for this to happen is to let them go, then remember this:  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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