Posted in Alcoholics, Alcoholism, C-Haze, Recovery

Old Friends, Beauty and Second Chances

Several months ago I briefly sponsored a sweet kid in her early 20s. She wanted sobriety badly, but wasn’t quite ready to work the program. She had a lot of issues, as many of us do, and wrestled with problems that included gender identity, and how to fit that into her very real love of God. Yes, she loved God, but never really believed God loved her in return, thinking her sexuality a deal breaker in the eyes of her higher power.

I remember how badly I wanted her to love herself, accept herself, and truly believed if she could learn to live an authentic life, one that was true to the identity that felt most real to her, it would go a long way towards dealing with that some of that which made her drink and use.

I also knew she struggled with depression and bi-polar disorder, and thankfully understood I was out of my wheelhouse when it came to addressing those issues. I would wisely advise her to follow her doctors’ advice.

No matter how hard I pushed (I know better than to push so hard these days), I couldn’t get her past step 2. I offered to take her to LGBTQ meetings, we met in coffee shops to read and discuss the 12 steps together.

I got the distinct impression that like many of us, she simply didn’t feel she deserved sobriety, and the freedom, serenity and the 2nd chance at life that comes with recovery. I couldn’t force her to see her worth, and as a result, I watched her slowly drift away, becoming less and less engaged.

Eventually, the phone calls stopped, and she vanished. Her phone stopped going to voicemail, and I could no longer send her text messages or call her. Her social media pages were deactivated. She stopped coming to meetings, and no one had any idea where she was, or what happened to her.

Given her depression, and history of relapse, I was afraid she was dead. I worried to the point of panic, but there was nothing I could do. I had no one I could call to inquire after her- the nature of our program is that of anonymity, so once she cut ties, all that could be done was say a prayer and hope for the best.

Months passed, and I still thought of her, but life moved on, and the panic slowly subsided. I’d wonder whatever happened to that sweet young girl I’d cared so much about, but over time it became a passing thought, and not much beyond that.

Today, as I was walking across the parking lot towards the building to attend my weekly Saturday meeting, I saw her.

I stopped dead in my tracks, almost afraid to believe my eyes.

Yes, it was definitely her. She’d changed, for sure. Gone was the innocence, the sweet “girly” essence she’d tried so hard to portray to the world, that only a few of us knew was a lie. The pink nail polish and childish stud earrings had been replaced. She now sports short, gender-neutral hair, a tattoo on her wrist, and gender-neutral clothes. She was smoking a cigarette, and her eyes were…

… hard.

I almost dropped the things I held in my hand, so happy to see her.

I grabbed her and hugged her tightly. “You’re back,” I whispered in her ear, tearfully.

We spoke at length, and I was completely stricken by what she shared.

Her story is heartbreaking. I won’t tell it, because it isn’t mine to tell. Suffice it to say she’s been to hell and back these last months. A few times, really. She’s knocked on death’s door, and more than once, she was pissed it didn’t take her.

She looks so different because she IS different.

I’m glad she looks the way she does. She finally looks real. Authentic. She certainly no longer looks like a kid who’s trying be something she isn’t. She isn’t trying to make anyone else happy by projecting an image that she’s anything other than what she actually is.

That’s my definition of beauty. She’s beautiful.

She made my day, and she reminded me, through her story and perseverance why we dance this dance, each and every day:

For people like us, if we don’t, there are only two possible outcomes- death or jail.

Today, I am so grateful for my friend. I am grateful she found her way back, and I’m grateful I got to witness it. I’m thankful for my program, and I’m thankful that program was here for her, and that it was here for me too, when we both needed it the most.

We all have another relapse in us, but not all of us have another recovery in us. Mostly, I’m thankful she has got another chance.

Posted in Alcoholics, Alcoholism, C-Haze, Recovery, Sobriety

Step 1, Powerlessness and Manageability

Last week we talked about step 12, so this week it only makes sense to start over, and begin with step 1.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I relapsed because I simply could not get step 1 right initially.

First, I couldn’t admit I was powerless over alcohol. I tried to control my drinking on my own in every possible way. I tried total abstinence, I tried only drinking on weekends, I tried eliminating liquor and switching to wine, I tried drinking measured amounts (literally breaking out measuring cups), everything. I went to outpatient rehab in 2007, and was drunk within 24 hours of graduating from the program. I went to countless meetings over the years, I got sponsors, I got fired by sponsors (which isn’t even supposed to be a thing, but I was so hellbent on doing everything my own way, I was impossible to work with). I joined 12 step programs, I joined non-12 step programs, I went to therapy, I switched therapists, I quit therapy. I even went to church for a while, which, if you know me, you know how radical this was. For me, anyway.

I’d get up every morning, swearing I would not drink that day… only to be drunk by 6 PM, wondering what the hell happened.

Nothing worked.

Second, I couldn’t admit my life had become unmanageable, and when I finally could admit it was unmanageable, I refused to acknowledge alcohol had anything to do with it. I had been divorced twice, was almost in financial ruin (even as I had a great job, with excellent benefits, and a way higher-than-average salary), had just been put on probation at work, barely knew my kids anymore, and I had terrible health issues. My liver enzymes were elevated to dangerous levels, and in my late 30s I was getting weird ailments like shingles, unexplained high fevers that left me hospitalized for days on end, and mysterious infections that almost left me septic.

Worse, my soul was in ruins. I was dishonest. I was a hermit. I avoided life, love, companionship or anything else fun. I had no joy.

No one in my life was using the word “alcohol” to describe the reasons these things were happening (mostly because I was lying to them about its existence), so I was fine to stay in denial too, and pretend my drinking had nothing to do with any of it.

I just figured, you know, God or the Universe or whatever hated me. None of it had anything to do with me, my bad decisions, my bad behavior, and definitely nothing to do with the 5th of vodka I was drinking every single day.

Finally, I hit my rock bottom. A series of events occurred, and I knew I was finished. I was going to get honest, get help, or die. It was as simple as that. I stopped drinking, and I crawled to a meeting.

By that point, surveying the absolute colossal mess my life was in the moment, I had no problem admitting it was unmanageable. What I still had trouble admitting was that I was powerless over alcohol. I reasoned that only I could stop the drinking- who else was going to do it for me, after all?

What I learned is that in order to stop drinking, I have to admit complete and total defeat. If I’m a boxer and alcohol is my opponent in the ring, I’m going to get my ass kicked – TOTAL KNOCK-OUT – Every. Single. Time.

I am powerless over alcohol, and I will always be powerless over alcohol.

My life has become unmanageable.

It is because of my need to control everything – my drinking, my life, other people, other places, other things, that I was in this mess.

Finally, it was time to let go.

I am powerless, and knowing that has become the most freeing thing in the world.

Step 1 is what got me stopped drinking. Later, working step 4, doing an inventory of all the messes I’d made of my life over the years while I insisted on being in control of everything, is what helps to keep me stopped. It helps me understand that my life was always unmanageable, at least for as long as I insisted on trying to be in control, as long as I insisted on being in the driver’s seat.

It will always be that way. I now know that I need to stay out of my own way, and stay out of the driver’s seat. I let my Higher Power drive, while I’m happy controlling the dials on my side of the car, in the passenger seat. I can control my own actions, and nothing else, ever – and even then, I am only in control of myself as long as alcohol is not part of the equation.

Step 1 is the beginning of a new life- but we have to do the work every single day. It’s the only step we have to get 100% right, 100% of the time.

Our lives depend on it.

Posted in Alcoholism, C-Haze, Recovery

12 Steps, Broadway and Opera Singers

My home group is a step group, which means we focus exclusively on the 12 steps. Every week we read a step, and then we share what that particular step means to us. I love it, because I believe working the steps is what keeps me sober, so reading through them each week, and then hearing others’ interpretations is invaluable for me.

As most will tell you, 12-step work is not a one-and-done kind of thing. A lot of us find that we have to work the steps to some degree over and over again, every single day. Some steps are harder than others, some we do better than others, but we’re always plugging away at them, and it’s that work that keeps us from going back out there. Speaking personally, that’s the work that keeps me from relapsing.

My group has spent the last two Saturdays discussing Step 12:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This step is so huge. When I think of Step 12, I think about how, after all my hard work from steps 1-11: the soul-searching, the digging, the honesty; after humbling myself before my higher power and the rest of the people in my life; after learning how to listen, how to take responsibility for myself (and myself alone), and how to let go; after learning how to live life on life’s terms, I now get to experience joy, peace and fearlessness, something I have sought my entire life, but could never find, so I chased numbness instead, with a bottle.

After all the work, I’ve had a spiritual awakening- which I simply define as “change”. I’ve done a lot of work. A LOT of work, and as a result, I’ve changed. My lens that I view the world through is no longer even remotely similar to what it once was. That, is a spiritual awakening.

My life, and the lives of those who depend on me, are a thousand times better than it used to be. In order to keep I that way, there are only two conditions: I have to remain sober, and I have to give back what I was given.

We’re not salespeople, so the good news is, I don’t have to cold-call anyone, or go door-to-door telling the world about my program of recovery. I don’t actually have to seek anyone out. There are a thousand ways for me to be of service to other alcoholics without ever putting another human being on the spot or making someone else uncomfortable. My program is one of attraction, not of promotion, as the old-timers like to say. We don’t advertise- we live our lives authentically, and as fellow alcoholics decide they want what we have, they may choose to come to us and inquire about what we’re doing differently.

Probably one of the first things people think of when they think of 12th step work is sponsorship. Yes, I can sponsor alcoholics that want what I have, and are looking to get sober. By sponsoring them, I can walk them through the 12 steps, just as my sponsor has done for me, and as her sponsor has done for her.

As an introvert, sponsoring other alcoholics doesn’t come naturally to me just yet, and I haven’t had the best of luck so far. What I have done, that also counts, that I did enjoy, was to chair some meetings, volunteer for service work (like cleanup after meetings, set up before meetings, etc), and most recently, I had the opportunity to share my story at a rehab facility.

But that isn’t all. Step 12 isn’t solely about taking the message to other alcoholics… there is so much more in this step, if only we look deeply enough to find it!

Speaking personally, one of the coolest things about step 12 is all the other hidden gems found in there. We’re taught in step 12, for example, to take all the lessons we’ve learned in this program and practice them in all our affairs.

We need to apply this stuff in real life, not just during our meetings, or while we’re actively working on recovery. Do it while we’re on the clock at work, do it while we’re interacting with our spouses, our kids, our friends. Even while we’re standing behind that prick in line in front of us at the grocery store. Do it all the time. This advice is absolutely invaluable for an otherwise judgmental, resentful person like myself. It’s a gentle reminder to treat all people- even the most difficult and hateful- as I would a newcomer to recovery. To keep my mind open, and remember that I don’t know everyone else’s struggles, nor is anyone else’s behavior in my control.

There are many, many other lessons to take away from Step 12, but the last one I’ll touch on has to do with maturity. The step talks about how, even as adults, we alcoholics tend to be “childish, emotionally sensitive and grandiose”. After reading that passage, I was too busy laughing- from self-recognition- to be offended. It goes on to talk about how we have such a hard time acknowledging that our adult dreams are often truly childish.

Reading this passage, I was reminded of a time when I was in my late 30s, and was trying to verbalize to someone why I felt like a total failure in my professional life. I was working for a fortune 100 company, closing in on a solid 6 figure income. As a high-functioning alcoholic, I’d managed to do well in the company. I had full benefits, lots of perks, had the luxury of working from home, and was the chief bread-winner of my family by many, many thousands of dollars per month.

The reason I felt like a failure? Because as a child, I had wanted to be either a Broadway star or an Opera Singer, and here I was, in my late 30s, having accomplished neither of those things.

I couldn’t be grateful for what I had accomplished- true success by any reasonable person’s standards, because I could not let go of that silly, childhood dream. Childhood dreams are great, of course. However, when we can’t even acknowledge our current state of success because we can’t see past the make-believe games we used to play as grade-school children, that is the mark of immaturity. In my case, I was truly devastated. Something was wrong in my brain, and I needed serious help.

Eventually, I got the help.

Today, I’m one day shy of 16 months sober.

All I know is, it works if you work it.

Posted in Alcoholism, C-Haze, Sobriety

I’m still the queen

Sometimes I just wish life would slow the hell down to give me enough time to catch up. Things happen so fast, and I have the coping skills of a toddler (I may be giving myself a bit too much credit there). In a perfect world I would be able to handle something before anything else was thrown my way.

Obviously, that’s not how life works.

So here I sit, with a multitude of problems- some are major, some quite minor, most are kind of in between- feeling a bit lost.

Emotionally, I’m really vulnerable, but I still win the trophy, and I’m still the Queen.

Wanna know why?

Because I’m sober. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do with myself, or how to manage my life, my job and my family, but for the first time in my adult life, it won’t be with alcohol.

Posted in Addiction, Alcoholism, C-Haze, Recovery

A disease. Full Stop.

Achieving sobriety is one of the most difficult things anyone with an addiction can do. It’s worth it, but it’s not easy. Ponies, rainbows and unicorns do not suddenly fly out our asses when we stop using. The country song- as I like to joke- does not play backwards, and we don’t automatically get the wife, the kids,  the truck and the dog back, just because we’re sober now.

When the time came for me to quit drinking (ha, ha – “when the time came”- more like, “when my ankles were so swollen they looked like softballs ate them, when my liver physically hurt, when I could no longer function at all, and death was surely imminent…”), I knew I needed help, and treatment was imperative. Thankfully, if I have to be an addict, the 21st century is the best time to be one. We have choices now, and recovery is no longer one-size-fits-all.

I didn’t do well in AA, as the dialogue around addiction being a disease just doesn’t work for me. I’m not saying it isn’t a disease, I actually think it is one. It took me a long time to understand why this disease rhetoric set me off, since I don’t disagree with the theory. In the meantime, however, I really just needed to find treatment, and I wanted a program that didn’t follow that particular script, despite the fact that I didn’t understand why. That’s how I fell into Smart Recovery (you can Google it), which is the opposite of AA in many ways, but has the same goal in mind: TOTAL ABSTINENCE.

I’m not an addiction expert, but I’m certainly not ignorant on the subject either. Obviously, I’m no social worker or substance abuse counselor, but I do have an impressive Alcoholism Resume- yes, it contains less college classes and more on-the-job training, but experience is experience.

All of this leads me to how I finally came to understand why I’m so often completely turned off by this “addiction is a disease” conversation.

<Deep Breath>

Until very recently, I had plans to drink again.

I went through the steps of physically quitting, and while I stopped consuming alcohol, it was always with the understanding that I’d pick up again. Maybe not today, but someday. Even as I was actively doing the work in recovery, I did it with the idea that I was merely changing my relationship with alcohol, not ending it. It wasn’t a fearful notion; I wasn’t thinking, “Oh no! I just know I’ll fall off the wagon some day!”. Quite the opposite, it was something I wanted, and I wanted to make sure I did it the “right” way (without criminal charges, jail, dancing on tables and/or swimming naked in some random stranger’s pool, preferably).

I did eventually realize I was nuts to think I could ever have another drink, but what took longer to understand is why I was so invested in the idea of trying. It was an obsession. It’s not simply because addiction is a disease. Even if it is a disease, that’s an over-simplified answer, and that’s what made me crazy. It’s like something you tell a kid when you don’t think they’re old enough to know the truth.

I deserve better than that, so I went on a quest to figure it out for myself.

It took a minute, but now I finally understand why it burns me so bad when addiction is referred to as a disease. It’s because all too often, the conversation ends right there.

She had to stop drinking because she’s an alcoholic. That’s a disease, you know.

Full Stop.

“No!” I want to scream. “There’s so much more to it than that! There’s so much more to me than that!”

Getting to the root of it, I realize that I believed if I could just drink like a normal person, it would mean that I don’t have to suffer a life of being labeled “Diseased” or “Alcoholic”. My fear was that people, once they knew, would stop seeking to know me further, thinking they’d already learned everything worth knowing.

That I’m an addict.

Full Stop.

Here’s the thing: I do have a disease. It’s called alcoholism. It isn’t curable, but it’s manageable, and managing it is an important part of my life. But please, don’t let the conversation stop there. I want to talk about it, and I also want to talk about other things too.

I’m a mother, and a daughter. I’m a wife. I’m a professional, and I like to draw. I used to play the piano, and years ago, I sang opera in Europe.

I want to be seen as an entire person, not just as this disease.

Someone who’s real, and silly, and complicated…

… and can’t drink.

 

 

Posted in Addiction, Alcoholism, C-Haze, Personal, Recovery

The Universe and the letter

I am not a religious person. My “higher power”, if I had to choose one would be The Universe. I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional Christian sense, but I tend to believe in order among chaos, I believe in Karma, and I know that whatever’s out there is bigger than I am.

I also believe that if we pay attention, The Universe is regularly sending us signs that provide most of the answers we seek. We’re free to ignore them, of course, and we often do just that, to our own detriment.

I’ve had a really tough time with my sobriety lately. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which has to do with the fact that I am my own worst enemy, and I apparently enjoy sabotaging myself in the face of success vs. failure. There’s more to it than just that, though.

This disease is crafty, and it wants to win. It has a powerful ally in its corner, and that’s my brain. It’s kind of perfect, actually, because nobody knows me- my insecurities, my fears, my triggers- better than my own brain does. So when the disease wants a drink, it doesn’t fight fair, and can be really hard to beat.

A couple of weeks ago when I got my blood test results from the doctor, as grateful as I was to find my liver function is normal, they provided ammunition for the disease to use against me. Since then, my brain has been barraging me with a series of attacks, telling me that because my drinking hasn’t ruined my health, and because I’ve been successful in quitting alcohol altogether, the whole thing must have been a false alarm. I’m not an alcoholic. I can drink responsibly, just like everyone else. I just needed to take a break for a while, and now that I have, my relationship with alcohol has changed, and the problem no longer exists.

Over the past couple of weeks, my resolve has started to waiver. I started seriously thinking about having a drink. I started wondering if maybe, just maybe, I’m not an alcoholic. Maybe I was just a binge drinker going through a bad time. Never mind that this “bad time” lasted a full decade. Or that I have tried to control my drinking in every possible way thousands of times: I tried switching from liquor to wine, I tried only drinking on the weekends, I tried not drinking at home, and only drinking when I’m out at social gatherings. I tried to moderate, hoping to stop my consumption before I became a slobbering, blacked-out mess.

Nothing worked. Nothing. Nothing.

Finally, I had to get some help and quit drinking altogether. My liver function may be normal now, but it wasn’t five years ago, and I’m willing to bet it wasn’t normal the day I quit drinking. It’s normal today because I’ve actually stopped drinking and gave it some time to heal- not because I don’t have an alcohol problem. The fact that I drank to the point of elevated liver enzymes to begin with is indicative of a problem. That I continued drinking for years after I realized I was developing a fatty liver, and that I still obsess over alcohol- something “normies” don’t do- are also indicators of a problem.

Knowing all this logically and believing it, living it day in and day out, is not the same thing. The bottom line is that underneath it all, I want a drink. Currently. Present tense. I want a drink.

On Friday night, I was up against a tough deadline at work. After working 12 hours straight, I was tired. About an hour before my workday ended, I started craving a drink.

I wish I could tell you I valiantly fought the urge, but the truth is, I didn’t.

I was moments from walking out the door, getting in my car and driving to the liquor store, when my phone rang. It was my husband, on his way home, just calling to chat. I quickly blurted out, “I think I’d like to have a drink tonight. I’m going to go to the store.”

He replied, simply, “Ok.”

I then asked, “What do you think? Do you think I should?”

No, I don’t. This is just the Salesman trying to work you, trying to get you to break down. Don’t let him. You don’t need to drink tonight.

For once in my life, I listened. I decided I would not drink that night, and I didn’t. It doesn’t escape me, however, that had my husband not called at that exact moment, I would have bought a bottle of vodka, and I would have drank.

The Universe put the answer right in front of me when I needed it most. I paid attention that night, and I wish I could say that was the end of it, that “I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes…” (I love a good, random Ace of Base quote), but that’s not the case.

The next day, I was still thinking about having a drink. We’re making plans for Super Bowl Sunday, and I thought, “I can drink with friends. Nothing crazy, just a normal amount.” I never claimed I wasn’t a hard-headed stubborn fool.

At dinner last night, I broached the subject with my husband. I told him I’d like to try drinking in moderation, and wanted to know his thoughts. He said, “I’m not sure what I think about it. I guess my question is why? What is the reason for drinking after all the work you’ve done to stop?” I had no answer, except, “I’d like to see if my relationship with alcohol has changed, after all the work I’ve done.” He responded that drinking to see if I could really do it in moderation doesn’t sound like a great reason to him.

Since I don’t disagree, and had no answer for that, we sort of dropped the subject and continued on with our evening. I didn’t stop thinking about drinking, though.

Later, just before I went to bed, my husband handed me an envelope that had come with the day’s mail. It was handwritten, and was addressed to me. I could tell from the return address that it was from an old high school friend of mine. This friend and I follow each other’s online updates, but haven’t actually spoken in years. Opening the letter, this is what I found:

Hello, Friend!

I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading about your sobriety, and I honor your efforts to stay that way… and have hope that you have the strength to see it through, and that your family is there to hold you up when you’re weak.

All I could think was, “Holy shit.”

I read and reread the note a hundred times. I then placed it back in its envelope.

In that moment, I knew.

The Universe placed yet another sign right in my path, telling me the answer, and I heard it- felt it, even- as clearly as I’ve felt anything in my life.

I will remain sober.

So here’s to friends and family, the people who prop us up when we can’t or won’t do it for ourselves. Here’s to The Universe, for providing a steady supply of answers, whether or not we choose to hear them.

Above all, I’m grateful for family, and I’m grateful for that support system I can’t always see, that reveals itself at exactly the right moment, when I need it the most.

Posted in Alcoholics, Alcoholism, C-Haze, Recovery, Sobriety

It’s the people who don’t know you, but think that they do

One of the more difficult aspects of getting sober has to do with how the changes we’ve made impact our relationships with others, and how those changes force us to look at ourselves and face some not-so-pretty self-truths.

The obvious would be relationships with close friends and family members.

Those aren’t the people I’m referencing in this post.

I’m talking about the people who live on the outskirts of our worlds. Those who operate in our peripheral. They’re familiar enough with us to know certain things, but are not overly close. These could be coworkers, or people who belong to the same clubs or gyms as we do.

In my case, these are the people who, while not particularly close, know about my love for the bottle – and even have a story or two to share.

I’ve struggled mightily with one such person lately. I met her before I got sober, and we do not live in the same town. We are not overly close, but are quite friendly. The majority of our interaction is electronic, via online chats and text messages, and is quite sporadic. The only opportunities she’s had to observe me in person, unfortunately, were at functions that had unlimited amounts of alcohol available to us. We both drank at these functions, and drank a lot.

I haven’t seen this person since I got sober. In fact, I never even told her I was sober until last night. The reason I finally told her was because she had developed an annoying habit of pointing out my love for vodka during every single interaction we had. I was becoming more and more angry that these conversations kept turning to my drinking, and to keep from exploding on her, I decided to be truthful.

“I stopped drinking. I haven’t had a drink since you and I last met, and honestly, that last encounter is one of the reasons I finally decided to quit.”

She replied, “That is not funny.”

She’s right. It’s not funny.

What she doesn’t know is that I had to stop drinking, or die. I had to put the bottle down, or risk losing everything. I won’t share that with her.

The entire exchange left me extremely pissed off, and it took me a while to figure out why.

I finally realized that I’m not mad at her. Honestly, I’m not mad at anyone. I’m simply ashamed.

Humiliated.

I made a bad first impression. She’s not saying anything about me that isn’t 100% true, and that’s on me, not her.

I’m glad the people I deal with the most no longer see me as the out-of-control drinker I used to be. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to show those who matter the most who I really am.

Those people on the outskirts, however, those who reside on the sidelines, never got the memo. To them, I’m still a drunk, and they will interact with me in accordance with their understanding of who I am.

It serves as an uncomfortable reminder of where I came from, and why I can never go back there again.