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 C-Haze

The action part of “Action”

I attended a meeting last night, and it was fantastic. One of the topics we discussed had to do with the stages of change. Even with all my relapses, I would have said that I had been in the Action phase of recovery. Action is described as:

The stage where people overtly modify their behavior and their surroundings. Make the move for which they have been preparing. Requires the greatest commitment of time and energy.

The act of quitting drinking seemed to qualify to me. What bigger action is there than that? What I realized last night, however, is that I was in the varying stages of Pre-Contemplation and Contemplation all this time.

It’s not really that I was relapsing fifty billion times- it’s that I never really stopped drinking. Sure, I stopped for a day or two- or even a week or more- but I was not modifying my behavior or my surroundings. The only commitment of time and energy I expended was to white-knuckle my way through the day, hoping like crazy I wasn’t going to break down and drink.

What was missing was the Action part of the Action phase. I have to DO something different in order to get different results. It sounds ridiculously simple, but honestly, until last night, I just did not get it.

Happily, I had already started making some fundamental changes before last night’s meeting. Now that I understand the stages better, and understand where my behavior fits in with each of them, I can confidently say that I’m finally in the Action stage of change, and I can point to concrete examples of the changes that moved me out of Contemplation and Planning, into Action.

Some of them are:

  1. Attending meetings (including the meeting I attended last night)
  2. Committing to daily meditation – I’m still learning how to do this, so I downloaded a fantastic 21 day meditation series to help me with this one
  3. Counseling – I realize I cannot do this completely by myself. I have a lot of stuff swimming in my head that makes self-medicating a very tempting proposition. I need help clearing out the muck. I MADE AN APPOINTMENT AND EVERYTHING
  4. Journaling and Workbooks – Actively working my recovery, and not sitting around hoping sobriety will find me some day.

I know that sobriety does not just happen. I have to make it happen, and then I have to make it stick. All of those things require ACTION. I’m learning that putting down the bottle, while perhaps the most important step in the process, was just that – merely a step in a series of many that I need to take.

Then, I need to keep doing it.

Posted in C-Haze

Do as I say…

Sometimes, in the realm of parenting, the whole “do as I say, not as I do” just isn’t good enough. Sometimes we have to both do and say, which can be scary as hell.

My 17 year old recently received a dual diagnosis of Lupus and Antiphospholipid Syndrome. Neither have a cure. Both are auto-immune disorders, caused by an overactive immune system that cannot differentiate between healthy cells and viruses. The immune system essentially turns on itself and starts attacking the good stuff in our bodies as well as the bad. Lupus can attack organs, while Antiphospholipid Syndrome effects the body’s red blood cells, causing excessive clotting.

She got the diagnosises after a scary week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, after her doctors found a very large blood clot in her lung.

Being the rockstar of a person she is, she immediately went into activist mode when she got the news. She works hard to raise awareness about auto-immune diseases, and she wants to raise funds for research. I’m proud of her, and I’m proud of her ability to consider how these diseases affect others, and not just herself. While her diagnosis throws a wrench in some things, she has access to the top rheumatologists and hemotologists in the world, and has top-notch health insurance to boot. This will impact her, but not as much as it can (and does) impact the millions who have sub-par (or non-existent) health insurance, or have no access to qualified medical professionals.

She went to her school and requested permission to conduct a fundraiser. In response, they invited her to perform at the school’s annual variety show. Their idea was to have her showcase her fantastic singing voice, and take a few minutes to talk about these diseases, and how important research is to finding a cure.

Sounds awesome, right?

The only catch is that the variety show is in two weeks, which doesn’t give her much time to prepare. Nervous, she came to me and said she may decide to forego the performance.

As Mom, and as her biggest cheerleader, I know she can do this. I know it! 

I was full of advice:

There are many different ways to raise awareness. This variety show is definitely not the only way. I know your commitment to this has nothing to do with your decision about whether or not to perform, and I support you no matter what. That said, you have an opportunity to reach a lot of people during the variety show. When will you have that many people’s undivided attention again? Maybe not any time soon. At least consider doing it. Don’t let your nerves stop you from doing a really awesome thing.

I was proud of my spiel, and I knew she’d make the decision that was best for her. I was glad I had encouraged her to face her fears for the greater good, because that’s what living a fearless life is all about. We’ll always be afraid of something- it’s what we do in the face of that fear that defines us.

My daughter, heretofor and forever more known as “Smarty Pants” had a response. She said she would agree to the performance. She will sing a song – Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, because the theme of looking within ourselves and making a change to bring about a better world is a good one.

This is all on one condition, however:

That I will perform with her. 

Oh, shit.

Most of my readers know that I am a hot mess, full of anxiety and fear and discomfort, and basically everything else that is conducive to being an extremely awkward human being. My awkwardness and anxiety was what I was trying to self-medicate for many years by drinking.

I finally stopped the drinking, but under all of it was that nasty anxiety and fear, just waiting for the opportunity to rear its head again. It never went away. As a result, I shy away from people in almost all circumstances. Especially circumstances that put me in the spotlight in front of a whole crowd of humans.

Oh, Jesus.

I’m sweating just thinking about it.

Not quite as well known as my anxiety is the fact that I play the piano. In fact, I’ve played the piano since I was five years old. I majored in music performance in college, oddly enough. I sing, play the piano, flute, and about 12 other instruments too. I even spent some time performing in Europe about 20 years ago.

However, when the anxiety got too bad, and the demons got to be too much to manage, I stopped.

I walked away from all of it, just like that. I haven’t performed in more than a decade, and even then it was at my own brother’s wedding. I do own a piano, and even a flute. I tinker around on them when I’m bored. Sometimes, when no one’s home, I sing at the top of my lungs to get it out of my system.

But that’s it. I don’t perform anymore. Ever. In fact, I was with my husband for about five years before I would so much as sing along with the radio in the car.

Yeah, it was that bad.

Now I find myself in a situation where the only way to really hammer home a very important life lesson to my child is to…

… Do as I Say – And as I DO.

I can’t keep my credibility if I don’t do this, because I know in my heart that the only reason I’d refuse is because of my own fears. That’s not the way fearless people live. That’s not the way I taught my children to live.

I have to do it, even as I know I won’t sleep a wink in the coming weeks. I am utterly convinced it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the only thing to do. 20 years from now, when I look back on that variety show, I know I’ll regret it if I ended up in the audience and not up on that stage with my child.

So, here I go.





Posted in C-Haze

Sorry, I’m not sorry

Funny that I came to this realization on Easter Sunday, of all days. It’s a rebirth-theme, so it’s pretty fitting.

Today, I am releasing myself from the expectations of others. Or rather, I’m releasing myself from my own expectations. Looking back on my life, I realize I’ve spent decades trying to do and say what I think everyone else thinks I should do and say. I’ve defined myself, and determined my worth based on how I feel I measure up to society’s standards of what qualifies as Success.

Spoiler Alert: I never quite measured up.

This has caused me a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, it’s cost me a lot of peace, and has provided another excuse to drown it all inside of a bottle.

I’m done with it.

Officially, completely, unapologetic-ally done.

I have spent my entire life trying to wear a mask of normalcy, trying to appear to the world- especially to those who love me and want to know I’m OK- as if I’m just like everybody else. The problem is, I’m not like everyone else. No one is, really. We’re all a product of our unique experiences, and those experiences have impacted us in different ways. I’m not alone in my uniqueness. The good news is, we’re all unique in this way.

It’s probably the one thing we all share in common: Our differences.

So the idea that I need to be like everyone else is ridiculous. It’s impossible, and that mindset is designed to fail. I failed to be like everyone else, and I took it really, really hard for a lot of years. The thing is, no one actually had those expectations of me. I just thought they did. I took my own definition of what a failure is, and projected that onto myself. Then I blamed everyone else for putting that on me, even though no one actually did.

I did it all on my own.

Effective immediately, I’m done apologizing for who I am.

A little of what I’m no longer apologizing for:

I don’t celebrate Easter because I think it’s a silly holiday and it simply doesn’t resonate with me.

That doesn’t mean it’s a silly holiday to everyone else, but I don’t have to apologize for the fact that I have no use for it, just as those who do celebrate owe me no explanation for doing so.

I used to do a half-assed attempt at celebrating, because I had decided that’s what people are supposed to do. Not this year, and not ever again. I’ll cook a nice meal because it’s a Sunday my husband happens to be off work, but there will be no chocolate bunnies, Easter egg hunts or Bible stories about the resurrection. I don’t feel like I’m robbing anyone of anything, because when I did do that stuff, it wasn’t authentic. I was doing it for everyone else, even as “everyone else” couldn’t have cared less what I chose to do with this particular day.

I don’t do family dinners. 

This is a big one for me. I was taught that the very success of one’s family hinges on whether or not they eat together. Eating is a very informal affair in my house, and I actually like it that way. Sometimes I cook a meal for the family when I get off work, but people just eat when they’re ready to eat. There’s no dinner bell that rings at the appointed time, and we don’t set the table with place mats and silverware. Usually my dining room is unusable because it’s littered with junk from whatever art project I happen to be working on. We just make ourselves a plate when we feel like it, use paper towels as napkins, and it works for us.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t a close-knit family.

I have a 17 year old daughter who tells me about once a week that while she knows I don’t consider myself her friend, she still sees me as her very best friend. She tells me shit that I can’t imagine I’d have shared with anyone at her age, and I sometimes find myself thinking, “TMI! TMI!” She’s a deep-thinker, with a strong sense of justice. In addition to going to school and maintaining her grades, she has a part-time job. In fact, she’s been employed since the day she was old enough to be on someone’s payroll. She has bills, and a savings account that she manages herself. She likes having me around, and invites me to hang out at the mall, the gym, and tries her best to get me go with her for mani-pedis (another thing I non-apologetically have zero use for).

I have a 10 year old that likes to spend time with me- we do art projects together, build dollhouses, and geek out with our electronic devices. She tells me about the boys she has a crush on, and why she refuses to ask them out herself. She’s open-minded and comedian-funny. She’s different, and she embraces that about herself. She creates spreadsheets in Excel for fun, and recently created an inventory of everything we have in our house, categorized and color-coded, to boot. When I asked what her motivation was, she reminded me that I am always tinkering with some sort of spreadsheet or another. She says she wants to be like me. I tell her to aim higher.

I have a husband that is closer to me than any human being on the planet. We actually like each other. We share hobbies and dreams, we tease each other and even do the mundane, like grocery shopping together, because it’s fun for us. It’s not a first marriage for either of us, and while I used to think I needed to apologize for that, I’m no longer willing to. It’s because I did such a spectacular job at failing in my first marriage that I now know how to be successful in my second. The two of us have been to hell and back- some of the stories from “way back when” would cause people to cringe and wonder how in the world we made it from that place to marriage. But we did, and we’ve never looked back.

I don’t monitor what my kids watch on TV, I don’t censor my language, and I have no hard-fast rules on dating.

My 10 year old and I watch The Walking Dead together. That’s after binge-watching Lost. My 17 year old and I watch true crime. They both watch Family Guy and those idiot Kardashians. Yes, there’s a lot of cussing and adult material in the things they like. I don’t censor any of it. For what? I just make sure I’m there, and have a really good poker face for when they come and ask me embarrassing questions (like the time my oldest, at 10 years old came to me out of the blue and asked, “Mom, what’s a blow job?”).

I do draw the line where electronic devices and the internet are concerned: my kids are afforded zero privacy in their online activities, and again, I refuse to apologize for it. You want privacy? Write in a fucking diary. The internet is public, it can be dangerous, and I have their passwords and account information for all of it. God help either of them if they ever try some shadiness online.

I have no set age for when it’s OK to start dating, preferring instead to decide when I think they’re mature enough to handle it. I set basic ground rules based on what I think is appropriate, and trust that they will follow them. If they don’t, I will not shield them from the consequences, but you’d be amazed how often even little people make the right decisions on their own when given the opportunity to do so. When they screw up, that’s OK too. I’d rather have them making mistakes under my roof, while I can still stick a foot in their asses, than making major mistakes in the real world, when I can no longer look out for them.

I cuss. A lot. Some may say I do it constantly, and that’s probably true. My 10 year old is busy planning a party for her upcoming 11th birthday. She asked me to try not to cuss in front of her friends. I promised to try. The best I can do is not cuss at my kids. I don’t call them names, ever. They hear a lot of 4-letter words in passing, but I try really hard not to direct any of it their direction.

So as you can see, I’m not perfect. I don’t do things the “traditional” way, but I think for a long time, I lost sight of the end-goal. The goal is to have a tight-knit family unit, and to produce children who grow up to be responsible, happy, contributing members of society. That’s what we’ve managed to accomplish, even with my (sometimes bizarre) way of doing things.

What else matters, then?


I’m rambling, but here’s the bottom line:

There are a lot of things I have not done where my family dynamic is concerned. Yet I’ve realized that there are many, many more things I have done, and have done well.

So, I’m sorry, folks. I’m just not sorry anymore.

Posted in C-Haze

Sobriety, the police department and the unpursued case

Something terrible happened 20 years ago. It’s the kind of terrible thing that requires a trip to the ER where they take DNA scrapings from your body, followed by a trip to the police department after that.

At the police station, a lineup of photos was presented for me to sift through to see if I recognized anyone.

I didn’t.

The police officers didn’t believe me when I told them what happened, how I’d obtained those bruises. They sort of went through the motions of taking the report, and told me they’d be in touch.

Well, they finally were.

20 years later.

I was sitting in my office, working away, when my phone rang. The caller ID said “Unknown”. Thinking it was one of my clients, I answered.

“This is Officer So-and-So with the blankety-blank Police Department. May I please speak to Mrs. CMac?”

“Speaking” I reply, startled.

“You reported an incident to us back in 1997. We have developed new evidence in this case and would like to discuss that with you.”


Turns out, the statute of limitations is going to run out in a few months on that terrible thing I reported to the police 20 years ago. They decided to run the DNA evidence they had on hand before that happens, and guess what?

They got a hit.

Now they know who did it, and they know I am not a liar. I didn’t make that terrible thing up, even though they were sure I had. This man, the man who now has a name, is a convicted felon. It’s possible his crime against me was his first trip to the rodeo, but it certainly wasn’t his last.

The police department would like to know if I want to pursue the case – even though I now live over 750 miles away, and that terrible thing happened two decades ago.

No thank you. After all this time, there’s no way.

My initial reaction, after hanging up the phone, despite the fact that it was only noon, was to drown myself in a bottle of vodka.

I didn’t, though.

Instead, I went back to work, almost like nothing happened. Later, I took a nap and ordered a pizza.

Now, I sit here, numb but sober. I don’t know what to think. I feel like I should partake in some mood altering substance, not because I want to, but because it’s all I know how to do in circumstances like this.

This terrible thing that happened all those years ago… I had gotten to a place where I no longer obsessed over it. In fact, I didn’t even think about it as often as once a month anymore. No one who knows me today was even aware that this thing had once happened.

Even my own husband didn’t know until the police department called me today and I had to yell for him to “Get in here right now! I need you!” I put the phone on speaker and tried to ignore the look on his face as it started to dawn on him what the police officer was referencing, and that it was a thing his wife had dealt with 20 years ago, but had never shared.

This terrible thing.

Tonight is a night I’ll need to take things minute-by-minute. I am going to work hard to stumble my way through this naturally and authentically. So far, I’ve battled the urge to drink for seven straight hours, and have not given in.

Eventually, I hope to just go to sleep.

Posted in C-Haze

The Relapse, Happy Hour and Grey Goose

I’ll just come straight out and say it:

I relapsed.

I went out of town on a work trip earlier this week, and I knew part of the agenda would be happy hour at the hotel. I felt desperate to drink with my coworkers, and because of that, I knew it would be a terrible idea to attend.

So I didn’t.

I went to my room instead, answered some work emails and took a cat nap while everyone else was downstairs drinking. I was proud of myself for spotting the trigger and avoiding it.

A little too proud, I now realize in hindsight.

I reappeared from my room just in time to catch the shuttle with the rest of my team to dinner. My company had rented out a large room in the back of a swanky restaurant, and there was a full staff of servers waiting to fill our glasses with wine and spirits, and to fill our plates with appetizers while we waited for our dinner.

When I first got there, my boss asked me if I’d like to share a bottle of red wine, and I politely declined. I was on a roll, and I was doing really well.

Or so I thought.

Finding my seat, a server immediately appeared and asked if I’d like some wine or anything else to drink. “Water’s fine” I told her, and she disappeared. Moments later, she came back, gave me my water, and handed my coworker to the left an enormous glass- the size of a water glass- filled with clear liquid. I actually thought it was water at first, and was relieved to see there was at least one other person near me that was opting not to drink.

It was then that my coworker leaned over to me and whispered, “Holy shit. Can you believe the size of this Grey Goose?”

That huge glass of clear liquid was full of vodka, not water.

It’s tough to describe the emotions I felt, all at once, in that moment.

Fear, dread, excitement, and finally…

… Defeat.

The server turned to me and asked, “Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink?”

I immediately replied, “Actually, I’ll have what she’s having.”

The server left to get my drink, and I sat there, equally petrified with fear and excitement. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t make any moves to try and stop myself from doing it. I made a halfhearted attempted to tell myself that when my drink arrived, I’d push it to the side instead of consuming it, that it is not too late, that relapse is not inevitable…

… but of course,  when the drink came, that’s not what I did.

I drank that night, and I had more than one. I was not sober by the end of the evening, though I was nowhere near as drunk as I’d been millions of times before. I did not do anything stupid (other than drink, duh). I had fun, I socialized, I made people laugh, I relaxed, and I laughed too.

I eventually made it to my room and went to bed. I woke up with a headache.

I also awoke expecting to hate myself for my terrible judgment the previous night, but the truth is, I didn’t. I wasn’t thrilled, and I had no intention of allowing my one-night slip to continue, but I was not devastated or angry like I expected I’d be.

I tried to explain it to my husband later, and the best I could come up with was, “I’m just done punishing myself. I’ve punished myself enough over the years to last a lifetime, and all it’s accomplished is making me hate myself. I’m not willing to keep doing that.”

I did a bad thing, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. It means I’m not as solid in my sobriety as I thought I was, and it means I need to be even more diligent than I thought was necessary. I figured I’d done enough, skipping happy hour that night- and while that was a good decision, I let that one good decision make me cocky. That cockiness caused me to let my guard down, and before long, I was sitting at a table in front of the biggest glass of Grey Goose I’d ever seen in my life.

And I drank it. Then I drank another, and another after that.

The biggest trigger for me happens to be when I’m far from home, with people I’m not intimately familiar with. That’s when my anxiety reaches epic proportions, and I become desperate to do anything to make that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness disappear.

I haven’t had another drink since that night.

I’m back on the wagon, grateful for yet another chance to get it right.

I am truly thankful that the work I’ve done up to that night, while it didn’t keep me sober, helped me mitigate the loss that comes with relapse. The old me would have been so hard on myself for breaking down and drinking that I would have given up altogether. After drinking the one night, I wouldn’t have stopped, and I would have drank the next night, the next, and the night after that as well. I would have seen myself a complete failure, and I wouldn’t have put the bottle down until my health deteriorated again, and I was afraid for my life.


I don’t feel that way anymore. I screwed up, but I’m ok, and I’m back in the saddle. So the months of hard work prior to that one night of idiocy were not a waste. That work is what helped me keep this to one night of bad decisions, and not anything worse than that.



Posted in C-Haze

Rage, Serenity and the Answer

I was prepared for a lot of different challenges when I decided to get sober. I knew I’d have to deal with physical withdrawals, and I was ready for the urges that often came out of nowhere, literally making my eyes water, they were so strong.  I figured I’d get a little emotional, and that I might replace the sugar that my body was used to getting from alcohol with sweet foods and cheeseburgers for a while. I was OK with all of that, and I felt ready.

I was ready!

The thing I knew nothing of, had no idea I should prepare for, was the mind-numbing rage I’d experience after getting sober.

Lately, I had been constantly stewing in anger. I had no idea where it came from, or how long it had been there. No one was safe from my wrath- I literally wanted to smash things and throw a temper tantrum like a four year old- and God help the poor soul who crosses my path when I’m feeling this way.

At work, my clients enrage me when they have the audacity to send me an email or make a request of me that I wasn’t expecting, throwing an unforgivable wrench in my perfectly planned day.

My kids make me mad when they bombard me with all the crap they need- right now!- like trips to the dentist, various doctors’ appointments, “Mom, I need new clothes”, “Mom, can I have $15 for my field trip next week?”, “M-O-M! M-O-M! M-O-M!”

My husband pisses me off when he turns the surround sound up too loud in his man cave, or screams too loudly at the TV when his sports teams do something that alternately excites him or causes him despair. Sometimes it’s the way he disciplines the kids… I just want to throw my hands over my ears and scream, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU! LALALA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

Literally, it was any-and-every-little thing that set me off, it was happening without warning. I felt completely justified in bathing myself in the emotion of it, though I did wonder on more than one occasion if I should come with a disclaimer.

“Caution! Volatile!”

For a long time, I said nothing. Instead, I’d just close my eyes, count to 10, and mentally cuss out the Universe that made me this way, made me broken, and forced me to have to make the choice between living and blissfully zoning out with a glass (or 10) of Vodka in hand. I silently became angrier and angrier, until I started to question my sanity, and feared I was about to jump right off the deep end.

But, hey! At least I’m sober, right?

Tonight, feeling especially homicidal for no reason in particular other than, “I don’t know why! I’m just mad as hell at everybody!” I called one of my very best friends, someone I’ve known for about 16 years now. She’s a recovering alcoholic as well, but she’s been sober for close to 20 years. Not only did I not know her as a drunk, I cannot even imagine her that way. She works her recovery with grace, faces it with courage, and frankly, makes the shit look easy.

I explained my need for blood- my all consuming rage- the best I could. I told her how angry everyone, yes everyone (!!) is making me lately. I need to call my doctor, I say. Clearly these new meds are doing something to me. Something bad. I just know I’m going to snap and go bananas on people. People I love.

I went on and on about how hard it is to control my temper, how hard it is to deal with life in general, how everything sucks, the world sucks, and I’m sick of acting like it’s all OK.

I’m just so over it! This is stupid! Everything is stupid! Just… STUPID!

She listens without interrupting. Finally, winding down a bit, I think to ask, “You still there?”

Calmly, she replies, “I’m still here.”

Exhausted from my ranting, I take a breath. She takes the opportunity to ask, “Would you like me to tell you what’s really going on, or would you prefer I let you continue to live in denial?”

I, of course, prefer denial. She, however, has another idea.

She starts to tell me about the serenity prayer. I’d heard of it, and even know it by heart from my prior half-assed attempts at AA. Somehow, after all the times I’d seen the words even said them out loud, I never gave them much thought.

For the first time, I really paid attention to the meaning of that prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

What my friend was telling me is that when I’m angry at the whole world, it’s because the world isn’t behaving the way I want it to. The whole world hasn’t gone mad, but I have, because I am the only thing all these unrelated situations that keep pissing me off have in common. That’s right, it’s me, dammit.

I have to stop trying to control my environment, and just let it go. Unexpected emails from clients are a part of life. Needy children and loud, passionate spouses are par for the course. She helped me understand that I’m not angry at any of things. I’m frustrated with myself, and with my inability to just let things be. I waste so much effort trying to put everyone and everything in their perfect little compartments that I forget to be grateful for what I have.

She suggested read “Acceptance Was the Answer” from The Big Book.

I did what she asked (I consider her my sponsor, even though I don’t do AA, and she’d tell you she most certainly is not my sponsor), and I reflected on the story.

No, I can’t control the people, places or things around me, though I’ve historically gone to ridiculous lengths trying to. I can, however, be courageous enough to recognize that sometimes when the rage is boiling inside, it is not caused by anything or anyone else but me. My furious attempts to control all the moving parts that make up my little existence, with disastrous results.

It’s exhausting, and it’s futile.

I can change my reactions to people, places and things. The rest is just…

… Acceptance.

Knowing I am exactly where I am supposed to be, experiencing exactly what I’m supposed to experience in this moment.




Posted in C-Haze

The eye-opener that was the “Month of Yes”

Well, my “Month of Yes” is wrapping up. I spent a month (yeah, I chose the month of February, which is the shortest one- don’t judge) saying yes to opportunities that presented themselves to me.

This was important, because in my natural state, I am a hermit. Socially awkward and full of anxiety, I generally hate leaving my house or talking to people I don’t know. I hate crowds, and prefer to chat online, and not in person.

Before I stopped drinking, I was a hermit because I needed a safe place to hide out and pour vodka down my throat. After I stopped drinking I stayed a hermit, because I had no clue how to be around my fellow humans without feeling extremely uncomfortable- especially without the crutch of alcohol to lean on.

Nothing I’ve accomplished this month would be considered earth shattering to anyone but me. I did not save anyone’s life, I did not travel to great places unknown.

Here are some highlights:

Superbowl Sunday:

I went to a Superbowl party that was filled with people I don’t know, that had plenty of alcohol on hand. I did it sober, and  for the most part, I really enjoyed myself. I did get a little nervous when the host tried to get me to eat, because doing so required me to walk to the buffet table in front of everyone. They’d already eaten by the time I got there, so this was a scary proposition.

I did leave the party a few minutes before the game ended, but I’m glad I went. I proved that I can do it.

Running Errands:

I ran errands with my husband, getting some stuff done at the bank that needed to get done- the kind of thing I otherwise would have blown off and suffered the consequences of later.

This probably seems completely inconsequential to those who don’t know me. Those that do know me realize the notion of me being a big girl and handling my personal responsibilities is a thing I historically could not always be counted on to do.

I will go to work every day, even when I’m dead. Running errands, paying bills and grocery shopping? Eh, not so much.  This was a win for me.

Personal Responsibility:

I finally went to the doctor and got the blood work done that I’d been putting off for more than five years. Rather than let my fear of the unknown continue to rule me, I decided to be an adult and stand up, doing what needed to be done.

Dinner and a Movie Date Night:

I went to dinner and a movie with my husband. Historically, he’s spent a lot of time trying to get me out of the house for date night, and usually I have an excuse not to go. This night, I banished those thoughts, went out and had fun.

Jazz Club:

I went to a Jazz Gallery full of people I don’t know, and sat at a reserved table in the front row, sober the entire time. I didn’t get up and run from the room, even when it was obvious that I was the only one in the entire establishment that didn’t know certain songs the band was performing. In my mind, the fact that I don’t know those songs made it very clear to everyone there that I do not have the cultural knowledge that’s required to be a card-carrying Black Woman.

Interestingly, as a sober observer for once, it looked to me like absolutely no one cared about that kind of thing but me, and that the people in attendance at the club were focused solely on having a good time.

I also didn’t run screaming when the entire room got up and danced while I cowered in my chair- again in the front row- afraid that the “white side” of me was a little too obvious in this venue, because I cannot dance. I was afraid the entire time. Afraid that I was going to be called out for being the odd one in the room.

I faced my fears, though. I did not run. I stayed the entire time, and I did not drink.

These aren’t the only things I managed to accomplish throughout the month. My willpower grew, my confidence grew, and so did my strength. Even bigger, my relationship with myself improved.

I am kinder to myself.

I have a better understanding of why I was the person I used to be, of why I am the person I am, and of who I want to become.

I am closer than I’ve ever been to finally being able to offer myself blanket forgiveness for the mistakes of my past- for the instances of bad judgment, for the bad behavior, for the myriad mistakes I made.

Through all the fog, I can finally see the good, not just the bad:

I’m the mother of two wildly successful, well adjusted, happy girls- two beautiful Black-Women-In-Training. One is getting ready to go to college in a little over a year, who has straight As and a solid grasp on who she is. The other, while younger, is accomplishing great things too, is kind, brilliant, and makes me laugh every single day. I had a hand in molding them, and they fill me with pride.

I have a very close and honest relationship with my parents. I had to work hard at the “honest” part, but it has paid off. I make them proud, even when I have to tell them the truth about human mistakes I make, and I’m starting to realize why.

I have a solid and happy marriage. One that allows me to put to use many of the lessons I learned from relationships- and yes, even a failed marriage- past. I can look at the failed marriage and concentrate on what I learned, not on the failure I felt as it was crumbling.

I have a great job with a great company that’s the leader in my industry. I proudly shoulder much of the financial responsibility for my household, and I am entrusted to do what I do best- show up and get the job done, no matter what. I value the fact that I possess the skills that allow me to work with the best of the best.

I realize now that I bring something unique to the table, and that’s because of my past, not in spite of it. I have a college education, but I also have real-world experience, the kind of experience one can only gain by having done the work and paying the dues for years on end. I climbed up to where I am- I did not land here.

Finally, I have great friends, and a great support system. I am celebrated for making the changes I’ve made, not ostracized as so many others in my situation find themselves. When I lack the strength to do the right thing, they don’t mind using their strength to carry me until I feel strong again.

I didn’t gain all these things during my Month of Yes, but I gained the insight to be able to recognize them. They were in front of me all along.