Five Years

Today marks exactly five years of continuous sobriety. I was telling my husband the other day that, early on, I was watching a movie in which there was a scene with a man and woman in a bar. He offers to buy her a drink and she responds, “No thanks. I’m five years sober.”

I remember that scene so clearly – the thought of five years of sobriety seemed unfathomable to me at the time. And yet, here I am.

What have I learned, over five years? Well. I’ve learned it can still be difficult to be a nondrinker in this world. It can be lonely. I can still feel “other than” when it seems everyone else in the group is drinking and I’m not. And if I’m being perfectly honest, there are times when I still wish I could drink in safety. That I could fit in with the crowd and enjoy a few drinks and stop there.

I also wish I were five inches taller. And fifteen years younger. But most of all, I wish I’d quit drinking when I first knew I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which was probably twenty years before I actually came to the realization that I had to stop.

I’ve also learned what true serenity, and peace of mind, and authenticity feels like. Waking up in the morning with a clear head and a free heart – without scanning my data bank for memories from the night before. My mind has been cleared of the constant “chatter” in the background: How many drinks did I have last night?  Wow – that’s too many. It’s probably unhealthy. I’m not going to drink tonight. Definitely. Well, maybe just two.  Next week I’m definitely not going to drink during the week. Yep, no more drinking, Monday through Thursday. Next week.

Ugh.

I’ve learned that I can experience profound joy and extreme sorrow, completely sober. And all the emotions in between – without any substance in my system to dull or fuzz or obliterate my feelings.

Along the way I’ve had so much help: Belle from Tired of Thinking About Drinking, podcasts like The Bubble Hour and Since Right Now.  A Facebook group comprised of people on the same journey. My sweet husband. Without his support I never – and I do mean NEVER – could have stayed sober. He’s evolved with me: at first he was dumbfounded and bewildered by my decision. He had no idea how terribly I was struggling. I deliberately kept my suffering quiet, because to admit it to him – to say it out loud – was to admit it to myself. I was too terrified to wrap my mind around the notion of never drinking again. He is my greatest champion and supporter. My daughters and some close friends (whom I’ve only had the opportunity to meet because of sobriety) truly “get it,” too.

I am eternally grateful and feel so blessed by the Universe. In countless ways this journey has been an incredible gift.  It has definitely not been easy – but like so many things in life, the things that are worth the most require a lot of effort.

So.  If you’re new to this journey –  there are so many tools you can put in your sobriety toolbox. Naps, bubble baths, yoga (there are TONS of free videos on YouTube), meditation, ice cream, trashy novels, funny movies, sobriety memoirs…… Make a list of ten things you have to do before you pick up a drink. Long walks. Being outdoors is very healing. Pick up a hobby to fill the hours you would have spent drinking. Have breakfast for dinner. Change your routine – especially during the “Witching Hour.”

Just. Don’t. Drink.

What I have can be yours.  And it is glorious.

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Rounding the Corner on a Milestone

I just realized that it’s been almost six months since I’ve posted anything. Life continues at a happy, breakneck pace. We recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. It was a great school year and so far, a busy, happy summer. I hardly ever miss drinking. Sure, there are the occasional twinges when I’m at a restaurant or sitting outside in the evening. But they’re few and far between.

August 18th marks five whole, continuous years of sobriety for me. My life isn’t perfect, although it’s pretty damn great. One thing I know for sure is that drinking would contribute absolutely nothing positive to it.

There are some exciting life changes on the horizon for me: it’s very likely that I’ll be retiring after the end of this coming school year. And you know what? I plan to live for a long, LONG time. And booze doesn’t have any place in a healthy lifestyle. Not for me, at least.

I’ll share more reflections in a few weeks – until then, take good care!

And remember: eff booze! It’s poison!

More Blessings of Sobriety

Today the hubs and I are going to be out all afternoon. Our kids and grandchildren are  convening at our house while we’re out. My older daughter will be cutting her nieces’ and sister in law’s hair, and when we come home we’ll all have dinner together. They’re meeting here because our house is the most conducive to a big family gathering. After their haircuts, all the of little ones will play together while my kids and their spouses  hang out and visit, and then they’ll set the table and order a couple of pizzas.

You’re probably thinking, sounds like a typical Saturday for a normal family. And you’d be right. But during a period in our lives that seems like a million years ago, voluntarily spending time with our daughters wasn’t appealing, to put it mildly. Neither was feeling comfortable leaving them alone in the house. As a matter of fact, I would lock my bedroom door and my husband’s office door before leaving home. Every single day. Anything of value was locked up or hidden. I used to say, “You know when I can tell the girls are lying? Their lips are moving.”

That probably sounds heartless and harsh and over-the-top. But you have to understand that they were both heroin addicts. They were so far gone that our family was in ruins. I hated the sight of both of them.

Thankfully – long story short – they both did the hard work necessary to get sober. And in doing so, they not only repaired their bodies and souls and lives. Their transformation from dead-eyed strangers to the young women we raised also restored our faith in them. I now absolutely trust either one of them, in any situation, to do the right thing. They both embrace honesty and integrity in their everyday lives. We’re so unbelievably proud of them.

So the thought of them being “home alone” while we’re out, while absolutely unthinkable ten years ago, is of zero concern today. All courtesy of sobriety.

And a “normal” family dinner is still a miracle to me.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is next week and I’ve been mentally assembling my gratitude list. Here it is, in stream-of-consciousness order:

1. My husband and I have adjusted happily to his recent retirement. He takes care of two of our granddaughters one day a week, subs at the school he used to teach at a couple of days a week, and pretty much plain damn does what he pleases with the bulk of the rest of his time. After 43 years, it’s pretty amazing that we can still tolerate each other, much less enjoy hanging out together. He’s truly my favorite person.

2. I’m so grateful that my kids have all reached a level of contentment and relative peace in their lives. They’re all married and settled and pretty happy. Gainfully employed and making plans for their families and their futures. Our granddaughters are our Number One fans – and it’s 100% mutual. There’s another grand baby on the way. What parent/grandparent could ask for more?

3. My schedule at work this year is manageable and enjoyable. I’ve been pushed waaaaaay out of my comfort zone in terms of what I’m teaching. Guess what? You CAN teach old dogs new tricks! My co-workers and I are in sync about SO many things. I try to remind myself how fortunate I am to work with friends. I almost – ALMOST – feel guilty about getting paid to have this much fun. I’ve fallen back in love with my job, and I try to remind myself of how lucky I am every day.

4. Friends, old and new. Some have suffered losses this year: a brother, a father….. and I’m grateful to be present and able to hold space for them. So very grateful for my sober friends: my online group, and one special friend and her husband that my husband and I have met and become fast friends with. Also very grateful for a new friend – newly sober – who has reached out to me and become a special new light in my life. She reminds me of how it felt to walk this path in the early days, and it’s a privilege to offer her support and share my experiences.

5. My health, physical and mental. This old bird still feels like a 19-year-old most days. I’m one of those rare women who actually LIKES  her body.  It’s produced three healthy children, fed two of them, and gets me where I need to go. I’m proud of every stretch mark and scar. They mean I survived.  I’m happy, content, at peace, and find joy in life’s smallest moments. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

So, friends – there’s my gratitude list.

What are YOU grateful for?

Life Marches On

Hey, friends. I’ve been thinking about you! It’s been five months since my last blog post. The past several months have been eventful – bringing extremes of emotion, as life is wont to do.

In March, one of my nephews passed away. He had struggled for years, both with depression and alcoholism. You might say it was a shock, but not a surprise. There’s nothing remotely natural about a parent burying a child. My sister and her family will never be the same. Ironically, my nephew knew he needed help – and had scheduled an appointment for IOP (Intensive Out Patient). The appointment date? The day his body was found by his brothers.

So sad and tragic and unnecessary. It just emphasizes the point that, if you’re struggling, STOP TODAY. Time is of the essence. This may be your last chance.

Our family has also recently celebrated my husband’s retirement from 39 years as a teacher, coach, and advisor. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions for him, and I’ve been holding his hand and walking through this experience with him. We’re both so excited about the changes in our lives his retirement will bring, especially once I go back to school in the fall. I keep joking that I’ll have a wife – somehow I don’t think he’s as amused by that as I am….

Our youngest daughter and her husband are buying their first home, which is super exciting. Things seems to be looking up for them, after some rocky times and struggles.

We’re enjoying our four granddaughters and the ensuing happy chaos so, so much – and there’s another precious little one on the way next spring!

My sobriety has been a constant through all the tears and laughter – God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll have four years next month. It’s just part of who I am now – and I hardly ever miss it.  I have to admit, there are very brief flashes of – longing? Jealousy? Resentment? Typically, I don’t think about it much any more. I’m still active in my private Facebook group – I check in and read posts daily but don’t comment much.

I don’t intend to drink, ever again. I try not to think about “forever,” though.  That’s a little too daunting and overwhelming.  But for today, I’m good. Not gonna drink.

How about you?

What in the World….?

The other day at work I overheard a conversation between two of my co-workers that almost made my head explode.

Let me preface this by telling you that I absolutely adore the team I work with – they’re smart and funny and snarky and liberal as hell. We see eye-to-eye on practically everything.

They all drink (and one is a recreational pot-smoker) and ordinarily that doesn’t affect me at all. Sometimes, I find myself feeling “other than” when they discuss the latest IPA they tried or a new brand of wine that’s reasonable.

I did find myself feeling like a disapproving, prissy schoolmarm when they regaled me with stories of their drunken nonsense at the annual holiday party. One doesn’t remember much of the evening and spent most of the rest of the weekend hungover.

Whatever. I’m grateful that I don’t waste my weekends that way.

So. Here’s the conversation in question: Two of them were discussing a young woman they both know. She’s a freshman in college and her transition to the dorms and living away from home was very difficult. The young woman in question is EXTREMELY high-strung and suffers from anxiety and depression.

One friend was relating to the other that, at this particular college, sophomore dorms are more or less “themed,” based on the students’ interests. This young woman was talking to her Mom about the options. The first is known as a hard-drinking dorm. Mom counsels daughter, “You don’t like to drink. That one’s not for you.” Good advice, right? Right. The second choice has more of a loosey-goosey, tree-hugging, pot-smoking population. BINGO! That’s the one for our girl! Mom advises, “Honey, you NEED to lighten up and start smoking pot. You HAVE to figure out a way to relax!”

My two friends are both in complete agreement – they think this is a PERFECT fit for an anxious, uptight 18-year-old.

I’m sitting there, in my little cubby around the corner. Listening to this bullshit. Thinking, “What. The. Actual. Fuck.”

Here you have a young woman who struggles mightily with anxiety and depression – who is, statistically speaking, FAR more likely to end up having an issue with drugs and alcohol, and HER OWN MOTHER thinks it’s a great idea for her daughter to use a drug to self-soothe.

I’m thinking – SCREAMING silently – what about Yoga? Meditation? Exercise? Long, hot showers? Therapy?

Ugh.

I don’t know where I’m going with this…. I just knew I needed to bring it here and dump it.

You guys understand.

Thanks for listening.

(P.S. – Yesterday was 3 1/2 years of sobriety!!! Yay me!)

But for the Grace of….

The Universe? God? I don’t know what I believe. But I do have a confession to make.

I have been wallowing in self-pity and resentment. Marinating in “it’s not fair,” and, “I don’t get paid enough for this responsibility,” for the better part of this school year.

You see, I’m a Teaching Assistant. I teach more classes than the two teachers I work with -several more classes per week. I’ve had some really challenging students to deal with. I even went to the principal, who “mansplained” my job to me and basically dealt with my complaints by metaphorically patting me on the head. He even had the balls to admonish me to keep my unhappiness and frustration with my workload from affecting my relationship with my students.

This, from our Fearless Leader who is famous for not only bringing his domestic issues to work with him, but unleashing on anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Asshole.

So where does the Universe come in, you ask?

Well, sometimes the Divine tweaks us on the nose just when we need it most, if we’re paying attention.

Yesterday we had a long-anticipated sleepover with Darling Granddaughter #3. We kicked off the festivities with a rollicking trip to the grocery store – do we know how to show a kid a good time or WHAT?

As we enter the produce department, I notice another Grandma and Grandpa happily doting on an adorable baby in their shopping cart. The Grandma and I make eye contact and share a knowing smile.  As it happens, she and I find ourselves inspecting the same vegetables. On impulse, I say, “Isn’t being a grandparent SO much more fun than being a parent?” She laughs and replies, “I remember your husband from High School!” So I urge her to go over and say hello to him.  She does, and I follow.  I’m entertaining our granddaughter, half listening to their conversation.   I freeze when I hear him expressing condolences to her. I glean from the conversation that she’s lost a son to addiction, within the past six months or so.

My husband shares with her that we have two daughters who narrowly escaped with their lives – addicts ten years in recovery now…. He gives her a big hug, and I do too.  As we walk away I find myself fighting back tears. I know we could very easily have lost not one, but both of our daughters. I can’t even imagine what hell she’s going through.

And then it occurs to me – that could so easily have been us. And in the grand scheme of things, my problems are so minor.  I have a job with co-workers I adore. I don’t have to worry about being laid off. My husband, children, and grandchildren are healthy. All of my immediate family lives within 30 minutes of me.  I want for nothing.

I need to keep all of this in mind the next time I feel negativity start to creep in.

Because for a million and one reasons, my life could have easily become a tragedy. It’s quite the opposite.  And I’m so unbelievably grateful.

41 Months and Still Learning

I just realized it’s been a long time since I posted. Life has been moving at breakneck speed. I just wanted to share some things I’ve been thinking about.

This weekend my husband and I are going out of town for a family Bar Mitzvah. I’ve got all kinds of treats packed for the hotel room: Kcups and a clever little portable coffee maker, special creamer, fun a/f beverages, snacks…..

Almost exactly three years ago, we traveled to the same town for a family Bat Mitzvah. It was my first sober getaway and I remember still feeling like everything was almost painfully strange and new. I packed a care kit for myself that included special scented hand cream, treats for the hotel room, and ear buds so I could use a sleep meditation on my phone without disturbing my husband. I remember being at the party, where craft beers and glasses of wine were offered. The glasses of wine were so small – I wondered, if I’d still been drinking, how many of them I would have felt comfortable drinking without anyone noticing. Ugh.

Now I still notice what/how much other people drink, but I’ve realized nobody really cares what’s in my glass. Events like these are no problem whatsoever.

But here’s the thing: as I began making mental lists of what to pack, I noticed that my husband’s bottle of bourbon was running low (he likes to pack some for the hotel room). I found myself getting a little anxious that he wouldn’t have enough booze for the trip. Because I remember all too well having to make sure that there was enough wine for me when we traveled together.

Just a friendly reminder from the Universe that, yes indeedy, I had a problem, and – nope, my brain is neither healed or fixed, even after all this sober time under my belt.

Another Sobriety Anniversary

Ten years ago, our lives were a nightmare of chaos, drama, anger, despair, and terror. Every day was ruined by our daughters. Every time the phone rang, we were acutely aware that it could be the police telling us we needed to come and identify their bodies. At the very least, it was usually one of them, wheedling and manipulating us for money. Our lives had slowly become something unrecognizable, our home a war zone. Every day, I’d come home from work dreading what would be waiting for me: two daughters who were barely recognizable as the girls we’d raised. They were sullen and sneaky and beyond hateful. Monsters who were slowly killing themselves and, in the process, taking us with them. You see, our precious daughters had become heroin addicts.

My husband and I got ourselves into counseling when it became glaringly apparent that what we were doing to help them (pay their bills, give them chance after chance after chance to turn themselves around) wasn’t working. We began to change how we reacted to the daily drama.  But what really brought their addiction to a screaming halt was our town’s Drug Court.  They turned themselves in to the police after getting involved in some illegal stuff – and the Court stepped in.  They were given two choices: get and stay clean, or go to jail. Well, there were more than a few bumps in the road, but ultimately – they both chose sobriety and a return to their place  in our family and our hearts.

They’ve transformed from dead-eyed strangers to two young women I absolutely adore: wicked smart, absolutely hilarious (usually inappropriately), hard-working, and ambitious. Our older daughter is married and the mother of two precious little sweethearts I couldn’t possibly love more. She has hopes and dreams for her future and plans to go back to school to become a sonogram tech in a few years.  Our younger daughter has worked her way up in Financial Aid at a local business school. She attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology while working full-time. She’s also married, and planning to start a family soon.  They’re both fully engaged in life and society and our family.  I’m so unbelievably proud of them and beyond  grateful that they’re whole and healthy. I have to believe that they survived their addiction for a reason.

Tonight we’ll enjoy some of our favorite things: chips and queso and guacamole, cheese, crackers, and cupcakes. We’ll celebrate with waaaay too much food and even more laughter.  I’ll encourage my husband to propose a toast – I know myself well enough to be sure that trying to put what I feel into spoken words would just result in tears. My heart is so full.  And I know how impossibly lucky we are that our girls have returned to us.

Life is good, friends – so incredibly good.

Brand New Experience

This past summer I was super duper busy with my granddaughters, spending lots of quality time with my husband and family, deep cleaning my house, and just generally enjoying some time off work.

I kept meaning to share something with you but life seemed to get in the way: I was a guest on the Bubble Hour podcast! The Bubble Hour is a fantastic resource for anyone who’d like to get and stay sober. There have been a handful of hosts through the years, but the focus of the podcast has remained the same. There’s typically one guest who shares his or her addiction and recovery story.

The current host, Jean McCarthy, was warm and kind and welcoming. I was pretty nervous at first, but after a few minutes that wore off.  It felt like I was talking to a friend – she’s just a wonderful person. She writes the blog “UnPickled,” too, which is another excellent resource.

So, if you’d like to hear my story – and my glorious flaaaaaaat “a” Western New York aaaaaaaccent, have a listen!  Here’s the link:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2017/06/27/mary-of-life-without-vodka-rocks-blog