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.

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Addition by Subtraction

Last weekend we went to a concert .  Our local philharmonic was playing, featuring the music of Elton John.  His music comprised a huge chunk of the soundtrack of my youth. One of the first songs they played was “Daniel.”  Admittedly, it’s a sad song – and I felt the tears start to well during the opening notes.  I was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia and regret and gratitude.

The nostalgia piece is probably obvious…. I spent hours as a young teenager, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom in front of the record player listening to “Madman Across the Water” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”  Memorized the lyrics written inside the album cover, singing along with every song.  It brought back memories of the girl I was, with my entire life ahead of me. I’m at a point in my life where there’s more of my life behind me than in front of me, and I guess I’m getting nostalgic in my old age.

And I had one of those “time-removed-from-time” moments: when you step outside of yourself and view your circumstances with such clarity and perspective that it feels almost other-worldly. I was so acutely aware of how the old, pre-sobriety me would have most likely approached an evening out like this one.  I would have suggested dinner out first – most likely with a cocktail first, and then wine with the main course.  The concert hall had several bars set up – I would have insisted that we wait in line to purchase overpriced glasses of wine to sip either before the concert or during the intermission.  Then I would have been a little “itchy” as the evening wore on, anxious to get home and have even more drinks.  Because it’s the weekend.  And a special occasion, of course.

And finally, the gratitude that washed over me was all-encompassing. Almost overwhelming.  It occurred to me that I was absolutely present and living in the moment – loving every second of the concert and so gloriously, acutely aware that this new way of life is a gift and a blessing.

I was struck by this feeling that I’d  been asleep for so long, focusing too often on the wrong things – and I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 months honing in on how to create a new life for myself. Without a trap door or escape hatch.  I’m just now fully waking up and appreciating the gifts that have been right in front of me for so long.

This sober life, that I was so terrified of – is so completely amazing.

18 Months Sober

February 18th marks 549 days since I took my last drink.  A year and a half!  I can hardly believe it.

18 months since I woke up that last morning after I yet again, drank more than I intended to.  And blacked out.  AGAIN.  And remembered neither the last half of the show I was watching nor an intimate interlude with my husband.

And I came to the inescapable conclusion that I could not moderate.  Years of research had proven it.  As terrifying as it seemed, I had to close the door on booze forever.  If I didn’t I’d actively be choosing what would likely be a highly untimely, unnecessary, and unpleasant death.

And – talk about terrifying – what would my life BE without booze?  How would I celebrate? How would I console myself? How would I have FUN? What would my relationship with my husband be like?  I just couldn’t imagine how not drinking would make any aspect of my life better – in fact, I thought it would be quite the opposite.

What’s changed?  So, SO much – for the better! First of all, I wake up in the morning (and sober sleep is FANTASTIC, thank you very much) free of heart and mind. I no longer have to worry about what I said or did the night before and whether or not my husband is disgusted with me.  I don’t wake up thinking about the previous night, assessing whether and/or how much I drank.  I actually like and respect myself and accept that if I make a mistake, I’m not a horrible, broken, worthless person.  I’m just human. Gloriously flawed.  But still worthy of love and respect, especially from myself.

I’ve learned all about the wonderful world of self-care.  And discovered that I’m actually an introvert.  I really like people and love to socialize – on my terms.  But I respect myself enough to honor my need for quiet time; I crave it and soak it up like a sponge.

One of the best things I’ve discovered is how much MORE fun I have – especially with my three granddaughters. The return to childlike play and the ability to lose myself in the moment with them.

I’ve learned that strong emotions, left to their own devices and not medicated away, will NOT kill me.  And not only that, I don’t WANT to self-medicate.  And some super scary and stressful stuff has happened in the past year and a half.

I just feel like the real deal.  And present.  And authentic.  I’m still learning and I’m certainly not perfect.

But here’s what I want to leave you with: if you’re struggling. Or on the fence. Or not sure if giving up booze forever is something you can wrap your brain around.  Please, please, PLEASE – give it a try.  Sign up for Belle’s 100 Day Challenge. Tell just one person you trust that you’re concerned about your own drinking.  Reach out and I can give you information about a private Facebook group comprised of people just like you and me.  People who want to stop drinking and need some support.  It’s helped me so, SO much, especially since I don’t have any friends in real life who are walking this road with me.

For me, walking away from booze forever was absolutely non-negotiable.   My only regret is that I didn’t do it 20 years ago, when I first began to suspect that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthy.

Please – don’t wait one more day. You’re worth it.  And you won’t regret it.

I promise.

300 Days Without Alcohol

The 13th of June was my 300th day without booze. This is probably the longest I’ve gone without ingesting any kind of mood-altering substance since I started smoking pot at 13. I progressed from pot to cigarettes at 15, dabbled with speed, and then finally, focused my interest on booze. Back then the legal drinking age was 18 and I only drank on weekends, usually a couple of beers on a Saturday night. Fast forward many years and many, many drinks later…..

This has become my new normal. I no longer feel uncomfortable in my own skin when we’re at a restaurant, where it seems like EVERYONE but me is drinking. Enjoying elegant cocktails or glasses of chilled white wine or frosted glasses of beer.  And there I sit with my big dumb Coke glass and white straw, filled with club soda, cranberry, and a wedge of lime. I do occasionally get what I call “the grumblefucks” when I wallow, momentarily, in the “why me’s” and “it’s no fair that I can’t drink – everyone else is” kind of thoughts.

But they don’t last. Honestly, though – I would very much like to get to the point of being able to say that I don’t ever miss it. I do wish I could drink like normal people. But I know I can’t – not EVER.

And another thing: this weekend, we’ll have a house guest. Our adorable, active 1-year-old granddaughter who’s not all that fond of sleeping through the night. I’m steeling myself for the high likelihood of four nights of interrupted sleep. And can I tell you a secret? If I were still drinking, there’s absolutely NO fucking way I would have volunteered to take her.  Can you imagine what a crimp she’d put in my ability to drink the way I was accustomed to, especially on the weekend? No cocktail hour in the afternoon? No wine with dinner and during the evening, as we watched TV? No big fat martini before bedtime? No, thanks.

It would have been easy enough to make excuses: Dad has to get up so early every morning, he needs his sleep…. I can’t get the time off work….. I’m really freaked out about being responsible for her, with her parents so far away…..

Instead, I’m  proud to step up and take the baby so my daughter and son-in-law can get away for a few days.  It’ll be so good for them, as a young married couple who never had a honeymoon. Not looking forward to potentially sleep-interrupted nights, but – I’ll be clear-headed and sober and capable of handling whatever their precious, pint-sized tyrant throws our way.

A Few Thoughts on Drinko de Mayo

Just wanted to share a few random thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain…

So last weekend I’m watching TV and there’s a commercial about celebrating Cinco de Mayo (which is, in my opinion, is nothing more than May’s excuse to get shitfaced, much like St. Patrick’s Day in March.) It’s a combined commercial for some brand of tequila and Corona – and the message is that you absolutely have to include alcohol to have a good time. So annoying. Give me some good guacamole, queso, and chips – and I’m a very happy girl.  No booze required.

So then last week I went out to dinner with some girlfriends.  There’s this wonderful Italian restaurant we like to go to: “Ole Blue Eyes” croons in the background, tons of black-and-white photos of New York City and the Rat Pack on the walls…  Anyway.  I’m enjoying my decaf, looking around, and notice this quote by Frank Sinatra, in a frame on the wall near our table.  It says, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink.  When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”

Huh.  I would have agreed with him, 265 days ago. I felt sorry for poor suckers who didn’t drink – they did NOT know what they were missing!

But I have to vigorously, fundamentally, emphatically disagree with him, after nearly nine months – NINE EFFING MONTHS, KIDS!!!  I feel good in the morning, sure – but the time of day that I generally feel the best is when I crawl into bed at night, super proud of myself and totally stoked to read for a little bit before I turn off the lights. In the old days I’d quite often have a drink on the nightstand and to be honest, didn’t retain too much of what I’d read…. And typically, I’d be feeling disappointed in myself for drinking more than I meant to/should have/wanted to.

So Frank can suck it, as far as I’m concerned.  Sober is SO much better.

Yet Another Message from the Universe…

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to join a private Facebook group comprised of people endeavoring to stay sober. It’s a great, supportive, funny, smart group of people who offer each other advice and support. The symbol of the group is a penguin. I wondered why but found out it’s because penguins huddle together for warmth and strength, and protect the weak and vulnerable members of the group.

Bearing that in mind, I have little story for you today.

So we just got back from a little vacation to Washington, D.C. This is my third sober trip and I was well-prepared with books loaded on my phone, my meditation app (Simply Being), and my earphones. My biggest concern while being away from home is not being able to either get to sleep or stay asleep. The meditation app has been a huge, huge help.

When we go to a big city, we love to go on a walking Food Tour on the first or second day, because it helps us get “the lay of the land,” and gives us some ideas of places we might want to return to for meals.

We were in a group of about 15 super-nice people, and as we stroll the streets together, we’re chatting and getting to know each other a little. We get settled in one of the restaurants, waiting for our delicious hand-made spinach tortelloni stuffed with butternut squash and cheese in sage butter (delicious!)…

The tour guide says that the pasta is going to take a little while, so feel free to order cocktails. Some of the people do and I’m sitting with my glass of ice water, watching them toast each other with champagne cocktails and Manhattans. And not feeling triggery, just a wee bit sorry for myself.

Anyway. I shake it off as soon as the food arrives, resisting the urge to lick the plate – it was that good! And we all pack up to head to another restaurant for a sample of some Moroccan food.

So we’re walking up the street and I’m right behind the tour guide. It’s a chilly, blustery day and she’s bare-legged, wearing a denim skirt with little anklets and flats. I’m thinking, “Jeez! She must be FREEZING!” When something catches my eye – there’s a design on her socks. Upon closer scrutiny, I realize that they’re PENGUINS. I shit you not.

Just another message, courtesy of the Universe, that I’m right where I need to be.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Leaving a little later this morning; my third sober vacation since I quit drinking. I have books loaded on my phone, my meditation app to help me sleep, and my headphones. I’m good to go.

Had a momentary flashback of our trip last April…. We went to a Sandals resort for our 35th anniversary. They airline overbooked our original flight and we ended up getting upgraded to first class for the two flights to the resort.

The whole experience was exciting and luxurious. The steward fussed over us the whole time, refilling my wine glass over and over. And over. By the time we got to the resort, I had probably consumed the better part of a bottle of wine. You can’t say no, right? I mean – it’s free!

So we get to our room and it’s early afternoon and I need a nap. My husband decides to walk around the resort, get the lay of the land – while I sleep for a little while.

Well, while I’m sleeping off multiple glasses of Chardonnay, he’s texting to check in with me. My phone’s on silent, so it doesn’t wake me up. He’s texting and texting. I’m sleeping and sleeping. He’s getting more and more annoyed with me.

So our first day at this gorgeous, exotic resort starts on a sour note because I’ve had too much to drink.

Seriously? Wasting the first three hours in paradise asleep and then bickering with my husband???

Never. Again.

Compassion

This is what I wanted to tell you about today: some sober revelations I’ve been having. And they’re all about compassion – COMPASSION, for chrissakes! Not something I was very generously gifted with. I’m afraid I tend toward snark, not snuggle.

The only other time in my life I remember being extraordinarily compassionate and patient was during a time when my girls were circling the drain due to heroin addiction: one was in rehab in Pennsylvania and the other was in a holding center (jail) here in NY. My husband and I were in counseling at the time, too…. But anyway, I worked in a classroom with first graders and that year each one was a more adorable whack job than the next. One little girl was terrified of the automatic flush toilets and the teacher I worked with would ask me to walk her down to the bathroom and pantomime using the toilet so she could figure out how much time she had to get the hell out of the stall before the toilet flushed and she freaked out. I literally took an hour out of every school day, walking her to the bathroom and helping her work out her issues…. A little boy in our class was so tightly wound he’d freak out during recess and fret over his ‘unfinished work.’ Just beg to be allowed to work instead of have free time. I spent so much time comforting him and giving him pep talks and telling him everything would be ok – my endless patience knew no bounds. But I knew, even then, that I was giving these kids what I couldn’t give my own – a mother’s love and tangible help with their problems.

So, fast forward 7+ years.  I’m almost 8 months sober, doing a little meditation and eliminating stress from my life as much as I can. So happy and relieved to be sober and free from the obsessive thoughts about booze and endless heinous mental chatter.

Which brings me to the compassion part of the program: this involves my mother.  We have a pretty complicated relationship.  Right now things are ok because she’s 84 and pretty harmless.  Just don’t get her started on any politically-charged issue.  The only thing she and I agree on is what time it is.  And to complicate things, she attaches morality and “the next life” to everything she’s passionate about.  So there’s that.  We get along fine as long as we don’t venture into any areas of mutual disagreement.  As far as she knows, everything’s peachy.  What she doesn’t know is that I spent the better part of a year in therapy screaming into a pillow to expunge the rage I felt toward her, for things she’d done (and hadn’t done) when I was a kid.

I should tell you that she and my dad were married for well over 50 years.  They lived together in the house I grew up in until he developed Alzheimer’s and had to go into a nursing home, where he passed away in 2009.

But last weekend, I woke up and felt the warm solidness of my husband by my side.  I snuggled down and drifted back off for maybe 15 minutes. When I woke up again, I knew instinctively that his side of the bed was empty.  And for whatever reason the thought occurred to me: what must it have been like, for my mother to know on the last day he was home with her, that she would never sleep in a bed with my dad again?  The thought just broke my heart for her.

And another instance: I work with elementary school students (one-on-one and in small groups), helping them with their reading and math skills.  One kid in particular is realllllly hard to like.  His social skills aren’t great and he complains incessantly about various and sundry, real or imagined ailments.  I did not look forward to stopping by his classroom to pick him up every day.  But this little nugget of compassion has just swelled and almost completely blotted out my initial dislike for him.  He comes from a crappy home.  He has no mother in his life.  There’s always drama between his dad and step-mom.  Awful existence for this poor little guy.  And I’ve turned the corner from tolerating him to really, really liking him.

I wonder if, once I stopped medicating my annoyances away, it enabled me to see them from a different perspective.  It just took some time and distance.

I’m certainly no Mother Teresa – don’t get me wrong – but it’s kind of neat to see this new mindset evolving.

 

Just What I Needed

Sometimes the universe gives you just a little “snap on the snout” to get your attention…. Today I got the message, loud and clear.

It has been a completely hellacious winter here. Shoveling to be able to get out of the driveway, taking our lives into our own hands to pull out of the driveway because the snow piles at the curb were so high, and shoveling to get back IN the driveway at the end of the work day…. more times than I care to count this winter. Now, I HATE hot weather. I’d rather be inside, reading a book in the air conditioning, thankyouverymuch.

But this morning, 215 days sober, I was thinking about spring. And summer. And how nice it would be to sit outside with an ice cold beer or a chilled glass of pinot grigio, my summertime fave… And I had just sent my daily email to Belle since I’m doing her 365 day challenge. And I had said as much to her.

Then I headed off to do some grocery shopping. As I was driving down the road, I noticed a kind of beaten-up truck in front of me. There was a rather large decal on the window directly behind the driver’s head. It said, “In Memory of my son, David.” And it listed the dates of his son’s birth and death. So sad…. he was only 13. But what made me REALLY sit up and take notice was that the day his son passed away was also the day of my last drink.

Here I was, feeling sorry for myself because I can’t have a fucking glass of wine on my deck and how am I going to get through a summer without drinking. Meanwhile, this poor man lost his son. How’s THAT for perspective?

And just in case I wasn’t paying attention, on my way home I turned on the radio, which I rarely do. I heard two songs: Chandelier by Sia, and Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. Back to back.

If I ever wavered for a moment about my decision to stop drinking, this little episode helped re-frame and re-focus me.

Unbelievable. All I can say is, “Thanks, Universe. Message received, loud and clear.”

Seven Months Sober

As I progress farther and farther along this sober road, new little revelations pop up like the sweetest flowers of spring….

Today marks seven months since my last drink/last drunk.  As muddy and bleary as the memories were of that evening, the next morning is etched with crystal clarity in my memory forever. The terrifying conclusion was unavoidable: I had to stop drinking.

Over the course of many years, alcohol had gone from being an occasional treat – to be enjoyed rarely – to an almost daily habit.  And an unhealthy obsession.  It was my ‘go to’ for every occasion: for celebrations and consolations. The remedy for monthly cramps. The perfect accompaniment to any and every special meal.  My weekend necessity. The solution for everything.

Until it became the problem.

And the revelation that occurred to me is that as I used wine or beer or vodka to help soften the edges of a bad day or bad feeling or bad anything, one of the trades I would make is that it would also prevent me from feeling the intensity of the good stuff: burying my nose in the sweet-smelling hair of one of my granddaughters.  The shared giggles over silly word play. The long summer walks, punctuated by trips to the library or the corner bagel shop. Teaching one of them how to play “Old Maid.”  Snuggling and reading books to them before a nap. Sharing a cuddle or a sweet, sleepy smile as the youngest one drifts off to sleep in my arms.  They make me laugh so hard….. sometimes I think my heart will just burst with joy.

It’s been challenging to learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings without numbing out.  But – the unexpected rewards of true happiness and lightness of heart and spirit have been so, so worth the work.