Even More Gratitude for a High Bottom

Something happened last week that I’d like to tell you about. This story is aimed especially toward anyone who’s sitting on the fence, suspecting that their relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy, but not sure if that’s a good enough reason to quit. After all, you probably have a successful career, marriage, happy family…. You’re fine! You’ve never had to deal with any negative consequences of your drinking, right?

I totally get where you are – I was there too, for many years.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the main reasons I decided to quit drinking was the fear that I would do something under the influence that would hurt one of my grandchildren. Thankfully – I stopped before anything like that ever came to pass.

Our youngest granddaughter is almost two. She lives six minutes away and we see her several times a week. This child is a miracle – born to our older daughter after a pregnancy fraught with complications that I’d never heard of before – complete with an emergency c-section delivery that was completely harrowing.

In her short time on earth, she’s been hospitalized two or three times with viruses and high fevers. She has asthma. And peanut, tree nut, and cat allergies. You’d never know it by her appearance or the way she talks and plays and sings. To say that she’s precious to us is an understatement of epic proportions.

So last weekend was rainy and chilly. I had a hankering for homemade sauce and meatballs. We invited our daughter, son-in-law, and this little one over for dinner.

I’m happily tending to the sauce and boiling spaghetti. For some reason I may never understand, a little voice in my brain says, “Check the pasta boxes.” So I go to the recycling bin and pull one out. I’m struck dumb when I read the ingredients: made with chick pea and lentil flour. Both are legumes and could have caused – no, WOULD have caused – a pretty dramatic allergic reaction. So I told my daughter what I discovered and we quickly regrouped. Little sweetheart did have Grandma’s meatballs, cottage cheese, and corn. Strange combination, but she loved it.

But here’s the thing: if I hadn’t made the decision to quit drinking, I know myself well enough to know that I would have had two or three glasses of wine already on an afternoon just like that one. (Pasta and sauce? You HAVE to have wine, right?) And if I even heard that little voice, which I doubt, I’m reasonably certain that I would have ignored it.  The results would have been awful: for her, for her parents…. And most definitely for me.  I would never, EVER have forgiven myself.  And the entire situation would have been a direct result of the muddled state of mind that I routinely inflicted upon myself by drinking.

By nature, I’m not a hand-wringer or a worrier.  I’m not big into wasting my time with “what-ifs.”

But I know, in the very core of my being, that I dodged a HUGE bullet last weekend.  Another reason I’m so incredibly grateful that I stopped drinking when I did.

Advertisements

Glorious Chaos

The kids all came over for dinner yesterday, to celebrate Mother’s Day. My husband had ordered specialty pizzas from my favorite place, along with these incredible, pizza oven baked, lemon-juice-and-olive-oil marinated chicken wings. Our son brought dessert and one of our sons-in-law brought two delectable salads he’d made. And homemade Gorgonzola vinaigrette. I was in food heaven!

By the time my son and his family arrived, our three year old granddaughter had fallen asleep in the car. She was carried in, snoozing contentedly, and lovingly placed in the middle of our bed and surrounded by pillows, to continue her slumber.

When she was awakened for dinner, it was discovered that she had peed on our comforter. It’s one of those big puffy ones that has to be cleaned in a commercial washing machine. I was a little unsettled, and went to determine just how much of our bed would need to be stripped and laundered. Luckily, nothing had soaked all the way through the bedspread so that was all that needed washing.

So, we sit down to dinner. Everyone’s laughing and talking and passing things at the table. My son goes to pick up one of the bowls of salad – which was heavier than he expected. The bowl slips out of his hand, and he inadvertently knocks over his bottle of beer. It goes sloshing across the table and onto his niece’s plate of food. This sweet toddler has recently been diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies, so her Mama prepares her food very carefully.  Into the trash her dinner went, and some homemade frozen soup had to be defrosted for her dinner instead. Much mopping up and apologizing ensued….

At the end of the evening, after everyone left, my husband and I headed up to the laundromat at about 8:30.  This was the view as we sat and chuckled  about the events of the day.

IMG_0843

And we laughed as we talked about how grateful we are that we HAVE children and grandchildren living within 20 minutes of us who can spill beer all over the dining room table and pee our bed.

I silently contemplated how differently I would have reacted to mishaps like this a couple of years ago.  Maybe not outwardly, but – I would have been SO massively annoyed, especially about being inconvenienced by the trip to the laundromat.  And no one but me would know how much I resented my “down time” (i.e., drinking time) being cut into. I was so incredibly calm and NOT stressed out.

Truly a Mother’s Day to remember.

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.

The Most Epic Blog Post Ever Written

Yesterday, I woke up with the knowledge that my youngest, my baby – had cancer.

Until we found out she didn’t.

Let me back up and tell you the entire story, complete with some details that elude explanation and push the boundaries of belief…

A short while back, I mentioned that I was dealing with some worry over a child’s health issues. (Said “child” is 29 years old and married, but – she will always be my baby.) She had something funky growing on the skin of her lower back and was concerned enough about it to mention it to me last summer.  I took a peek at it and didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but suggested she keep an eye on it.

Fast forward to late fall… She mentioned it again and I suggested that she have it looked at.  One thing led to another, and her primary doc referred her to a dermatologist, who biopsied it.

Fast forward to about a week and a half ago, when I got a text from her during my work day, asking me to give her a call when I got a chance.  I did, and she told me she was given the news that the growth was malignant and that she’d need to see a sarcoma surgeon at THE cancer hospital in our city the following week.

As I listened to my child telling me that she had CANCER, my vision narrowed to a dark tunnel.  My heart followed my stomach, plummeting down to my feet.  I had the fleeting thought: “I can’t wait to get home and have a glass of wine.”

And then I went home and googled shit as if it were my job. Googled the name of the tumor.  Googled diagnoses.  Googled prognoses. Googled treatment protocols.  Googled morbidity data.  Googled the hospital.  Googled the surgeon.

And the information was alternately terrifying and reassuring, depending on which site I was visiting.  And the ten days between the diagnosis and the trip to the hospital were just. Awful.  Waiting. Wondering. Twisting in the wind.

I shared with a few friends at work, and shared more widely with a private Facebook group I belong to.  I felt buoyed by the messages of love and support I received.  People told me they were praying for her, for me, for our family.  Even though I’m not a religious person, I could feel the waves of positive energy flowing over us.  And it helped, so, SO much.

My poor husband bottled it all up. He shared with no one, and didn’t want to talk to me about it, either. He found a way to put everything on a shelf, as best he could, and just get through each day the best way he knew how.

I need to preface the really good part of the story by telling you that my in-laws were wonderful people and excellent, much-loved grandparents. I was particularly close to my mother-in-law. They’ve both been gone for quite a few years now, but let’s just say their presence is felt in our lives.

So.  The day of the consultation, I slipped on a ring that had been one of my mother-in-law’s.  Whenever I need a little of her strength, I wear something of hers to keep her close.  I knew I’d be needing all the help I could get.

We get to the hospital and my daughter does all the preliminary checking in stuff.  They tell us we can go upstairs to the sarcoma unit. It has its own private waiting room.  We walk in and my daughter walks up to the window to register with the receptionist, who notices my daughter’s cute purse and the two of them chatter like bffs about handbags (which I could personally give zero shits about.) So I tune out and look around the waiting room, which is unoccupied except for us.  There’s a TV mounted on the wall, and a local morning show is on.  So is the closed captioning. I look up to see the man being interviewed.  He happens to be a former teaching colleague of my father-in-law’s, and he’s talking about an annual Sleep Out for the poor and homeless that he and my father-in-law started in their school district many years ago.  AND SCROLLING ACROSS THE SCREEN ARE MY MOTHER AND FATHER-IN-LAW’S NAMES.

I shit you not.

So I interrupt my daughter’s handbag chat to point out what’s on the screen.  She gasps and says, “Mom! I was just saying to Tobin (her husband) the other day that I’d feel so much better about everything if I could just have a sign from Grandma and Grandpa that everything was going to be ok!”

And then, not ten minutes later, the Physician’s Assistant is asking my daughter some intake questions, including what she’s been diagnosed with.  My kid kind of mangles the multisyllabic pronunciation, apologizes,  and the P.A. says, “That’s ok.  You just put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble.”  That just so happens to be a phrase that I’ve never heard anyone other than my father-in-law use.

And she follows that up with the information that the growth on my daughter’s back is, in fact, benign.   BENIGN, PEOPLE!!! I must have sounded like an imbecile as I sputtered, “What? I’m sorry – what did you say? What she has is NOT malignant?”  She just smiled benevolently and and asked, “Have you been on the INTERNET….?”  And I told her the website I’d been trolling for most of my information.  She just kept smiling and shook her head. “These types of tumors are almost always benign, although they have the potential to BECOME malignant.”

I could literally feel my shoulders relax and slump – let’s just say it was a good thing I was sitting down.

So, my daughter has to have the growth removed, and she’ll be sore for a few days.  She’ll be monitored for a period of time, and then move on with her life.

And we all feel like our lives have been handed back to us, intact and perfect and better than before.

And as strange and wonderful and fantastical as this story is, what I really want to leave you with is this:

We can do really, REALLY hard shit. Like stare our child’s mortality square in the eye. Stone cold sober.

And we can celebrate and rejoice and be jubilant. Stone cold sober.

Just When You Least Expect it

So, here I am, puttering along in my little sober car. Doing the next right thing, minding my own business. My mind isn’t preoccupied with thoughts about drinking or not drinking. Sober is the new black for me. I wear it every day; it goes with everything!

Every waking minute doesn’t revolve around how raw and weird and new sobriety is…. So my thoughts and focus return to the ups and downs of daily life.  A life that includes a job I love: I work with groups of elementary school kids, helping them with their reading or math skills.  Now, I love my co-workers. I adore my job. I love the kids that I work with.  I love MOST of the kids that I work with.  But there’s one kid in one of my groups who’s a ginormous pain in my ass.  Disrespectful, argumentative, disruptive – seems to delight in walking that very fine line between discussion and argument over every single thing I tell him to do.  I’ve tried explaining why I need him to do what I ask.  I’ve tried TELLING him to just do what I ask.  I’ve tried ignoring it when he gets out of his seat for a tissue every three minutes. Or belches.  Or passes gas – you get the idea. My husband is sick of hearing the kid’s name.  I’m sick of hearing MYSELF say the kid’s name.  He is just all-around disagreeable and I find myself thinking about him every morning when I wake up, just dreading having to deal with him yet another day.

So. One day last week, there was a substitute teacher in our room; a lovely retired teacher whom I’ve gotten to know pretty well, as she’s become a familiar face in our building.  We were chatting at lunch and she asked me how my sister is doing ( I have a sister who’s undergoing chemo for breast cancer.) I thanked her for asking and mentioned  a new medication she’s on, one given to cancer patients whose white cell counts are low.  She said,  “I’m familiar with that drug – my son was on it for a while.” I ask, “Oh! Is your son a cancer survivor?”  There’s just a beat – she responds, “He didn’t survive.”  Three little words.  So much pain.

She proceeds to tell me about his diagnosis and eventual death – at the age of 28.  I could feel the tears start and just couldn’t keep them from falling.  She cried too,  and it was a little uncomfortable and awkward, to be honest.  But I just listened as she told her story and gave her the space and time to share as much as she wanted. Needless to say, I was reeling by the time I went back to work; I had absolutely no idea that she’d been through something so devastating. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 50-some-odd years I’ve been on this earth, it’s that you can never look at another human being and assume you know their story.

So then later that evening, as we’re eating dinner, the phone rings.  The woman calling had been given my name by a mutual acquaintance who’d asked if I’d be willing to talk – or more likely, listen – to her friend, whose son is an out-of-control heroin addict. He’s destroying her family.  And she’s a widow, trying to raise three kids alone.  Such heartbreak.  And anger. And love.  All rolled up in one little woman, trying to be the very best mom – and dad – to her kids that she can. So we talked for about an hour and a half, and I made her promise me to stay in touch.  I know the road she’s walking and I don’t want her to ever feel alone.

I was reeling and exhausted emotionally by the end of the day.  And I thought – these people have REAL problems. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

And I think the Universe was just trying to remind me to be grateful and focus on the important, wonderful blessings I’m so incredibly lucky to have.

Duly noted.

My Word for 2016: Health

Well, friends… now that I’ve got enough sober time under my belt, it’s time for me to focus on my health – mental and physical.  Starting this week, it’s back to counseling.  My therapist has recovered sufficiently to begin seeing me again.  I have so much to catch her up on, in the four months that’s elapsed since our last chat. I feel as though I’ve been in an emotional state of stasis since I saw her in September.

And I see my primary physician early next month to discuss physical therapy for a strained left shoulder,  and golfers’ elbow in my right arm.  Super frustrating as I tried cold laser therapy for the elbow, which was a gigantic waste of money and time. And I love to incorporate weights in my workouts.  Now I can’t even lift a 6 pound dumbbell comfortably.  I used to curl 20 pounds! Ugh.

The fridge and freezer are both stocked with healthy foods: fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy.   Breakfasts and lunches are prepped and healthy dinners are planned for the week. Time to tame the sugar monster: bowls of berries and cut-up fruit will replace ice cream for evening treats.  This is my year to focus on getting in the best shape of my life.

The second set of sober holidays was much, MUCH easier than the first.  So much more comfortable and normal feeling.  I’ve also noticed that the “drink counter” in my brain seems to have taken a hike.  I no longer notice, with such glaring focus, what everyone else seems to have in their glass.

Another new experience? Handling some pretty overwhelming worry sober.  One of my kids has a health issue that is almost positively minor, but I had managed to work myself into a near-frenzy over it. It cast a pall over much of my holiday break. I’m typically not a worrier and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t “talk myself off the ledge.”  Until I realized that this is the first time I’ve experienced something like this without any anesthetic.  I did work my way through to the other side, but – boy, howdy – it sucked scissors. But it just goes to show that we can handle the hard shit that life throws us, stone-cold sober.

And continue to grow, and learn, and evolve.

 

Still on Hold for Counseling, yet the Revelations Keep on Coming

So my therapist had surgery going on three months ago; everything went well but she’s still recuperating.  Consequently, here I sit, still simmering with my mother issues.  I haven’t seen or talked to her in almost two months.  This is mostly on purpose.  I hear enough from my sisters (who are, I’m embarrassed to say, much more involved in her daily care and feeding than I am) to know that I’m much happier staying away.   She’s not a gun enthusiast but she subscribes to just about every other opinion Rush and his ilk do.  It’s highly probable that her rhetoric will only ratchet up the closer we get to the next presidential election.

And you can include me out of any conversations about politics with her.

But even though I’m at the other end of the spectrum, politics-wise, and have made many of my life’s decisions in diametrical opposition to the ones she made, there’s one area in which I am, ironically, forever grateful for the way I was raised.

So, in the absence of my astute counselor, I’ve been talking to my husband even more than usual. Recently, we were talking about a dark time in our family’s life: about 7 or 8 years ago, when our two daughters were heroin addicts.  As you might imagine, we had zero experience with heroin prior to their addiction.   For a long time, we had no idea what we were dealing with. I mean, seriously – how many people know what a heroin addict looks or acts like, under the influence? Or the pathology of addiction and how it impacts a family?  I swear, we could write a book now, but back then….. We had no friggin’ clue.

All we knew was that neither one of them could hold a job or pay their bills or talk on the phone in the same room we were in.  There was the overwhelming feeling that we were being flim-flammed and manipulated on a daily basis. They always needed money and were constantly wheedling and fast-talking. They were only pleasant to be around when they needed something from us.

It just about killed my sweet husband.  He desperately wanted to fix them, fix their problems, make every hardship for them go away. I should mention that his mother, whom I adored, was much the same way.  She was only as happy as the unhappiest of her children. She would do anything in her power to fix any problem her children were dealing with, even if it was of their own creation.

Which I now know was world-class codependency.

My parents could not have been more different.  Their philosophy was, “Here are the rules. Don’t like ’em? There’s the door.”  It was all about crime and punishment, behavior and consequence.  No discussion.  No compromise. Done.  We each left their house between the ages of 18 and 21.  And nobody was ever welcomed back.

So.  When I began to see evidence that our girls’ behavior was becoming detrimental to their father’s health, I got PISSED. There was absolutely no way in hell that those girls were going to shorten my husband’s life. And through a tumultuous confluence of events, we were given the opportunity to get into counseling. My husband was not in favor of it.  And I pretty much put my foot down and insisted.  Personally, I had reached the point where I was ready to cut them out of our lives until and unless they got clean. And what we learned in therapy together was just that – that we would learn how to be okay, with or without them in our lives. Therapy gave us the tools and strength to change our behavior, which was a key factor in their getting and staying sober.

Ironically, if not for the authoritarian way I’d been raised – I hate to think how that part of my story would have ended.

So I guess, in a back-handed, roundabout way, my parents – and yes, even my mother – did something I’m truly grateful for.

 

Is That All There Is?

Ugh. I’m really struggling these past few days. The entire world seems to be awash in cocktails, celebrating and partying and having fun.

And here I sit, with my stupid decaf. Feeling like a big fat loser.  Wet blanket. Stick in the mud.  As my mother-in-law used to chant teasingly to any of her children in a bad mood, “Every party has a pooper – that’s why we invited YOU!”

Last night, I was having dinner with my husband and daughter. They’re both in my “inner circle.” Daughter is eight years clean after a horrific couple of years on heroin. Hubs understands very, VERY well that I was heading toward big trouble with alcohol.

So when I took a deep breath and said something about sobriety being boring and missing out on all the fun – there were two very stricken faces and four big brown eyes locked on mine.

My husband has told me before that he would do everything in his power to prevent me from drinking ever again. And I’m really grateful for that additional layer of insulation. Because I just feel……. blah.  Like a big fat martini sounds reallllly good.

And then my daughter chimed in. She said that quitting alcohol is way harder than getting clean for her was, inasmuch as she couldn’t imagine being surrounded by people snorting and shooting heroin all around her and resisting it.  She reminded me that booze is just about everywhere you go these days, and – what’s more – there’s a societal expectation that everyone joins in! Non-drinkers are truly the odd men out.

I’m fifteen months in – and I have no idea if what I’m going through normal or not.  It’s just what I feel.  Sometimes the thought of never joining in the ‘fun’ again makes me so, so sad.

But I know that feelings aren’t facts and that this too, shall pass.

I’m not going to drink.  And after a long, tough week at work and a long day yesterday full of chores, my instincts are telling me it’s time for some good, old-fashioned self care.  So that’s definitely on the docket for this week.

I’ll let you know how it goes….

Second Sober Thanksgiving

Wow.  What a fantastic day. Eighteen people this year, but Mother Nature smiled on us and it was in the mid-fifties and sunny. We even had a few windows open to keep the house comfortably cool; there were no muddy or snowy boots and shoes to contend with. Overall, I give it an A -.

There was just one little moment of tension, and that was between my husband and me. He was helping clean up after dinner and I let my passive aggressive bitch flag fly. I sniped at him for no good reason and immediately regretted it.  He was super annoyed with me and I don’t blame him. There were a couple of moments of tension but we worked it out and then everything was great for the rest of the evening.  But boy howdy, I’m ready to pass the hosting torch.

I realized the next morning that, even though there was all manner of booze flowing (none in excess), there wasn’t a second of wobbliness or craving or “oh poor me.”  Not ONE. As a matter of fact, I walked into the room just as my sister-in-law and her new boyfriend poured themselves glasses of white wine. I peeked at the label, out of curiosity.  It was Riesling, and my first thought was actually, “yuck.”

And here’s something else that’s really cool: we finished most of our holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving – AND – we’re working together today to put up the tree and decorate it.  I’ve never – EVER – been so far ahead of the game. Or felt so calm,  prepared for, or excited about the upcoming holiday season.

Life is so good.  Sobriety is the best gift,  and it just keeps on giving.

What Sobriety Looks Like Now

So I’m more than 14 months into the rest of my life without booze. Here’s what’s different, and here’s how I’m staying the course in my recovery.

With very rare exceptions, I’m much more comfortable socially as a non-drinker. Last year, just two months sober, I celebrated a special birthday and my husband and I went out for a nice dinner. The waiter approached the table with complimentary champagne. I awkwardly told him that I don’t drink (the words felt so strange in my mouth) and he kind of grimaced and whisked the bottle away.

This past weekend, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the day we met.  Fast forward to another lovely restaurant; another polished and gracious waiter who approached the table with two flutes of sparkling wine. He said, “I hope you drink prosecco!” I gracefully smiled and replied, “Well, I don’t  – but he does!” And my husband enjoyed both glasses.  The waiter asked what he could bring me and I ordered my standard club, cran, and lime. Which he brought in a champagne flute, also.  He said, “For toasting!” And we did and it was just fine.  None of the kind of skin-crawly uncomfortable moments I had to tough my way through during almost every “first” last year.

I think about not drinking a whole hell of a lot less.  And it really doesn’t bother me about 98% of the time.

I don’t keep track of the days any more. I don’t need frequent treats and/or rewards.  We’re so lucky in that we’ve reached a point in our lives that money (or the lack thereof) isn’t an issue.  What helps is that I grew up with very little, and times were extremely tight for the first several years of our marriage. So I’m really frugal, pretty low-maintenance, and extremely grateful to have some financial freedom in our advancing years. But if I really want or need something, I go ahead and get it.

I do my best to continue to avoid overwhelm.  I’ve only had a couple of instances over the past three or four months where I took on too much and felt completely overwhelmed and, quite frankly, a little batshit crazy.  After the last incident, my husband and I talked about it and he’s said he absolutely will not allow me to take on too much again. EVER.  Not that I’d pick up a drink – but I’m still figuring out how to handle extremely stressful situations in an emotionally healthy way.

Therapy is on hold for now; my counselor had to have some major surgery and she’s still on the mend.  Looking forward to unpacking some baggage I’ve accumulated since I last saw her.  A very awkward and uncomfortable family reunion that I dreaded for months and ongoing issues with my mother will be right at the top of the list of discussion topics.

I just focus on spending my time with the people in my life who have earned it and deserve it.  And I’m working hard to jettison any guilt that might be trying to worm its way in.

Exercising. Eating well. And healthy doses of treats.

Kindness, compassion, and self-care.

All these things are working together to keep me grounded, sane, and so, SO happy. So at peace.  So fully alive and present and aware of the joy that has blossomed since I quit.

So worth the hard work.