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.

Advertisements

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.

Brush Strokes

Life continues to provide challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. I should begin by telling you that my mother passed away on New Year’s Eve morning after an illness of almost exactly a month.

It began right after Thanksgiving with an episode of shortness of breath and  unexplained pain in her midsection.  X-rays revealed some healing fractured ribs, which were most likely the result of a fall about a month prior.

Between the pain from the ribs, COPD, and a pronounced curvature of her spine due to osteoporosis, her ability to breathe deeply was compromised. She went from hospital to rehab, and then back to the hospital. The doctors were confident that she’d recover sufficiently enough to enter an assisted living facility. Unfortunately, she just got weaker and weaker. She started to refuse to eat, the carbon dioxide level in her blood resisted all efforts to lower it, her heartbeat became irregular, and the decision was finally made to keep her comfortable and just let her go.

Six of her eight children were able to spend time with her in the hours before she left; she was able to say her goodbyes and let go peacefully.

The next few days were a whirlwind of discussions, decisions, phone calls, family gatherings, and visits to her apartment to figure out what to do with her personal effects.  The minutiae of death is mind-boggling.

And through it all, I felt surprisingly calm. I’d spent enough time with her to connect on a deeper level than I had ever experienced with her. She even talked to me briefly about s-e-x and acknowledged that she realized that we held different opinions about politics.

I had always assumed that I’d feel a huge rush of relief when she died. I’m just happy that her end wasn’t even more protracted and painful.  She was a die-hard, old-school Catholic who wanted all heroic measures performed in the event of a serious illness. During the final day of her life, my sister and I had discussions with her doctors who confirmed our suspicions that performing CPR on a person with such brittle bones would have a disastrous outcome. The hospital chaplain reassured us that the Church would endorse our decision to make her comfortable and let her go.  She later verbalized her desire to be freed from her suffering – telling us, point-blank, “I want to die.”

All of us contributed brush strokes to the portrait the pastor painted during her eulogy. She was a convert to Catholicism as a teenager.  She was fiercely devoted to our Dad.  She believed in and followed the Church’s teachings.  She was a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan.  She was an avid – more like rabid –  follower of politics and a true conservative, who loved a “lively debate.” (Ha – there was no debate with her. Just evisceration.)

But what I’d like to leave you with are these thoughts:

Don’t smoke.

Do weight-bearing exercises and get enough calcium in your diet.

We can get through really hard times – 100% sober.

As for me, I’m fine.  Kind of waiting to feel…… more.  If I’m being totally honest,  there were many aspects of her personality that I disliked intensely. We absolutely did NOT see eye to eye on most social issues.  She didn’t tolerate other people’s opinions with grace.  She could say breathtakingly cruel things. She fought dirty.

But she was surprisingly compassionate and supportive at times when you most expected judgement. She had a great sense of humor and loved slapstick – the sillier, the better. She was my mother and I loved her, tough old bird that she was. And I’m so glad her suffering is over.

Onward, friends – wishing you health, serenity,  peace, and a very Happy New Year.

 

 

Just Checking In

Hi, kids! Here I am, chugging along in my little sober car. Life has thrown its challenges my way, but at 846 days, using booze to cope is just a distant, hazy memory.

First of all, the election. ‘Nuf said. The old me would have gotten VERY drunk election night and would have used the results as justification to “escape” our new national nightmare whenever necessary afterward.

Instead, I subscribed to Yogaglo and hit my mat pretty hard in the days afterward.

I got through Thanksgiving without a hiccup; my husband and I have the routine down pat. There’s a shit-ton of rearranging and “thinking things through” to be done (how to arrange all of the side dishes in an order that makes sense for people to serve themselves, buffet-style; where to set up the auxiliary dining room table, etc.) and then of course, putting the house back together before we can relax after everyone leaves….

But here’s the thing – this is what NEVER gets old, after my third sober Thanksgiving: my stress level is SO much lower. Unbelievable. And I’ve transferred my anticipation from looking forward to drinking with impunity to being excited about having two helpings of my favorite foods at dinner and then treating myself to not one, not two, but – THREE helpings of dessert. Oh my God I was flirting with sugar shock by the end of the day.

If you follow my blog, you’ll remember that I have a difficult relationship with my mother. Well, she’s been having some health issues and, after about five days in the hospital, has been placed in a rehab facility. Her first few days there were a nightmare of poor sleep, inattentive staff, and miscommunications about meds and medical equipment to make her comfortable.

Those issues seem to have been resolved, but I am one of four daughters in close proximity. The others don’t have the same baggage with her that I do (which isn’t to say that they don’t have their own) – and two share health care proxy responsibilities. Due to those circumstances and family and other obligations, I am able to spend far less time with her, by comparison. I struggle with feelings of guilt for not “pulling my weight” and concerns that resentment toward me may be simmering just below the surface.  We update each other via group texts and it’s difficult to read “tone” sometimes.  And, as women, we tend to overthink things.  .

What I have discovered is that my Mother seems to save her best behavior for me.  She’s on medication that makes her extremely loopy and  she talks constantly at an almost manic pace.  I spend most of my time with her giggling at her silliness.  She’ll be there through the holidays. Hopefully, she’ll  be home and back to her normal routine (which consists of pretty much doing nothing all day) by the first of the year.

Anyhoo.  My wish for all of you is a peaceful, memorable, sober holiday season.  It really is SO much easier once you have a round (or two) of sober holidays under your belt.

Take good care, friends.

A Week of Extremes

My summer is melting like ice cream on a 90 degree July day – every day is jam-packed with granddaughters or yoga or long walks or even ice-skating with my husband. There’s a world of difference between last summer, my first as a sober adult, and this summer. Sobriety is as much a part of me as my eye color or height – just a part of what makes me “me.”

But last week, out of the blue, our son lost his job.  None of us saw it coming, as he’d worked his way up (in one of our city’s charter schools) from per diem substitute, to classroom teacher, to administrator, to principal.  He was the only constant employee in the school’s 13-year history.  A new ‘top dog’ was hired recently, and the decision was made to clean house. So his position was written out of the budget. Thirteen years of employment was reduced to six boxes in the back seat of his car.

At first, he was stunned. Then enveloped by such deep sadness. Then furious.  And he’s used his anger to propel him forward as he contemplates a brand-new career.  We were watching his two little girls that day and, consequently, were the first family members to see him.

I hugged and kissed my boy. And told him how sorry I was. And said that it was their loss.  And that they were fucking fuckers to do this to him.  And I cried a little after hearing that his sweet five year old tried to console him with a story about how she knew he was sad to leave his job, but that she understood how he might be feeling.  Because she was really sad to leave kindergarten but now she’s looking forward to first grade – and maybe he’d be just as excited about a new job.

But never – even though my mother’s heart was crushed for him – did drinking cross my mind.

And then a few days later, my entire family: three kids,  two sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, and three granddaughters, traveled to Cleveland to beam with pride as our youngest graduated from the University of Phoenix.

This young woman is in long-term recovery from heroin addiction and has attained her bachelors degree while working full-time.  It’s taken the better part of six years. And back in the dark days of her addiction, I never would have dreamed that she’d graduate from college. I thought it was far more likely to be planning her funeral.  But by God, she did it.  It was a weekend of memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

And again, I never wanted to drink to celebrate.  I wouldn’t dream of fuzzing out one second of the joy and pride and gratitude to a beneficent universe that I felt.

We can suffer crushing disappointment – sober.  We can experience huge, huge triumphs – sober.

And while it doesn’t make the hard stuff suck any less, it’s processed and moved through more efficiently when we “feel the feels,” instead of numbing out.  Because the unpleasant feelings are still waiting there, waiting to be dealt with, once you sober up. It’s just delaying the inevitable.

Being present for the good stuff makes for glowing, complete memories that last forever.  And they play in your mind, over and over, in a glorious loop.

Who knew that giving up one little thing would grant so many enormous blessings?

 

Game-Changing Gratitude

A couple of weeks ago, I was a guest at a bridal shower for my sister-in-law. My granddaughters were invited, too – which was a huge treat for me. My youngest granddaughter is shy in social situations when there are a lot of people kind of converging on her – come to think of it, who wouldn’t be put off in a situation like that?

Anyway, this little one’s Mommy wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed close and focused on keeping the toddler happy and occupied. I rarely have an opportunity to spend such concentrated time with all my grands, so I was in my glory.
Had a lovely afternoon, and thought everyone else did too.

Wrong.

A few days later, my husband gets an email from his elderly uncle (at the behest of his wife, who was also at the shower). Apparently I didn’t spend enough time with them at the shower and they wanted to know what was wrong “before it becomes a problem.” Wonderful man that he is, the hubs fired an email right back setting them straight and ending with, “nothing is wrong and it won’t become a problem unless someone MAKES it one.”

Have I mentioned lately how crazy I am about him?

Fast forward to yesterday. There was an engagement party for the bride-to-be and her intended, that we (and the bride’s other siblings) were hosting. I was very edgy about having to see this aunt and uncle in person again, so soon after the tension their email created.

Now, a great strategy I’ve used in the past is to reward myself after something stressful. But I had a whole afternoon to fill BEFORE the party. So here’s what I did: I used a gift certificate for a pedicure, which is one of my very favorite indulgences. Then I came home and had about an hour before we needed to leave for the party.

So, I made myself a coffee, went into my bedroom and closed the door, and used a free meditation app called “Insight Timer.” I was scrolling through the menu looking for something for stress relief. But instead I stumbled on an eleven minute guided meditation for gratitude.

This was a complete game-changer, people.

My head was filled with images of my three sweet granddaughters, my grown children and their spouses, my precious husband….. There was absolutely no head space left for the asshats I was so worked up about.

And everyone showed up at the party and it was just fine. As a matter of fact, as we were choosing which table to sit at, I looked over and noticed that the offending relatives were sitting all alone. I just looked at my husband and said, “Let’s go sit with them.” And we did. And it was – fine. Really fine! I felt like I was adulting like a champ. I had the upper hand with them, was gracious and friendly – and I have no idea where it came from.

The party was really nice, everyone had a good time – even me! And I was home and in my pjs by 8:30.

I just had to share, as we head into the summer, with its graduation and summer and 4th of July parties – maybe try stocking your mental shelves with gratitude before you head out? It just might help, more than you can imagine!

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.

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.

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.