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.

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Three Years

On August 18th I marked three entire years of sobriety. I look back and see myself sitting in the exact same spot on the couch I’m sitting on as I write this. I wish I could reach through the veil of time and comfort that poor, lost woman. She had so much love in her life and had so much to be grateful for – but at her core, was so lost and felt so alone and so damn scared.

The one thing I wish that I’d known about sooner was the private Facebook group that I eventually learned about and joined.  It’s called the Booze Free Brigade and it’s chock full of the best people I’ve never met.  We all share a single goal: to live our very best lives without alcohol mucking everything up.  There are people in the BFB from all walks of life at every stage of the journey, and it’s a beautiful thing.  It’s a 24/7 support group. I’ve made a new friend who lives near me and connected with people from all over the world – there is absolutely nothing like talking to people who “get” you.

In the past three years, I’ve experienced just about every challenge you can think of. There have been births and deaths, my children have faced some major crises, work issues that have tested me, weddings, family and day-to-day stress,  and most recently – my 40th High School reunion.  Interestingly, the reunion was very, VERY difficult.  I graduated in a class of almost 1,000 – and did nothing of note during my three years there. I was incredibly uncomfortable for much of the evening – and didn’t want to drink so much as just pull an “I Dream of Jeannie” –  blink my eyes and disappear.  I felt uncomfortable and awkward and out of my element.  If my husband hadn’t encouraged me to walk around and talk to people, it would have been a complete waste of an evening.  I would have been far more comfortable in a room full of strangers than I was surrounded by people who, for the most part, I only had vague memories of.  Without the social lubricant of alcohol, I realized I have a definite social anxiety/shy streak.

I wish I had something new to say or some sparkling nugget of wisdom to pass on, but I don’t.  If you’ve just stumbled on my blog and/or you’re new to this journey, all I can encourage you to do is: anything but drink.  Read as many sobriety blogs as you can – some good ones are: Tired of Thinking About Drinking, Sober at Sixty, Mrs. D is Going Without, and UnPickled.  Listen to podcasts!  The Bubble Hour,  Since Right Now, and Hip Sobriety come to mind.  Eat ice cream, candy, popcorn with real butter – any damn thing you want.  Make things easy on yourself:  if the answer to any question isn’t a “Hell, yes!” – then it’s “Hell, NO!”  Cut back on any obligation that doesn’t make your soul sing. “No” is a complete sentence.  Try meditation.  Insight Timer is a great app – maybe costs two bucks – and is worth its weight in gold.  I use it every night. Try yoga – it works wonders for a million reasons.  There are tons of videos on YouTube. And when all else fails, go to bed.

And as for me, I plan to stay the course and make the most of whatever life throws my way. I’ll be posting less – but if you need me, I’m only an email away. (lifewithoutvodkarocks@gmail.com)

Take good care, friends!

 

 

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.

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.

 

One Hundred Days Sober, A Lost Earring, A Hockey Game, and the Universe

I know, longest name for a blog post ever. But bear with me. And draw your own conclusions.

The themes for this post are: unexpected gifts of sobriety and the blessings of the universe.

A few days before Thanksgiving, I marked 100 days without alcohol. I celebrated it by giving myself a little gift, and later in the day my husband made quite a big deal out of my accomplishment. But that’s a story for another post.

A little background: for my birthday this year, my kids all conspired together on my gift.  They gave me a beautiful pair of chocolate-brown pearl earrings and a bracelet to match. I had worn them to work that day (the day before Thanksgiving) and that evening my husband and I went to watch our local NHL team play.  On the way to the game, I noticed that one of my earrings was missing. I felt my heart drop.  It was a special birthday and and even more special gift and I was so sad to have lost an earring.

We got to the hockey game and made our way to our seats, which are waaaayyyyyyy up in the arena.  The nosebleeds.  I joke with my husband that every time we go to a hockey game, of which I am not fond,

a.) The team goes into overtime, and

b.) I get squeezed between him and some guy who’s like, 7 feet tall.

Imagine my relief when I realize that there’s no one sitting next to us! I actually have a little room to breathe!  We settle in and get as comfy as possible in narrow, hard, plastic folding seats.  Shortly after the game begins, I glance up and notice a MOUNTAIN of a man making his way up the stairs toward our section. I’m thinking there’s no way he’d fit in one of these seats.  I’m also thinking, pleasedon’tbecomingherepleasedon’tbecomingherepleasedon’t – He’s coming here. Right next to me.

He and his friend sit next to us and my entire right side, from shoulder to knee, is pressed – very – shall we say, intimately? – against the stranger sitting next to me.  I’m uncomfortable.  He’s got to be VERY uncomfortable.

And here’s where the blessing of sobriety comes into play. Drinking me would have been MISERABLE. Whispering angrily to my husband about how creeped out I was, having to be that close to a stranger, I hate these stupid games anyway, this kind of shit always happens to me, etc.  I would have consoled myself with beer. I would have ended up making him so unhappy we probably would have left early.

The difference now, is that, even though I was uncomfortable about being squeezed by a stranger in our seats, I felt even worse for HIM. This poor man had to be so uncomfortable in his own skin – every minute of every day. I just felt awful for him.  So I just shut my mouth and let it go, determined to make the best of the evening instead of obsessing about how unhappy I was.  He did eventually move to a seat in a row that had open seats on both sides, and I felt better for both of us; especially him.

So.  The earring.  The next morning, we were getting the house ready for 16 guests for Thanksgiving dinner.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, our house isn’t large and we have to reconfigure some rooms to accommodate everyone.  We gather up all of our shoes and put them in the garage to make room by the door for our guests’ shoes. So my husband is doing that, and I ask him to sweep out the front of the garage because I want to set up a card table in there where it’s cold to hold the food that won’t fit in the fridge.

He heads out to handle the chore and a few minutes later, walks back into the house with a big smile on his face.  He’s like, “Guess what I found???” I completely draw a blank and he holds up MY EARRING! He found it in the garage and had swept it up with the last of the fall leaves that had ended up on the floor in there. It must have fallen off as I got in the car to go to the hockey game the night before.

Now, he is the LEAST new-agey spiritual person that I know.  And he says, “Honey, there is no WAY that we should have found this earring. It should have been swept up and thrown away without being noticed.  This is the universe saying, ‘You deserve this. You’ve worked hard and this is your reward.’ ”

I have to admit I kind of agree. Giving up booze is one of the scariest, best things I’ve ever done. And if there are unexpected blessings to be had as a result – the gift of compassion or something found I thought I’d lost forever – I’ll welcome every one.