Next time I’ll be more specific.

I’m going to make Cortez wear a helmet, naturally.

For me, one of the challenges of early sobriety was finding other things that I enjoy doing besides getting black-out drunk.  When you take booze out of the equation, you suddenly find yourself with a LOT of time on your hands – at least I did. Now, there were a bunch of activities and/or hobbies I enjoyed WHILE drinking that didn’t really go together well.  Like reading. I cannot tell you how many times I have read the first paragraph of The Girl on the Train. Every single time I would pass out or immediately forget what I had read, and then would attempt to re-read it, yet again. I don’t think she ever got ON the damn train in the scope of my “reading”.* Now,  I also enjoy knitting, as I’ve mentioned before, but often drinking + knitting = my throwing a tangled skein of yard across the living room in drunken frustration and blaming it on Law and Order SVU and not the liter of vodka that preceded my attempt at being crafty in the first place.

Now, my husband enjoys his sports ball, of course, and he’s an avid reader himself. We both enjoy hiking but rarely find ourselves with the time or energy to hit the trails on the weekends these days, if the weather even cooperates.  We were a boozy couple so that factored in to a lot of our free time activities, before. A few weeks ago, while we were making dinner, I got a wee bit dramatic and  started complaining about the lack of time we spend together. I had become frightened that besides happy hour, maybe we didn’t have much in common after all. Of course this is grand hyperbole on my part, but it is what it is. We drunks like to obsess and spin and repeat things in our heads and make them even more miserable and apocalyptic, if at all possible. I could envision us as an elderly couple at our breakfast table years from now, silently digesting our morning meal with literally nothing left to say to each other. The prospect terrified me.

He listened to my concerns, and immediately reassured me that I’ll outlive him by decades anyway, so really, I shouldn’t fret. While that made me feel a little better, I still felt uncertain. Fast forward to my fiftieth birthday, last week. We were getting ready to go to dinner and my husband brought out some gorgeous flowers and a card. As I opened my card, I could tell he was visibly nervous. Now, let me interject here that my sweet husband swept me away last weekend for a getaway in the mountains that included a hot tub in our room and a Yacht Rock cover band so I had already HAD a wonderful birthday, for sure. I glanced up at him and smiled. I was 100% sure that envelope held another ridiculous surprise, I mean, come on, it IS my 50th birthday.

Well, I was correct. It was indeed a surprise, and indeed it was ridiculous.

What that envelope contained was thus: a sweet card and heartfelt written note from my husband that put a lump in my throat as I read it, a 3-hour cooking class featuring tamales, and (separately) a course in CURLING.  YES, CURLING.  You know, that sport happening RIGHT NOW in the Olympics that no one knows anything about?  That shuffleboard-on-ice shit?

Yes, that shuffleboard on ice shit. Now, these are for us as a couple, not just myself alone, so that makes it even more outlandish. My husband often refers to himself as The Great Indoorsman and you could say his athletic days are mostly behind him. I enjoy recreation but we are typically NOT that couple.  You know that couple. The couple that strolls around your neighborhood holding hands? Not us. That couple that jogs together in matching North Face jackets and heads for a kale smoothie after?  NOT US. The neighbors that get drunk and blast Neil Diamond while shooting off a BB gun in the back yard in their pajamas? THIS IS US.

When the shock and confusion of it all faded away, I saw my presents for what they were; the gifts of a sweet husband only wanting to make his wife happy. A husband who is trying to listen and do the next right thing. A man that is willing to risk looking like a circus bear on ice, just for me.  I also see that they are somewhat self-serving, I mean, the man LOVES his tamales.

I know nothing about Curling. Well, not yet anyway. So stay tuned and give me a few weeks and I promise to report back, hopefully with pictures. Probably from the local emergency room. What I do know is that I have a guy at home that is trying. And so am I.  And that, my friends, is totally worth sobering up for.

 

*When I finally did complete reading The Girl on the Train post sobriety, I found it amusing and somewhat ironic that the Girl, herself, was an alcoholic. Figures.

All you knit is love

I’ve been working on a haphazard knitting project for some time now. They call this type of project a “stash-buster” because it’s the kind of design that very literally ties up loose ends.  You take a bunch of your leftover yarn from different blankets, hats, cowls or mittens and you knit them all together patchwork style for a unique scarf or throw.  My Grandmother Esther would have been so all about this because that woman didn’t waste an ounce of anything, trust me.          Anyway, I liked the idea of a colorful mis-matched snuggly scarf and I’m a mis-matched kind of gal as you may have guessed, so it was a perfect activity for me.

Anyway, I had eleven different types of yarn that varied in color and texture and I knitted them together just as they came to me, without a vision, one at a time.  I didn’t pay any attention to how the colors flowed, but I used everything from variegated earth tones to even a bright neon orange that I never could match to anything.  That’s part of the fun – weaving all these opposing colors and thicknesses together while connecting them to the next skein of errant and wild tendrils of yarn.

I took it to my yarn shop for critique and it was suggested to me to crochet a border around the scarf in order to connect each different panel to another with a consistent frame. A color that unites the scarf and all of it’s circus-like randomness.  So last Saturday night that’s exactly what I did. I had a sweet husband yelling expletives at a college basketball game so it seemed like a good time to border a scarf and create my own inner zen.

I chose a hand-dyed teal-ish colored yarn that was a gift from a friend and crocheted a border all along the scarf one crochet chain at a time. It was peaceful and dutiful work and as I worked along I couldn’t help but be hit in the face by the obvious metaphor that was literally LYING IN MY LAP.

Holy shit balls, I thought to myself. This scarf is actually my life. The new border I’m crocheting is my sobriety.  Before you ask me where I purchased the obviously stellar dank weed THAT SURELY I MUST HAVE BEEN SMOKING to get so reflective and cheesy over a sloppy scarf, stick with me for a sec.

My hands fumbled over the dark purple yarn appropriately named “grape jelly” for a friend’s baby blanket for her firstborn daughter.  I came across the ridiculously thick yarn that I learned to knit with and I swear, now it’s like knitting with rope.  My fingers lingered over the beautiful orangey-apricoty Alpaca yarn that I knitted my very FIRST scarf with, still just as soft as the day I bought it.  All of these different yarns have been stitched together as a tapestry, just like the last forty-nine years weave the scope of my life.

The contrasting and distinctive yarns reflect the different periods in my life; my optimism, and my despair.  And just like my life there are patterns.  Straight and tight stitches like typewriter keys lined in perfect order, knitted so closely together you could barely slide a safety pin through them and then there’s the wildly zigzaggy yarn that has no rhyme or reason or discernible pattern whatsoever and it’s absolutely chaotic. Then there’s a border that doesn’t truly match any of it yet somehow it binds one piece to another, and that, is my sobriety. My sobriety is the thread (or in this case, the actual yarn) that is holding this whole fucking scrappy scruffy scarf together. C’mon, I’m no Sigmund Freud but YOU SMELL WHAT I’M STEPPING IN, DON’T YOU!?! I’ve always enjoyed my metaphors but it truly did strike me as a sincere representation of my life, and more importantly, my life NOW.

We all know what happens when you pull on a loose thread, right? Well, it’s exactly like that with my sobriety. If it begins to unravel you might as well accept right now that you are going to find that scarf face down in its own vomit in a parking lot somewhere or worse yet, you’ll find that scarf holed up watching an SVU marathon drinking Fireball in dirty pajamas when it should probably be at work.

And with that, I’m off to work*, wearing my new snuggly and warm mis-matched scarf.

* I had to face reality and get a temp job whilst I wait for Oprah Winfrey to discover this little blog and offer me a book deal because really, ISN’T IT ABOUT TIME ALCOHOLISM STARTS PAYING ME BACK?!?

The Truth Hurts

I mentioned in the post below that honesty plays a HUGE role in sobriety.  Some folks have problems being honest with themselves but that was never a setback for me. Now, I *may* have a tendency to misrepresent the truth occasionally with others, but with myself I usually shoot pretty straight. As my journal entry some posts ago clearly showed, I knew my drinking wasn’t normal pretty early in my booze career. I call it a career because while I’ve never really had one of those, my boozing is probably the most serious long term commitment I’ve honored in my life, much like a career or relationship. Shoot, if ONLY I put that kind of time and dogged persistence into my jobs over the years, heck I’d be the CEO of some bullshit by now, certainly.

Instead, here I am. An unemployed alcoholic who is turning FIFTY next month. RIGHT ON TRACK with my high-school yearbook predictions there.  Didn’t YOU want to be an unemployed alcoholic by the time you turned 50?  No?!?  I kid.  Of course this is NOT where I expected to be at this stage in my life.

But here’s the thing;  I’m so very grateful.  And I’ll skip the obvious references to my not dying  and get to the recovery part. You guys, this life is SO much easier.  Now, don’t get me wrong, sobriety doesn’t mean you’re suddenly not a dumbass .  Sobriety doesn’t mean that you’ve suddenly figured out the secret to life, the perfect chip to dip ratio, or how to effortlessly make beach waves in your hair with your flat iron.  No. You don’t suddenly mature into a graceful and understanding human being.  This may be a common misconception of the early days of sobriety.  Yes, some things WILL get way better and easier. Some things will get much worse. You know the expression, “nothing changes if nothing changes”?  PREPARE TO EMBRACE THAT SHIT.

But first?  First is honesty. First is surrender. A guy I know tells newcomers into sobriety that he wishes them much pain, and while that sounds super shitty, he’s an old timer who knows that pain gets results. We may know the truth, but we obey our pain. Pain precipitates change. So, you HAVE to be honest. YOU. HAVE. TO.  I don’t care if you’re a cutter, a pill popper, a sex addict, an over-eater or a drunk. You’re in pain. You’re filling a hole in your soul that’s empty, for whatever reason. You feel like a fake.  You’re not enough. You’re a survivor of ________. WHATEVER IT IS you have to start chipping away at that before it chips away at the core of you and believe me, it will, and it will ultimately change who you are.

“Virgins don’t take pregnancy tests”,  is a joke we use in recovery when folks wander in to test the waters. A few times a month someone will show up and remark that they don’t really think they have a drinking problem and that more than likely they’re in the wrong place but they’ll check it out because you know, they’re already here and yada, yada, yada. If you find your ass in a folding chair in some church basement in a recovery meeting for the very first time my guess is that you’re either;  1. legally motivated (DUI, jail, etc) or 2. your life has become unmanageable and you are exactly in the right place.  Believe me, I’m not making light of the fact that people are reluctant to wander into an organized group of complete strangers to share their most personal and shameful secrets that they’ve harbored internally for YEARS but I’m also here to tell you WHY IT WORKS.

Because honesty is power. Honesty is liberating. Honesty is where you have to start. And you know what? Someone else has been there.  Someone else is still there.  Someone will share their story with you in hopes that their pain can help circumvent yours. But first, you have to OWN your powerlessness. You have to admit things that are embarrassing, shameful and prideful.   Whether you’re just experienced your first blackout or your third wife just left you, you have to come to terms with your drinking and relinquish whatever control you THINK you had.

Let me also throw in here that recovery is a program for those who want it, not always those that need it. If you’re drinking is still working for you, then have at it, with my compliments. Good on ya, as they say. Me? My time was up and I’ll always be thankful (and always astonished) that I was given a second chance. So with that, I hope my mistakes can help you steer clear of the same.      I hope my pain can circumvent some of yours. I hope my story will help your story.

I’ll close with something ridiculous because that is how my brain works. There’s a scene in the movie The Usual Suspects where Chazz Palminteri’s character, Detective Agent Kujan says:

First day on the job, you know what I learned? How to spot a murderer. Let’s say you arrest three guys for the same killing. You put them all in jail overnight. The next morning, whoever’s sleeping is your man. You see, if you’re guilty, you know you’re caught, you get some rest, you let your guard down.

This is exactly how I felt when I finally got honest with myself.  Sure, there was shame and reluctance and gut-wrenching terror but you know what else there was?  RELIEF.

Believe me, I’ve never slept so well.

Let go

As I started toying with the idea of starting this blog it was suggested that I define my purpose before venturing forward. My mission is two-fold. My first order of priority is to help anyone I can who is struggling with alcohol. I know there are other voices out there but everyone’s experience is unique and I feel that we all can learn from each other. Secondly, I hope to take some of the stigma out of addiction by sharing my story, warts and all. I hate that expression. . . warts and all. For us drunks it really should be bruises and all because I cannot tell you how many times I awoke came to only to find ugly purplish-green marks in the weirdest of places after long nights spent with my boyfriend, Jack Daniel’s. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I had fallen down the stairs or possibly slammed my hip into a door frame while busting a move in a Lady Gaga dance party.  One just never knew, but it happened a lot.

Anyway, it’s still my story. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes notsomuch. It’s life on life’s terms.

There’s almost as many ways to get sober as there are to get drunk. Well that’s an exaggeration but truly, there’s not just one way to do anything, is there? I’m not going to pontificate for one program over another because in my opinion getting sober is breath-taking and wondrous and formidable, no matter your method.

You have to start somewhere, though. Like Pinterest says, every journey starts with a single step.  A STEP.

UH OH – SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!?

C’mon, stay with me.  Don’t balk or sulk or shrug and exclaim, “oh for fuck’s sake she’s one of THOSE people”. Hear me out. During my multiple stays in the hospital during The Great Liver Failure of 2015, I heard one thing said many different ways, and that was this; it’s not that you drink, it’s WHY.  For me, this made sense at a period when NOTHING made sense. It was a foggy and muddy span of time and my barely dried out brain still searches for clarity when trying to access those memories but that one is as clear as a vodka martini. . . WHY!?!  It captured my awareness even in the state I was in, which brings me around to what many folks call Step #1 in recovery.  You do not have to work the steps to quit drinking, of course, but again, I’m just passing along what worked (or didn’t) for me. Step One is powerlessness, honesty and surrender all rolled into one big fat humble burrito that is hard to swallow and you freakin’ KNOW I’m dying to make a ONE BITE AT A TIME joke here but I’ll spare you the bad and obvious comedy in lieu of the better and more helpful point, which is to start at the beginning. DUH.

In my case, this was relatively easy because in NO PARALLEL UNIVERSE was lying in a hospital hooked up to multiple IV’s while undergoing a blood transfusion for portal hypertension in your liver due to alcoholic Cirrhosis NOT A PROBLEM.

Just sayin’, for me, the jig was up.  It was time to get honest with the only person that could do anything at all about my situation. . . me. Now, you certainly don’t have to hit any type of bottom to quit drinking. In my case, it took hitting a bottom for me to realize that the problem I had was in fact going to kill me. Many folks a lot smarter than myself would have wised up long before it came to that but one thing I heard recently really resonated with me and that is this;

“It took every drink it took.”  And that’s the simplest truth there is.  I am constantly tripping over things that are behind me, dammit.

That little sentence there has given me a lot of peace lately, but I’m jumping way ahead. January marks a new year ahead that COINCIDENTALLY has 12 months.  Hmmmm.  DO YOU SMELL WHAT I’M STEPPING IN?!?

GET IT?!?  I did it again with the “steps” thing.  I funny!

Keep reading this month and we’ll talk some more about powerlessness and surrender and I’m not talking about the fun kind like where you have a safety word. Sorry, wrong blog. Try The Party is Sodomy, perhaps.

 

The present of presence

We alcoholics are big on gratitude and that’s really kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it? I mean, if you’ve been to rock bottom and managed to make it back, you’re REALLY thankful. Most folks I know in recovery are grateful for big things and little things and EVERY thing and I am as well but the more time I put between me and the The Trainwreck That Became My Life,  I am consumed my gratitude and will bend the ear (and gag reflex) of everyone I know and tell them all about it.

If you stick around recovery programs for a spell you’ll hear words and phrases used over and over again. Phrases like “show up” and “live in the present” and words like awake and aware. Drunks are infamous for not really being too keen on the present. In fact, rather than be present we’re often self-medicating by downing a pint of vodka in lieu thereof. Why do you think we drink until we pass out? Because we don’t want to feel what we’re feeling, whatever it is. Sadness, loneliness, obsession, anger, resentment, loss, and pain. For years I told myself it would be okay if I could just “get through” whatever it was I was trying to survive; like an old farmhouse where I felt like an invisible apparition, or a new family and non-familiar surroundings. Paralyzing grief over the loss of my Father, or relationships that were failed or strained. You name it, I had one coping strategy, and that was booze.

I still look through the old photos of the ghosts of Christmases past and feel the pangs of regret when I realize I don’t remember much about those holidays. Sure, I have some funny anecdotes, but more often than not I was checked out thanks to booze and usually ashamed of my performance and/or consumed with heartache from something I may have said which usually was out of insecurity or just plain meanness. Worse yet, sometimes I felt nothing afterwards.

This year was different. This year I was IN IT, for better or for worse. Of course when you’re present for the good stuff you’re also present for the crap and that can be challenging at times, sure. This year I didn’t just think about myself (for once) and kept my head (for the most part) out of my own ass. I cooked and cleaned and I helped where I could. I didn’t share every single thought in my head that was snarky and unwarranted and there was a time when I would’ve prided myself on how fast I could have torn down each situation, for nothing more than self-satisfaction and malice. Then again, none of my relatives are Trump supporting racist fucking douchebags, so it was relatively easy for me to hone my zen. I’m sober, you guys, not freakin’ Wonder Woman.

This year I got to spend time with people that I love and I did so without whining and grumbling about my ridiculous sacrifices or rolling my eyes at every comment. Was I perfect? Oh hell no. Was it easy? Mostly. It’s a change of perspective, really. When you’re constantly obsessed with the past and busy projecting the doom and gloom of the future, it’s hard to enjoy the here and now and that’s something I still struggle with and try to work on, on a daily basis. It takes practice, trust me.

This year I was present. This year I didn’t get rip-roaring drunk before when it was time to carve the turkey. This year I was able to laugh with my friends and family and enjoy spending time together because we all know that yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t a promise. All we have is today and when you really boil it down, what really matters here? I don’t know how many Christmases my Mom has in her and I hope it’s like 27 or so but the fact is, it’s a real number. It’s a real number how many days or years I have in me, isn’t it? Same with you.

I spent enough of my days wallowing in self pity and resentment. I wasted enough time being wasted, one could say. An old friend of mine used to remind me that it was easy to forget what’s important, so don’t. Simple enough, isn’t it? And that’s another thing I’m grateful for, the never-ending reminders of how it was, then, and how it IS, now.

Now is better.

Christmas Spirits

So last night I went to a Christmas party hosted for and by my knitting friends and the lovely store where we gather. Yes, that’s right, I’m a knitter, and lately, I’ve even learned to crochet, so one could argue that I’m a hooker now as well. The party was delightful and it was so nice to celebrate the season with so many folks that have meant so much to me over the last few years. There was quite a spectrum of women represented (we do have dude knitters, they just weren’t at the party) and I’m often humbled that I’m even included in their company. Professors, stay-at-home-moms, retirees, working gals, world travelers, and more. Every single woman there was an ass-kicking superstar and I’m so lucky to be under their sturdy and strong wings. We often liken the shop to Truvy’s Beauty parlor in Steel Magnolias as it’s where we all gather and celebrate, commiserate, support each other, and occasionally we DO, in fact, knit.

Most of the gals in this menagerie know my story. Well, the cliff notes anyway. I assume they’re learning a bit more if they’re reading this little blog. NOT UNLIKE MY MOTHER.  Anyway, I had a choice (well, did I?) when the shit hit the fan in 2015 to be honest about my addiction and consequent situation, or to lie like I’ve been doing (mostly unsuccessfully) for the last 30 or so years. I don’t know if I chose honesty or if it chose me but the fact of the matter is that the truth was just easier.  Remember Viola Davis in that gut-wrenching scene in The Help where she confronts the ruthless Miss Hilly and says “All you do is scare people and lie to get what you want. Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly?  Ain’t you tired?!?”  Yes.  Yes I was.

So, with that, I’m extremely fortunate. My friends and even most acquaintances know that I am an alcoholic in recovery. And per my nature, they all know they can laugh with me at my challenges as well as celebrate my victories, and that, my friends, is priceless. They know they can ask questions, as well. I’m “out” of the closet liquor cabinet, one could say. However, I totally understand that many folks aren’t and that the holidays can often be filled with anxiety ridden events revolving around alcohol. I know a lot of people that struggle with alcohol also struggle with turning down a drink at a party, especially those new to recovery. “What will everyone THINK?” And that’s a fair assumption because really, when we were drinking we definitely didn’t turn down a drink and who in their right mind would?!?  Well, don’t get your tinsel in a tangle, there’s good news. I’ve not been out of the cabinet long but one thing I learned quickly is this; no one else cares. That’s right, I said it. NO ONE CARES IF YOU DRINK OR NOT.

Now, this does not include active alcoholics because they just may give you some flack because your ability to say no may turn their high-powered accusatory finger back on themselves.  I hear time and time again where people are flummoxed on what to say when offered a drink. I was no different. Last year at this time I went through a ridiculous week of sleepless nights leading up to my work Christmas party where only a few folks knew my truth and the rest did not, and they were a heavy drinking lot. What will I do if someone sends me a shot? What will I do if the president of the company wants to toast with me? WHAT DO I SAY?!? And guess what you guys? The president himself sat at my table and when the waitress came by for our drink order I ordered a soft drink and. . . nothing happened. Well, something happened. The gal brought me a diet coke and we commenced eating our holiday dinner. TA-freaking-DA.

Now I realize it can be nerve wracking to some and it goes against the social grain to turn down booze at a party but more and more I realize that it is not about ME at ANY gathering. Everyone else is so consumed with themselves that they are really not focusing on what you have or don’t have in your hand to drink. This was foreign to me of coursebecause as someone recently said, alcoholics are egomaniacs with an insecurity complex. Another friend of mine in recovery laments, “I know I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.” 

Well, that goes for most people, I’d say. We’re all just doing the best we can every day and social anxiety and awkward holiday parties are just part of the package this time of the year. Try saying “no thanks”, it’s simple and it works wonders. You can always say you’re driving and most normal people will respect that. In my case I could never say I was the designated driver BECAUSE I NEVER, EVER WAS. I’ve told a stranger that I’ve retired from drinking, when asked if I’d tried a certain sangria.  That worked and even got a chuckle.

I was at a party a few weeks ago where a lady asked me who I was and what I did. It was at the end of the evening and you know how sometimes inappropriate things just fly right out of your mouth? No? WELL BELIEVE ME, THEY DO. I casually replied with “Me? I’m an unemployed alcoholic.”

She retorted, “Oh no! You’re unemployed? I just recently got a new job myself.” I shit you not.

Like Nancy Reagan said, just say no. Well, maybe say “no, thank you”, I mean, unless you’re dealing with a pill-popping heroin pusher after school and then you can probably lose the Miss Manners etiquette and run like hell.

And no matter what you celebrate, to all, a good night.

Slippery Slope

I’ve said before that I’m no expert on alcoholism, I’m only an expert on alcoholism and me. In that spirit, that’s how this thing works, right? I share what I find to be helpful and then you can try it or pass it along or alternately think it’s a crock of shit and just discard it altogether.

Some folks wonder how it works with booze infused foods, or of alcohol served in other settings, such as Communion in churches or even “non-alcoholic” beverages. I know some alcoholics that will not under any circumstances ingest any type of alcohol, in any form. Whether it be creme brûlée or a Grand Marnier soufflé. Some argue that there is still a slight amount of alcohol in non-alcoholic drinks so by that determination they take a pass. When you’ve had the bejesus scared out of you due to alcoholism, the wise thing is just to stay away on all levels, if that’s where you’re at. I wholeheartedly agree.  However, I’m not quite as stringent. I personally feel that a creme brûlée will not send me screaming back to the sauce after ingesting one for dessert at a fancy dinner.

Then again, I do know someone that spiraled into the throes of a terrible relapse after years of sobriety due to Creme de Menthe over ice cream.  True story, that’s how it started and while that might sound ludicrous, it happened. It’s just the inkling. The scantly perceptible twinge that we feel in our essence when we think we’re going to get that elusive feeling of forthcoming euphoria or delicious escape. It’s an absolutely blissful feeling and I used to feel that way after an occasional puff of a cigarette long after I had quit.  SOMETHING AWAKENS you guys and that is the beast within every one of us that struggles with addiction.

So, yes, I have eaten a bourbon-infused brownie without knowing it was infused with Satan’s magic elixir and you know what?  It was fine. Did I rush back to the kitchen and shove the entire serving tray into my mouth?  No. Did I want to? Not remotely. And if you think I’m turning down creme brûlée, as in, EVER, then you don’t know me at all.

I am not that skittish about triggers or my sobriety, I thought.  Until recently.

Not so long ago I was in a drug store waiting to pick up a prescription when I was reminded that I was out of mouthwash. I scooted down the aisle and found approximately 27 different types of mouthwash.  Seriously, there was gum disease mouth wash and plaque prevention mouthwash and don’t even get me started on all of the flavors. Vanilla mint?  WTF?  As I perused the somewhat overwhelming selection I noticed some of the labels touted that they were “alcohol free”.  This got my attention. I had never internalized the knowledge that mouthwash includes alcohol amongst its ingredients.

Suddenly it was 2013 and I was 500 miles north in my Grandmother’s bedroom helping her make her bed after having washed her sheets.  I noticed that she had put on a rubber fitted sheet on under her real sheet. This was sad and troublesome because even though she was 104 years old, I hadn’t known she’d been wetting her bed.

Me: “Oh, Grandma.  I’m so sorry.”

Grandma: “Why, honey?”

Me: “The rubber sheet. I didn’t know that you were having accidents.”

Grandma: “Oh, I’m not,” she quipped, “but you know what they say, there’s a first time for everything!”

That entire exchange played out in my brain like a movie as I stood there in the middle of CVS. “There’s a first time for everything.” Suddenly I saw a montage flash before my eyes. . . it started out with me innocently brushing my teeth while absently reaching for the mouthwash and it ended with me passed out in public under feces-stained newspapers at a bus stop with my gums caved in and no teeth while clutching a one-eyed matted cat and a half-empty bottle of mouthwash.

The mantra is “to thine own self be true” and there are a few reasons for that. I immediately lunged for the alcohol FREE mouthwash and ran back to the pharmacy to complete my errand. I do know myself and I also know my sickness. Does it sound completely illogical that a grown-ass woman would someday think it reasonable to down three bottles of mouthwash to get a buzz? It should. But to me, it doesn’t. It sounds like it could happen if I let that insanity get into my head and start listening to the lies it tells me. For me to jump from mouthwash to full blown relapse SOUNDS implausible to every single person I know, save for the alcoholics who are reading this right now and shaking their heads in unison so vigorously that even I can hear it as I type.

Someone once said that while we’re in recovery, our sickness is outside doing push-ups and I believe that whole-heartedly. No one has ever lied to me like I’VE lied to me. I have a hilarious and precious friend who is also retired from alcohol and she succinctly sums it up;

“Today I wouldn’t take a drink if you paid me a million dollars but tomorrow I may just take one for free.”

 

And that, my friends, is the insanity of alcoholism.

You’re my obsession

I get asked quite a bit about what I’m most grateful for in sobriety and that can be a difficult question. Most folks I know are very thankful for their recovery and protect it fiercely and most of us have SO MANY perks in sobriety that we can hardly narrow them down. From small things, like always remembering where your car is parked, to bigger things, like not telling your Trump supporting Aunt to shove a pine-tarred dildo up her ass on Facebook. There is SO MUCH.

I could seriously go on for hours about how well I sleep and how terrific I feel physically and yada yada yada, but for now I’d like to expound upon one such affliction that often plagues the drunk and addicted.

OBSESSION.

We alcoholics are widely known to have a “thinking” problem and not just a drinking problem. I’m no different. The obsession that came with my alcoholism was absolutely stunning and terrifying at the same time. In hindsight I sometimes wonder that if I’d just focused all that effort and energy into something productive and worthwhile I may have stumbled upon a cure for Cancer or invented Alexa.  That’s how much time I spent thinking about booze. However, it was a slow progression.  In the beginning I would bemusedly sit at my desk at 4:30 pm and think longingly of a frosty martini waiting for me that evening when I arrived home. A treat for surviving such a mundane day. Or a challenging day. Or a great day! It didn’t matter, the martini was still waiting, like an old friend or an obedient dog. Always ready to comfort me and help me relax.

It didn’t take long for it to sink in deeper than just a passing notion. You know what I’m talking about, we’ve all been on our way somewhere and suddenly we’ve forgotten if we’ve left on a iron or a hose perhaps, or a lit candle in the living room. It is ALL YOU CAN THINK ABOUT until you remedy the situation and that is truly what alcohol became to me; a grand obsession. Would I have enough? Will the party have vodka? What if it’s beer and wine only? I’ll have to pack a damn flask. Will I have time to get a buzz on before the game starts? Can I drink a full glass of whiskey before the dinner party commences?  I HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING FOR GOD’S SAKE I CANNOT GO IN TO (insert really any situation here) UNLUBRICATED. ARE YOU INSANE?!?

And so it went and let me tell all of you aliens out there that can drink responsibly and in moderation; IT WAS EXHAUSTING. It became not just a preoccupation, but almost a demonic fixation. It was draining mentally and down in the deep recesses of rationale I knew it wasn’t a favorable complex. I wasn’t stupid, I knew it was going to end badly, yet I didn’t care. I didn’t want to die, of course, but I didn’t really want to live, either. I wasn’t blatantly ignorant, just a raging alcoholic. I know the lines are nebulous at times, but there IS a difference. We bend reality to suit our addiction or maybe it’s the other way around. Someone once said, “we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as WE ARE.”

Of course it got worse. I would bargain with myself over day to day chores in order to reward myself with a cocktail. I moved happy hour up to 3pm instead of 5pm when I was unemployed. Booze ran my schedule and trust me, it’s no way to live, if “live” is even an accurate term. When I say booze owned me, I mean it, it OWNED me. Friends would ask me out to social functions and I would come up with lie after ridiculous lie why I couldn’t join them and the somber truth was that I couldn’t fathom being out in the world without my bottle by my side and let’s face it, finding a purse that holds a two liter of potato juice is a fashion challenge. And guys, if I did get caught out in the bright headlights of sobriety I was not happy about it. I would actually get physically restless and nervous about where my next drink was coming from. Very quickly I transitioned from someone who drank to feel differently to someone who drank to feel normal and that is when the darkness began to sink its talons into what used to be me.

From that day forward every day became about when I could start drinking and where I would get my booze and anything that fell in-between had to surrender to that shameful schedule. The social butterfly quickly retreated into a cocoon and we all know where that landed me – into a web of isolation and lies, and ultimately, into liver failure.

Now I am no longer shackled to that weighty and oppressive ball and chain. Alcohol had me in it’s death grip and it took over two decades for me to realize that the grip was becoming a noose and if I kept on that schedule, I’d eventually take my own life. The freedom that comes with sobriety is nothing short of exhilarating. A lot of newcomers to sobriety note with delight on how much extra time they seem to have now and it’s absolutely true. It’s amazing what you can accomplish and appreciate when you’re not blacking out, lying to yourself, or avoiding life on life’s terms, for starters. Again, I’m not saying it is easy, it’s sure as hell not.

But it’s so very, very worthwhile.

 

 

Same difference

In 2015 I was discharged from the hospital with a very puny and sick liver and a considerably fat folder filled with recovery options and programs. It was overwhelming, terrifying, and embarrassing all at once. I didn’t want help, which made it even more unappealing but I also knew that my BEST thinking and resources had landed me in the hospital in the first place so I figured maybe I should give it a shot. Some call this the gift of desperation and that’s a whole other post all on it’s own.

A friend of mine who has over twenty years sobriety under her belt offered me some rookie advice. “Don’t walk into any recovery program and try to identify only with the others that appear to be like you. Listen to everyone. Look for the similarities, don’t latch on to the differences.”

So naturally, I thought that was bullshit but started reluctantly going to meetings. It was then that her advice made sense. It’s easy to sit across from someone and nitpick every single detail about their experience, especially if it’s not in any way similar to yours. You can smugly think well, that’s NOT me, I would never do something like that when they talk about drinking straight bourbon in the morning. You can sympathize with someone who is going through a divorce because of their drinking problem, but you think, again, poor thing, thank god I have the support of my family.

You can play this deceptive little game for hours and sometimes it may make you feel superior in some fashion, or  maybe like a little less of a drunk, perhaps.  If you look around the room you’re going to find quite an assortment of folks, I assure you. I’ve mentioned before that alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. There’s an annoying but truthful saying you hear around the Sanka* counter and that’s “alcohol doesn’t care if you’re from Penn State or the State Penn” and that’s the damn truth, Ruth.

I don’t remember when I stopped hearing and started listening.

I won’t say the clouds opened up and I heard angels blasting trumpets or anything, but it was just like they say in the movies, the proverbial lightbulb went on and it stayed the fuck on whether I wanted to listen or not. They spoke the truth and the truth is exactly what I needed to find in myself and that my friends, can be a challenge. You know why? Because you don’t want to know. Not really. I sure didn’t. Like Gloria Steinem famously remarked, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.

Suddenly I found myself nodding my head in almost every meeting . . . a lot.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Maya Angelou

I can’t recall what my first epiphany was but over the last two years I have them more often than I don’t. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to find my people, even if they were a bunch of drunks. Well, then again, it’s because they’re a bunch of drunks, isn’t it?  I remember listening to a woman divulge that she had such terrible social anxiety that she sometimes practices her laugh. I heard many newcomers confess they wondered if they’d EVER HAVE FUN AGAIN and I was terrified of that as well. I can remember one meeting specifically where someone opened a can of diet coke halfway through and we ALL froze like we’d been tased because EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US heard a beer can opening instead. We laughed like ninnies instantly at our shared reaction.

Of course, there are similarities that aren’t quite as light hearted. I found that I’d earned my seat among the masses that had been to jail and been convicted of a DUI. Most had embarrassed themselves in public and I think 99% of us had experienced blackouts on a regular basis, and that’s not funny at all.

The shame binds us but the humor unites us and that’s what helps you start to heal. It’s simple, but it’s certainly not easy.

I’ll try to help if I can.

* Remember this shit? And I do mean shit. First of all, who drinks caffeine free coffee?!? That’s like a non-alcoholic beer. WHY THE FUCK BOTHER?!?  Then again I never drank coffee or booze for the taste. I remember a crappy jar like this in our pantry cupboards in the 1970’s but I guarantee my Mom wasn’t drinking that nonsense.  Her coffee is black, her mary’s are bloodied and straight whiskey isn’t a problem.

 

Alcoholiday

 

What, you’ve never woken up missing a tooth AND a best friend? Where the hell did that baby come from?

I’ve always said that I’m somewhat similar to Herpes, really. You *think* I’ve disappeared and WHAM! there’s a flare up and I’m back. So, I hope you all had a kick-ass Thanksgiving and if you are in fact struggling with sobriety that you made it unscathed through the whole enterprise. These are trying times for the best of us and then you compound the holidays on top of it all and, well. . . it can be a shit show.

We ventured out of town for the long weekend and it was fantastic. Sometimes a getaway can really put things into perspective. I refused to worry and project and/or doom say. I just enjoyed the atmosphere  and the holiday hustle and bustle, ate too much and in general just took some time off to just enjoy the now, as in the previous post.

Now, I’m married so this means that I have to occasionally do things that I don’t necessarily enjoy, but that are important to my husband. No, I’m not talking about dressing up like Danica Patrick in the bedroom (again). . .this time it was college football. Since we were out of state we had to wing our approach to viewing his games and that was finding a sports bar. Now some of you out there are probably wondering aloud why I would purposely strap on a suicide vest and walk INTO A BAR. A dark raucous bar filled with obnoxious and loud folks all screaming for their team while drinking booze and eating fried foods. In other words, HEAVEN.  These, you see, are my people.

Well, they used to be. And here’s the thing. They haven’t changed, I have. They seem to be able to still go out and enjoy a few beers and get home safely without the assistance of the backseat of a patrol car. Assholes.

Regardless, it doesn’t bother me to go into bars on occasion. Rarely have I ever been in one sober so in a very real but kind of comical way, it’s like seeing them for the first time and objectively, they aren’t so bad. Well, some are, but this one was pretty reputable and more than that, clean. I may be a drunk but I’m still obsessively tidy.

As we bellied up to our stools my husband suddenly and completely lost his hearing. Wait, let me rephrase that. . . he lost his ability to hear me or any of the surrounding clamor as long as his game was airing. I’m used to this during football season and promptly ordered a ginger ale and struck up a conversation with our bartender who was young, dumb, and full of. . . himself. He had an amusing way about him and I liked him immediately. As we chatted about our holidays he offered up some snippets of his. He was hungover, he mentioned, from a pretty legendary night of drinking with his buddies the night before. I asked him if he had a good time. He grinned.

“I fared better than both of my buddies,” he said, “one broke his thumb and the other went to jail. It was pretty epic!”

I nodded my head knowingly and laughed. I’ve been there, of course. It’s one thing in your early twenties but quite another in your late 30’s and 40’s. There comes a point in your sobriety where you look back on all the terrible consequences of your actions while drinking and then realize to your horror that you kept up that nonsense for another 5, 10, maybe 20 plus years AFTER that awful incident.  The fact that really bad shit happened and that it wasn’t even a wake-up call is one that’s hard to navigate in sobriety.

The wreckage in your rear view mirror is personal and unique. Sure, sometimes it’s amusing and funny. I’ve jumped off a second story roof onto a trampoline to the delight disbelief of other guests at a summer cookout. I’ve drunkenly saddled a stranger’s Harley on Sunset Boulevard and spent the entire night with a dude that could have been Ted Bundy. I crashed a number with The Spinners at a fancy country club party and proceeded to *play* tambourine with them until a roadie politely escorted me off the stage. What I’m talking about is epic wreckage. People lose spouses and jobs and children and relationships and that’s not even scratching the surface of what that it does to you internally and the emotional havoc that comes with the oppressing guilt and self loathing.

Of course I didn’t say all of that to Tom Cruise behind the bar. He was busy texting his comrades about their recovery and I didn’t feel the need to expound upon mine. I just smiled with a little nostalgia and a whole lot of gratitude.  After all, who has TWO functioning thumbs and woke up in a snazzy hotel?!?

This gal.