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.

Kindness starts with one

This past weekend I found myself running errands and doing Christmasy stuff, probably like most of you. I stopped into a large department store and as I stood in line at the checkout counter I noticed the gentleman ahead of me. He was dressed very warmly and had what looked like a cart full of shopping bags. I paid no attention to his exchange with the sales lady until we were ALL listening to his exchange with the sales lady.  He was attempting to purchase a very large beer and had his wallet extended while offering the sales person his identification, but she was having none of it.

This got my attention. As I peered in closer I noticed that his cart was not in fact full of purchases but what seemed to be his possessions. The sales lady was an older woman who appeared to be very shrewd and very no nonsense. Her eyebrows were drawn on and yet they still appeared furrowed and angry. She was loudly refusing to sell him the beer and he was loudly exclaiming that this was complete and utter bullshit. Naturally I could see both sides of this argument.

Now, I am normally not a get-involved-in-public-conflicts-kinda gal, but in this case I felt like there was a reason I was behind this guy in line. I don’t know if it was luck or maybe it was God if you believe in that sort of thing. Maybe it was Oprah Winfrey for all I know, but there I was, directly between a drunk and a hard face.  She quickly glanced at me as she exclaimed, “I AM calling security!” to our apparently intoxicated comrade, who was still ranting.

“Hold up, I offered. I speak Alcoholic.”  I swear to god y’all those words have never sprung from my lips but now that they have I think I like it. One could argue that alcoholics have their own language anyway given the sayings and mantras that go along with recovery programs. And as luck would have it, I speak alcoholic fluently.

Since there were around six to eight people behind me in line, she decided to let me go for it. She had a situation on her hands, after all. She resumed calling security but gave me a “knock yourself out, honey” nod.

I placed my hand on the gentleman’s arm and gently turned him towards me. “Hey. Hey there, sir. Sir. . . please. . . please calm down.” I spoke softly so he had to stop shouting in order to hear me. The minute I saw his features I could feel his pain. It was palpable. His long face was craggy and hardened, perhaps by time and maybe weather. He softened when he looked down at me. His eyes were large and watery and he smelled heavy of alcohol. His hands were shaking as he held his still-open wallet. We moved out of the way and stood together in the busy store.

“I just want to buy a goddamn beer”, he said. “I know, I replied, “but she’s sure as hell not going to sell it to you. She thinks you’ve had enough.”

He looked at me sadly. “But. . . she doesn’t understand.”  And that part was certainly true. She did NOT understand. She did not understand that he needed that beer like a drowning man “needs” a life preserver. Does that mean she should sell it to him?  No, of course not.  Does that give him a right to disrupt a store and its employees and customers?  Nope.

We sat down on a bench and waited for security together. As we chatted, I told him I was a drunk too which didn’t seem to surprise him and I’m still processing that. I told him that I know how much it sucks to have the shakes. I told him about the time I was shaking so badly that I had to go down the stairs on my ass one step at a time. That made him laugh and I joked back with mock offense at his laughter.

We waited on the bench and security did arrive. They were kind to my friend and gently asked him to come with them and they’d help him sort things out. They helped him stand up and he turned to me and smiled.  “I do like your boots,” he said. I wasn’t expecting that and it made me laugh.  “Thanks,” I said, and we both waved goodbye.

With that, they took him away. He was quietly muttering to the security guards and they appeared to be listening and I think in the end, that’s really all he wanted. He wanted to be heard. He wanted to matter. He wanted to stop living with the excruciating pain his existence had become and isn’t that really what we all want? We all want to matter and be heard.  No one wants to live in isolation and pain. We need each other folks and it’s getting more and more imperative every day and I’m not just talking Trump administration-dystopia but globally. Like it or not, we’re one people on one damn planet.

When I awoke this morning the headline on my computer news homepage was “Little girl asks Santa for food” and there was a heartbreaking story that followed detailing a young girl’s letter to Santa and the subsequent donations that came forth after the story had gone viral.  Thankfully, it had a happy ending.  This time of year is hard and it’s easy to feel defeated before you’ve had your first cup of morning coffee. In that spirit, we can each do what we can to try to help where we can.

Can’t we?

I didn’t save him. I didn’t have any money to give him. I didn’t even point him in the direction of the local area mission. I just sat with him.

I was kind, and to their credit, so were the security staff and sometimes that’s the only thing we can do. So, if the opportunity presents itself, I implore you; be kind.

You don’t need a season or a reason. And trust me, it’s a gift we all can share.

I’m still grateful for John Cusack.

My Granny just told my Mom that her dressing looks like cat litter.OH FOR GOD’S SAKES I’M ALREADY BEHIND.  I had such high hopes to be on the ball this week with my Thanksgiving posts and coping strategies but . . . oh hells bells, y’all . . . the holidays are upon us. Again. This is a SUPER FUN time for folks that struggle with alcohol because, well . . . isn’t it obvious?  Family. Stress. Holiday guilt. Political divides. There are a zillion reasons to get twitchy around the holidays, especially if you’re trying to protect your sobriety AND your sanity. I’m by no means an expert, this is only my second year of sobriety. I’m still baby stepping and navigating the land mines myself.

I’ve had some funky Thanksgiving’s.

One of my most memorable ones was back when I was living in Hollywood.  Me and my gay mexican BFF Jerry (this was my dead friend Ben’s roommate and how I met him, incidentally.  YES, BEN AND JERRY.) decided to say fuck it and go to a bar, (surprise!) and avoid all things turkey. As we sat in the dark solace of The Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard, I noticed John Cusack sitting at the end of the bar. He’d been out riding his motorcycle. We chatted and I was even on the receiving end of a delightful Jagermeister shot. He wouldn’t let me return the favor. “I’m not drinking that piss and getting on a bike”, he said. Smart dude.

One year my live-in boyfriend of two years broke up with me promptly after our dinner with family. Was it the brussel sprouts, honey? I proceeded to get Yeltsin drunk and after a hysterical phone call my Mom came over and helped me start packing. THANKSGIVING NIGHT. Moms are awesome like that. She also “accidentally” spilled an entire bottle a wee bit of her red wine on the very light beige carpet that evening. Oops.

One year another friend of mine made me an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner. Incidentally, he has one arm. The only thing I did all day was open some evaporated milk with a old school manual can opener. Remember those? You really need two arms.

Another year a casual friend of mine invited my Mom and I to her house for Thanksgiving and due to some plumbing problems she had all of our dishes and prep work in her bathroom and was using her tub as the “sink”. It wasn’t so much disconcerting as it was vomit inducing. I remember bringing jello shots as my side dish. I can’t even make this up.

Reminiscing about these Thanksgivings makes me realize just how much things have changed. How this path that I’ve chosen or that chose me has led me here. This year more than ever I’m thankful for family and old and new friends. I’m thankful for an asshole cat. I’m grateful for a husband that supported me in the fight for my life AND in this writing endeavor. . . and he still makes me laugh every single day.

And of course, thanks to you guys for reading. I’m just getting warmed up.