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.

In the beginning

Actual journal entry – 1989

During this process I’ve rediscovered some journals that I’ve kept over the years. It’s been cringe-inducing to read the rants and musings of my 20-something self, but also insightful and at times, hysterical. I hope to use some of these ancient missives in this blog and this was one of the first entries I stumbled upon. It stuns and saddens me that I knew 28 years ago that my drinking wasn’t normal.

I’ve left the spelling and syntax untouched as I feel transparency is tantamount to honesty. 

04/10/89

Days as cold, grey and cloudy as my mind. The cool morning air and stacks of smoke billowing from the dirty inner city, as I find my way home. The cafeteria is a blurred, scattered conversation that I’m not part of. These people have had showers, and more than likely, sleep.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to keep fucking up your life than to deal with the hassle of keeping it straight. Sometimes in the afternoons you find it’s difficult to remember who you saw or spoke to that morning, or in fact, exactly what you did. After all, you know better than to attempt to remember last night. You always feel more alive at nite, anyway. It’s dark and smoky and there’s something cold and alcoholic in your hand and you know that you can pretend all that you want tonite, and then pretend you didn’t tomorrow.

The nites in between are the best. The slow nights with the regulars are cool, but almost everyone feels they should be somewhere else. It’s a shared feeling, and we drink to it. There are nites when you can’t breathe and everyone is there, and you couldn’t care less. The nites in between are the unexpected ones, the ones that keep you going back. All the “right” people show up, the nite is young and the drinks flow almost freely. You feel that life is fair and good and lucky to be a part of it – and you feel like you fit, if only for a little while.

Then there are the days sometimes you find you can’t stand, and it’s 6:30pm. You laugh, and order another round. You toast to irresponsibility, watch the sun set through dirty windows, feel the lights as they flicker on, and wonder where tonite is headed, and you.

Every now and then you’re alone. Not often, but sometimes 15 minutes to 3 hours can catch you and you look around and inside. You see bills unpaid, and no $ to pay them with, if you’d even thought about it. Six classes missed and it’s only Wednesday. Unreturned phone calls, and a stack of laundry piled up the the closet shelf. So what do you do? It’s Wednesday $ night, and you grab something off of the top of the laundry heap, hope it doesn’t smell too bad, and run to Gus’s* to bounce a check and start the ball rolling.

Again.

 

* Gus’s was a joint on the strip in my college town that would cash checks for students. You know, back in the day when there weren’t atm cards and the like OMG I SURVIVED THE DARK AGES YOU GUYS.

Fun Foto Friday!

Christmas 2005 – typical holiday attire

Everybody say HO! It’s officially December so I figure nothing says “traditional Christmas” more than my BFF wearing my Sheryl Crow coat while donning antlers and shades.We spent countless Christmases together and I cherish most of those memories. What memories I have, anyway. We weren’t ones to shy away from the eggnog, after all. When Ben and I were hanging out there wasn’t a competition to be the voice of reason so a lot of times we were just stray dogs barking at the fence together, as he often would say. I think of him every. single. day. Sleep in heavenly peace, my friend.

 

Family Tradition

It’s confession time you guys. Part of my journey is making amends for the wrong doings I’ve done. Another part is acknowledging my responsibilities and my part in each and every situation. Owning your shit, for lack of better semantics.

This is really neither of those things but it’s a little window into my sickness. Since starting this blog I haven’t delved into what really got me into my circumstances or the gory details. Trust me, those are coming. For now though, enjoy this little snippet from 5 years ago. When sobriety wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary.

The year was 2012 and for some insane reason we had Thanksgiving dinner at our home and I still cannot for the life of me remember who the fuck thought that was a good idea. Regardless, I did my best. I enjoy cooking and my in-laws are pleasant enough but suffice to say I’m not really keen on obligatory family get-togethers. This year was no different which is still why I cannot fathom that I volunteered to host the event. Best I can come up with is I probably had a drunkenly ambitious evening and blacked out and called everyone I knew after scrolling through Pinterest and invited them to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. That is some shit I would do. And then not remember, naturally.

So, I had to make good on my promise and boy, did I. We had turkey and all the fixin’s! We cleaned the house! We lit candles! We had kids setting the table! There was a floral centerpiece! It was glorious!

And all the while I was sneaking off into the guest room to take hearty throat-burning shots of whiskey every half hour or so. You know. . . to cope. This is on TOP of my mixed drink that never left my hand AND the wine I served with our dinner. A deadly trifecta my friends.

In an act of divine providence I got lucky. I managed to stay upright during the meal and only slurred my words a teensy little bit. Everyone enjoyed themselves and all in all, the dinner was a success. I’m still not sure how.

After everyone left I felt VICTORIOUS! I did it! I AM a good wife! I’m a fantastic daughter-in-law! I can do no wrong! Let’s celebrate with more whiskey! And I did. Repeatedly. We changed clothes and sank into the couch to relish our blessings and bask in the glow of pulling a family dinner out of our asses.

This is where I may end up divorced over what I’m about to confess.

As is sometimes typical in an alcoholic celebratory frenzy, I felt a wee bit amorous. OH COME ON. Like you’ve never gotten a little kissy-face after eleven a few drinks? My sweet husband had helped all morning with the festivities and well, why the hell not? We were finally alone with a four day weekend ahead of us! Let’s get kinky! Heck, I may even take off my sweatshirt! WOOT.

Well. That’s seriously about the last thing I remember. I hear that we I disrobed while going up to the bedroom leaving a trail of clothes behind on the stairs, while doing my best Mae West. I then proceeded to pass out during mid-pucker and consequently remained unconscious slept for about 4-5 hours. When I awoke, I was really confused.

I came downstairs to find my husband watching football.

He looked at me closely as I stood there teetering in front of him with my bathrobe on, hair askew, and mascara smeared.

“Hey sleepyhead,” he laughed. I stared at him and then at the kitchen where all the dishes had been put away and the counters were sparkling. Um, now I’m perplexed. And still very drunk.

“When is it?” I stammered.  He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “What do you mean, when is it?”  I looked around again and out the window. I was still so wasted that I was unsure as to the time of day, and to WHAT exact day it was. I started wondering if I was in fact late for work. Is it morning? Is it evening? When the hell was Thanksgiving?!?

Frustrated, I looked pleadingly at my husband and fought to find the words to express myself and my bewilderment. “Noooo“, I slurred. “WHEN IS. . . NOW?!?” I pointed down towards the floor repeatedly as if that was the universal sign for “present day and correct time, please”.

Seriously. That’s what I came up with. When is now? I somewhat pride myself on my vocabulary and yet I could’ve consumed a can of alphabet soup and shit a more sophisticated sentence than that.

Yes, folks, that was FIVE years ago today and yet my husband finds cause to mimic my performance that day quite often. Anytime I get confused or misunderstand something, he’ll laugh and bellow WHEN IS NOW?! out of nowhere and laugh uncontrollably. Yeah, it’s hilarious. I have to laugh because if I don’t, then it’s just sad.

I anticipate today’s Thanksgiving will be a little different than five years ago, and I’m so grateful for that. I’m thankful for the absence of blackouts, and for clarity where there was once chaos. Now is the time to take inventory of our blessings and say thanks. Now is the time to look back and forgive, and to look forward and be of service. When is now, you ask?!?

Now is all we have. Happy Thanksgiving.

Social Disgraces

So recently I attended a wedding of a dear friend of mine and y’all, it was FAN-CY.  As in, right out of Pinterest pretty, if you know what I mean. So very elegant. I wore an appropriate black dress with a funky statement necklace but still felt like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.

After the wedding my friends and I were standing in line at the bar to grab some pre-dinner cocktails. Or in my case, a big glass of fizzy shit that will have to make do. Suddenly a gal in front of us turned around and took one look at me and exclaimed “I guess I don’t gotta ask YOU if you’re having a drink!?!”  and she threw her head back and laughed heartily. I tittered nervously trying to figure out what she could mean.  I deduced two options. 1.  Someone told her I’ve hung up my spurs and she’s busting my chops or, 2. She is insinuating that OF COURSE I’LL HAVE A DRINK, IT’S OPEN BAR, DAMMIT.

I quickly glance at my cohorts and see the horror on their faces and quickly ascertain that it is not #1.  You see, evidently this lady has drank with me before.

She proceeds to rattle off the highlights of an alleged camping trip that we’d shared and as she dove into the details I realized she was indeed correct. I was the gal in the story, full stop. I have a few “signature” moves one could say. A fail-safe anecdote, a couple bawdy jokes and a trick involving downing a shot of Jack Daniel’s without the use of my hands. It was me that she remembered all right. I wish I could’ve said the same.

I listened to her with what I hoped came across as good cheer and politely told her that I’m not as “colorful” as I used to be. I found a bathroom later in the evening and as I was washing my hands my eyes met my own gaze in the mirror. I chuckled to myself thinking about the vast mileage between the girl in her recollection and the gal in my reflection.

I laughed again, and rejoined the party. I mean, what do I expect? I quit drinking and the world subsequently gets amnesia? If only. I imagine much of my journey to come will involve me atoning for my previous behavior.  In this case I was fortunate her memories were innocuous and mostly funny and didn’t involve me sleeping with her husband.

That reminds me, I have a baby shower coming up.