My Stolen Life

what was SUPPOSED to be. i’m not kidding, even down to her Chucks it’s perfectly me in another lifetime but in THIS lifetime that brown bag was filled with rotgut whiskey instead of fresh daisies and the bike was actually a police squad car

Of course sobriety is awesome, and of course I wish I had found my way here sooner . . . MUCH sooner.  I try very hard not to play the “what if” game because that ends well for NO ONE but as a flawed and imperfect human being, I cannot help but obsess over what COULD have been sometimes, instead of what was and is, even though I’m beyond grateful that my story is one that I’m still privileged to be here to tell.  That is, I’m alive.

While in Germany I was able to escape to Amsterdam for a few days and it was mostly awesome, when it wasn’t completely chaotic and anxiety inducing.  Busy folks everywhere.  Tourists and locals meshing together through the canals and side street eateries.  Pungent and competing smells from every bodega and bakery. Public trolleys and trains whizzing by with spaghetti-like crossing tracks and no discernible patterns. I watched a young gal peddling her bicycle through the cobble stone streets, with her groceries placed neatly in her front basket and a small short-haired dog in a little seat on the back.  She donned a straw hat and was wearing a vintage yellow embroidered dress.  She looked carefree and full of promise.  Naturally, my first instinct was to quickly glance around for the movie cameras that were surely going to be visible to me at any moment, as this scene was just too sublime to be real, but I assure you, it was real, and my disbelief quickly turned to jealousy and simply put, sour grapes.

You see, THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ME.  She is clearly living MY LIFE.  You know, the one I pictured in my head while I was sitting upon all those bar stools, spending money I didn’t have, telling tales that weren’t true, sleeping with people I didn’t know.

My gaze burned holes in her as I recalled every single minute of my life I’ve spent sitting behind a desk staring at a clock and willing it to move faster.  I quickly recounted all the days and months and years collectively I’ve spent hungover and ridiculously useless. How pathetically accurate AND ironic is it that the word I’m using is wasted? Time I’ve wasted, money I’ve wasted, and that doesn’t even touch the POTENTIAL I’ve wasted, and save getting me started on opportunities. They were wasted, because I was wasted.

my amsterdam bicycle experience was a tiny bit different

Some people never recover so in the great big scheme of things, of course I’m grateful for every single second of every moment, but I also can’t help but look in the rear view mirror and wish hopelessly for a “do-over”, and I know that’s not a notion specific to drunks.  I’m certainly not saying my life is one big regret, not at all – quite the opposite.  My life is so freaking ass-kickingly awesome that I am furious at myself for not getting to it sooner.

And here’s the thing, I’ve done my share of living, believe you me.  The point is not that I wish I could go back and make completely different decisions, but of course that is absolutely true as well.  No, what I want is to go back in time with the knowledge, compassion and clarity I have now. I want to see those “missing” years through SOBER eyes, not just as blurry memories like dirty streaks on a window where you can only see the vague outlines of what actually happened.  If only I had hit rock bottom sooner.  If only I had given sobriety a shot years ago.  If only I had LISTENED to all the warnings and advice.  If only.  Let’s also remember that I am still new to sobriety.  I don’t have everything figured out, not even close. Many would argue I wasn’t near ready back then and I wouldn’t have listened, anyway, and they are one hundred percent correct.

It’s not that I think if I’d gotten sober years ago I may have invented the fucking Kindle or cured Cancer or anything as fruitful and contributory as all that, but I can’t help but wonder how different my path would have been, if we had been introduced earlier.  As it turned out, I had to be introduced to some policemen, a few jails, multiple courtrooms, a few counselors, and ultimately some grim yet realistic liver Doctors who told me I was going to die before I would hold out my thin yellow hand to shake hands (tentatively) with sobriety.

Here’s my simple summation; my fear of dying outweighed my fear of living sober, but ONLY JUST.  It was a barely discernible amount, but that was all I needed.  A half ounce of hope.

It’s hard to forgive myself, but most days I still try.  Some days things still just aren’t far enough away in that rear view mirror, you know?

*sigh*

I’m not unique.  We all have a little bit of “woulda- coulda -shoulda” in us, I believe.  But I also believe it’s where I go from here that counts now, and that’s a darn good thing because as luck would have it, that’s all I have; this moment and forward.

That’s all we have.

So, tell me.  Do you guys lie awake at night and re-live every regrettable decision you’ve ever made and replay things over and over in your head like a terrible b-grade movie until there are tears running into your ears as you stare at your ceiling fan and wonder where thirty years of your life went?!?

No!?

Never mind.

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.

Well, the cat is out of the Crown Royal bag now.

Admitting you’re an alcoholic to yourself is never fun, but it’s super unfunny when you have to tell someone outside of your inner circle. It’s even more awkward when it’s just discovered organically.

Last summer I was a temp and had just gotten hired full time at a new job and naturally I was thrilled as it had been a long haul in between jobs because of my black shiny swollen liver trying to shoot out of my ass  illness.

I go to various support meetings and one of them is an LGBT meeting that I adore. When I asked if it was okay if I attended such meetings, being straight and all, I was delighted when they replied that as long as I had the desire to stop drinking I was welcome there and homosexuality was totally optional.  Suh-weet.

So in the spirit of such things, the annual Gay Pride festival rolled around and I volunteered to work in a recovery booth for said support group. As I was sitting there taking in all the sights and sweating like a virgin at a prison rodeo, I noticed what would be my NEW boss walking towards me, holding hands with another woman. It IS gay pride, after all. I thought nothing of it.

I sprang from behind the collapsable table and jumped in front of them.

Me: “Hey guys! How’s it going?!”

My New Boss: *stammering* “Ummm…great! You?

I proceed to make cheesy small talk with her and her friend and tried to appear confident and capable of doing a fine job in my new role at her company. Finally, she got up the nerve to ask me THE QUESTION.

MNB:  *glancing around at the festivities surrounding us*  “I thought you had a husband? And kids?!?”.

Me:  “Yeah, I do! I’m married and I have two stepdaughters”.  I couldn’t figure out why in the world she was asking me about my family. Seriously, you guys…I’m that stupid.

And then, like a 2 x 4 to the skull, it finally hit me. OMG.

Me: *laughing and not quite thinking things through* “OH! I’m not gay, I’m an alcoholic“! I proceeded to point to the recovery booth I had previously been manning.

*crickets*

Now here one could say EVERYTHING was out of the closet and figuratively on the table. I did NOT mean to “out” myself to my new employer, certainly…it just happened. It flew out of my mouth like sometimes often things do.

To her credit she never mentioned our accidental rendezvous the following Monday and never told any of our coworkers to my knowledge. Over time as we worked together and learned more about each other we had some awesome private jokes and winks here and there and only once she mentioned that Saturday morning.  We laughed about the awkwardness of that day and she offered, “I guess we both felt we had something to hide”.

I didn’t agree and told her so.  I told her you couldn’t compare being gay to being an alcoholic. Being gay is part of who you are and she shouldn’t ever be ashamed, in my opinion. Now I look back on that exchange and I feel somewhat differently. She had felt shame for being gay. She had hidden it at times in her life. She also knew that it’s part of who she is, like her DNA or fingerprints.

Just like my alcoholism. It’s part of me, but not all of me. And that will never change, like my DNA or fingerprints. And if I’m being totally honest, my unbridled love of the show “Hoarders”.

Hospital Daze

Ah, semantics.

Last Monday was the two year anniversary of my surgery.  On October 9th, 2015 I had a shunt put into my liver that connects the portal vein with the hepatic vein to bypass the liver in the event of Cirrhosis and hypertension in the liver.  TIPS is the jargon for this procedure.  This surgery was kind of a hail Mary pass by my Doctors in order to to bypass a dicey liver transplant.  Thankfully, it worked.

It occurred to me on that it had been two years on that day but I didn’t really spend much time thinking about it.  In fact the only thought that crossed my mind was “ONLY two years have passed”?!?  That was a year I desperately wanted to put in my rear view mirror.

Fast forward to Thursday.   I missed a call while I was out running errands and upon returning home, listened to the voice mail.

 

“Hello.  This is Austin from General Hospital and I’m calling to set up an appointment for your liver ultrasound as it has been two years since your surgery.  So…if you could call me back….ummm, Jen.  Wait…Jen?  JEN (insert last name here)?!?  Well, I’ll be damned“.

I had two “special procedures” technicians who were assigned to me each time my belly was drained and that happened seven different times so as you can imagine, the three of us developed a bit of a rapport.

It was clear as soon as he read my full name that he knew exactly who I was.  His message went on and his tone went from cautious recognition to gleeful surprise.   It occurred to me then that ole Austin hadn’t been betting on seeing me again.  Fair enough.

Austin’s sweet voicemail reminded me of just how awful it really was.  I would imagine that technicians like him see my type of case often enough.  I know they were all somewhat surprised of my age and gender given the condition of my leather liver.   I wonder how many folks make it?  I wonder how many get help and move on?  I wonder how many get their lives back?  I wonder how many don’t make it, like my best friend Ben.  I imagine the odds weren’t in my favor and Austin was well too aware of that.

Hearing the genuine happiness in his voice put a lump in my throat and took me back to a time when a lump stayed there.  A time where I laid in a hospital bed with tears streaming down my cheeks into my ears as I stared up at the ceiling unable to make eye contact with anyone for the soul crushing humiliation and shame that I felt.  After all, I had done this to myself.

Back to Austin.  I’ve replayed his message about 132 times and now I’m incredibly joyful that in three weeks I’ll walk into that hospital with the biggest cheesiest grin you’ve ever seen and give Austin a big fat hug and tell him how grateful I am for him, the surgery, and my life now.

In person.

 

 

 

 

 

Write what you know.

Over the years I’ve received a lot of tips when it comes to writing.  Advice, guidelines and multiple do’s and don’ts.  As a burgeoning young writer I would read and write voraciously and desperately wanted to write a novel of my own.  As I got older I kept journals and wrote short stories.  When blogging became a thing, I thought it would be the perfect foray into my writing The Great American Novel.  Now, I just needed subject matter.

I did a lot of research and one simple quote from Stephen King kept coming back to me time and time again.  “Write what you know”,  was his advice to wannabe writers.  Sounds easy, huh?  So I asked myself…what do I know?

Not so easy.

Well, let’s see.  I could write a dissertation on the cultural impact of HBO’s “Sex in the City” on modern women and dissect each episode in its entirety.  There’s that.  Ummm…I could write about running a half marathon.   Well, I didn’t really “run” it, I guess.  It was more of a bouncy walk really.  I could totally write about the perfect ratio of the chocolate syrup/magic shell combo onto a big bowl of Extreme Moosetracks.  I know a little about a lot I’ve always said.   That does not a book filleth.

Two years ago I almost lost my life to alcoholism.  I had life saving surgery on my liver and have been slowly getting my life back in order and transitioning to sober living.  I am grateful for the second chance, which led me to my somewhat obvious epiphany.

Drinking, I know.  Inside out and backwards and forwards.  Like a dirty threadbare blanket that’s stained and smelly but yet you grab for it every night to envelop yourself in its false security.

I know drinking.  I know shame.  I know fear.  I know the isolation that comes with it all.

I know what it’s like not to remember.  I know what it’s like to go from the life of the party to the laugh of the party.  I know what it’s like when the folks at work don’t believe you anymore.  I know the pity in their eyes.  I also know that it wasn’t always awful.   There were countless good times and happy memories.  I know that one day, maybe even tomorrow, I’ll want to feel that way again.  This I know.

I also know it will kill me.

So, I’ll write.

A Love Letter


 Well, I guess we both knew it was inevitable.
Looking back, we had a pretty good run, I suppose. I mean, we had our ups and downs, sure, every relationship does. I suppose I held on to the happier memories hoping that we could relive them once again, but I was only continually reminded that sometimes the past is better just left there.

I remember when we first crossed paths, many years ago in college. I was so innocent and sheltered, and you opened me up to another world. You gave me confidence and helped me out of my awkward shell. I was chatty, funny even. With you by my side, I was the life of the party. You’d usher me out nightly into a world I’d never known…parties, dances, mixers and bars. I was immediately mesmerized by your magnetism and charm. We were a formidable team. Through you, I found what I thought was my voice.

Of course, all good things must come to a end and as I matured and entered the “real” world, I would often wonder if ultimately we had a positive relationship. Sometimes you’d talk me into staying out too late, or even worse, coax me into chatting up the wrong fella. Sometimes you’d convince me into something so outrageous and dangerous, people doubted our sanity. But, I always forgave you. Other times we’d get together and reminisce. Often, we’d cry tears of regret for all of our stupid and regrettable decisions. But, time and time again, I’d return, the inevitable moth to the flame as when you shone brightly, you’d be hard to resist. You made me feel better about myself. You gave me strength at times as well as tremendous shame. You were such a chameleon and I, your hapless puppet. You were always what I needed when I needed you, or so I thought. Sometimes though, you made me hate myself.

We’ve broken ties time and time again. It never lasts. I always come crawling back, unable to escape your charm and your constant accessibility. Always being there for me was something I counted on, as pathetic as that sounds. However, more often than not, our excursions began to end in negativity and regret. It was a painful truth to acknowledge, but our relationship had become toxic. I guess I finally outgrew you.

Well, enough is enough, my old friend. Our love story must end. Perhaps about two decades over due, really.

I’ll miss you, sure. We had a lot of fun, and like a couple after a terrible divorce I suppose eventually I’ll only remember the good times and the happy memories and wonder ultimately what went wrong.

Then again, maybe not. So long, old pal.