“Just As You Freakin’ Are?”

Remember that pivotal scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” when she tells her friends that Mark Darcy has told her he likes her “very much – just as you are“?  They react with wide-eyed amazement.  “Just as you freakin’ are?,” one of them repeats with disbelief.   It’s so simple yet rare to have that kind of love, right?

Imagine enjoying that kind of love for self:  developing the ability to look in the mirror each day and say to yourself, “I love you, JUST AS YOU ARE.”  This is the best way I can describe my life after 555 days of soul-searching sobriety.

For some unknown reason, my sobriety has yielded the spiritual gift of truly deep and unfailing JOY.  Because of joy, I have had the courage to explore many new paths in 555 days – paths I would have had to ignore while drinking, to make time for hangovers!

Here is what 555 days and approximately 2,220 cups of coffee, accompanied by lots of reading, thinking, sharing and exploring has opened up in my life:

  • Spirituality  Admitting you are powerless over a substance has a way of removing a huge burden from your shoulders and opening your eyes to the Spiritual Journey we are all on.  When I meet people now that I am sober, because of the Grace and Humility that sustain me, I am more likely to search for whatever good I can find in that person and connect in any way to the story of their life – not just their outward appearance, or even their words;
  • Creativity Before I got sober, I had to think for several months about exactly what it was that I wanted for myself that was more important than numbness.  For years, I have had a yearning to write about many things, but of course, the fear of looking stupid is a powerful inhibitor.  No, I decided to try it:  to give up numbness for the feeling of expressing myself on paper, even if nothing came of it, was a risk I decided to take.  I am SO thankful I did!;
  • Intuition It is so lovely to open up space in your life for peace and quiet.  For a long time, my drinking and subsequent numbness was the crutch I had to use to “get there” – my pseudo- place of satisfaction.  Sobriety can deliver enormous intuitive capacity to the person in long-term recovery.  Through quiet reflection, which is definitely a necessary daily practice to ensure I am not going to drink during each 24-hour period, a feeling of calm and reassurance that I can rely on my very own skills to deal with whatever life challenges me with that day.  I feel 100 percent more competent and trusting in my intuition;  
  • Financial Sobriety/ Simplicity Early in sobriety, it is common to consider all of the things that are “out of control” in one’s life as a result of the chaos regular numbing creates.  Broken relationships, employment and financial disasters are often the “Big 3” demons someone committed to long-term recovery must confront.  What I am experiencing personally is such personal fulfillment inside, my spending habits and attitudes toward money are changing.  I am starting to actually enjoy making changes to build a nest-egg rather than finding reasons to use money to cover my pain today.  Somehow, I have finally internalized the message that I HAVE enough because I AM enough. THIS is a miracle!  To read more about this concept, visit Meadow Devor’s blog @ http://www.meadowdevor.com.

In short, learning to love yourself “just as you are” is one way to express growing up.  Being a grown up was never very appealing to me, at least not every single dimension of it.  The personal responsibility and accountability part of being a grown up have strengthened the most during my 555 journey.  I believe myself when I say I will do something, unlike before, when a voice inside of me was constantly bickering in the background and telling me I would somehow mess things up entirely.

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Messing up is part of life, it is what makes us unique and human.  Many times, messes give us our biggest lessons and greatest joy.  Go forward in your journey, the path does not have to be straight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was me, 2 years ago, before I got Sober

0429160942_HDRThis is me today.  In 9 days, I will celebrate my “First Sober Birthday” with my my AA friends and family.  I feel grateful and humble and raw.

For every person, the desire to become sober and begin living a life in the truth, however imperfect, comes from unique motivations.  Sadly, many find themselves seeking sobriety after huge losses or tragedy.  I am lucky that my story is pretty simple.  I knew alcohol consumed ME, not the reverse.  I knew I needed to find something I wanted more than the feeling of numbness and relief I got from consuming an entire bottle of Malbec on my couch every night.

I was tired and afraid.  Our family had been through so much and I sort of resented (WARNING! Resentment is so dangerous! ) having to start over again with our young children after the course my husband and I had put in motion in 2002 did not succeed.  Starting over after moving to the comfort and simplicity of small town life in the company of dear friends, in every sense of the phrase, had not been in our consciousness whatsoever.  It happened.  Everything we had planned on failed (and then some) and we were forced to come up with another plan.  Meanwhile, my parents were getting older and I  resented the fact that I was so preoccupied with caring for my own family.  I resented everybody and everything for a very long time.  I lived with the awful sense of complete domination by choices of others for many years and it broke me.  I started to drink.  Then I started to need to drink.  Then I couldn’t stop.

When you resent people and situations, you forget the power you have to change your life and you lose all hope of ever experiencing serenity.  Though I did not know this is what I was doing when alcohol dominated my life, it was.  And it was destroying me and moving closer to destroying my family.  After suffering the indignity of watching a friendship and business partnership destroy my husband and interfere with our marriage, I did not want to live in the present any longer. My drinking was the equivalent of hiding beneath the covers.

Slowly, after many bad hangovers and raging outbursts that produced nothing but hurt feelings and distance between my husband and me, I began to have tiny inklings of desire to climb out of my self-protective shell (what irony, alcoholism is anything but) and live in the truth everyday.  I couldn’t do it by myself.  I had to be humble, grateful, open, raw, willing to confess my bad behavior, open to listening to others’ stories, and willing to being broken open over and over by memories and feelings I thought I had long ago dealt with at any moment. This is the life of a sober alcoholic. And it is beautiful.

“After we’ve been in A.A. for a while, we find out that if we’re going to stay sober, we have to be humble people. ….Gratitude to God for His grace makes me humble.  When I think about the kind of person I was not so long ago, when I think of the person I left behind me, I have nothing to be proud of.  Am I grateful and humble?”

Richmond W., 1954

 

At the end of the day, however imperfect, I want to live life instead of copping out.  Even though unpleasant, feeling fear, anxiety, pain, dread and powerless are part of everyday life.  I had to learn to cope.  I love the lessons God is giving me, even unto this very moment, in coping with life and my feelings.  It has given my family a new life.  Sobriety is my joy and I am willing to fight for it every single day.

 

 

 

THIS

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February 11, 2016 – Pudgey, Mario, Vanilla and me

My husband snapped this photo last night and emailed me with the title, “Evening Huddle.”  It is a helluva happy huddle!  A year ago, I was way off course and quickly sinking to the bottom of my addiction to alcohol.  My cousin sent me a great article recently that describes addiction as “the opposite of connection.”  Bingo!  Total disconnect – by selfish choice – then by habit – finally without any sort of logic or consent at all.  Just dead.

God and my family have brought me back to life.  In just 8 months, I have been fortunate to have regained my sobriety and focus.  And look at my reward!  A puppy, handsome teenaged son (and daughter, who just celebrated her 17th birthday and is overjoyed with her new ukulele), purring cat, large cup o’ Joe, Netflix and hubby all in one room filled with happiness, a roaring fire and quilts made with love by my Mom.

I don’t know why I steered so far off course in the first place.  It is so scary.  I am one of the lucky ones to have been brought back to a conscious, intentional life.  Yes, I feel pain instead of numbness at times.  AND JOY!!!!  Today, I am just grateful for my happy chaos – I am working with kindergarteners in an underprivileged community.  I have a beautiful family, a Mom I can still call on the telephone as often as I want, an amazing AA Sponsor, a life partner of almost 20 years, and many supportive friends.  Whether our family can afford to take a vacation this year or not:  WE ARE RICH.

I read a lot about addiction and recovery now.  If you are looking for inspiration, motivation, or just curious about people’s stories, I encourage you to check out 2 of my favorites:

RecoveryHeroes.com 

SheRecovers.com

You can be as public or private about your struggles as you like.  I have deliberately talked about mine because it helps my healing and accountability.  More poignantly, talking about it helps me live in the present and experience the joy to the fullest.

Go hug your mess!

 

 

5 Gifts of Living Sober

This past Sunday, I logged into AA Grapevine and entered my Sobriety Date to check the number of days I have been sober.  It’s just way of measuring success, I guess, like weighing oneself on a scale to stay motivated during a diet.  I am an alcoholic, so my “diet” will never end.  I have been sober for 7.7 Months.  If I did not have the “Sobriety Calculator” or any other means of measuring the number of days I have been sober, I, the Stubborn Doubter, have lots of empirical evidence that each hour sober is 100 times better than any vino fino tinto.  Here is my list of 5 Gifts of Living Sober:

  1. Stop Wanting And Start Living For years, I have had a restless spirit, longing to be and have things that were within sight but mysteriously unattainable.  Then, about 5 years before I got sober, I decided to approach life with more of an open heart.  “Perhaps if I pray to God to have an open heart, He can lead me in the right direction,” was my thinking.  I wasn’t ready to admit that I was avoiding doing things (e.g., the hard work of living sober) by preoccupying myself with having things.  I never believed I would have what it took to make that leap.  I do now! Each morning that I wake up sober, I thank God for leading me to pursue worthwhile things and also giving me the strength and courage to keep at it.
  2. Stop Gambling With My Health And Start Cherishing The Body God Gave Me  Of course, drinking is not a gamble to the non-alcoholic because they can stop.  Since I couldn’t, yet continued daily drinking for several years, I was literally treating my body like a garbage dump.  In my newly-negotiated relationship with Spirit (e.g., “Higher Power”), I truly believe harmful, self-destructive behavior that could potentially lead to death (like addiction to alcohol) is a beautiful opportunity to love oneself in disguise.  Does a person who really understands the importance of being healthy, physically, emotionally, and mentally, gamble with those gifts by sinking further into addiction?  I hear people in AA meetings say all the time, “I thank God for my alcoholism, it has given me the gift of (fill in the blank with anything valuable)”.  Again, if you’re not an addict or alcoholic, this “gift” may not make sense.
  3. Cherish The Company Of Other Alcoholics  I know I avoided going to my first AA meeting because I was sure it would be full of “depressing people” that I would not be able to “relate to.”  It’s the opposite!  It is home.  Alcoholics are the most compassionate, funny, friendly, dependable, humble and noble people I have ever met.  The “Hi, Joanie!” greeting you hear (often joked about, even) in meetings is warm, sincere, safe and accepting.  SAFETY is a major trigger word for alcoholics, the lack of which (whether it be emotional, financial or physical), because our disease plays with our minds and tells us that we must remain fearful and on guard at all times because no person or situation is safe.  I had a Counselor in my twenties (who was unaware of my binge drinking but completely pegged one of my alcoholic behaviors) described my emotional state like this:  “Joan, you seem to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode 24/7 – always prepared for the danger that lurks around the corner, feeling hunted.”  Precisely.  I was deeply unsettled but had no idea why.  My Alcoholic pals understand and I am so glad for each and every one of them.
  4. Accepting Endings And New Beginnings And The Process In Between3562ced271566a90f3770d5caa4487b8  Like “The Little Prince,” my favorite time of day has always been the sunset – and during my drinking days, especially so.  Watching the sun drifting into the horizon meant I had survived the challenges of the day (e.g., sick kids, frustrating work problem, hangover, overdrawn checking account, whatever) and that it would soon be time to open my bottle of serenity.  I avoided admitting I was an alcoholic for years because I knew it was a permanent commitment.  However, nowadays, my very grateful sober self sees something quite different in the concept of “forever.”  In her new book, “Bottled,” Dana Bowman describes the paradox:

“The toughest part was realizing that recovery would never be “over” – not if I was going to take it seriously.  When you’re a part of my club, taking out a lease on recovery is not an option.  When I really thought about the lack of alcohol forevermore, it felt like I’d been told to clean the Grand Canyon with a toothbrush, while blindfolded.  But every once in awhile, tiny moments of peace and joy descended upon me and were so defined and real, they lifted me out of my canyon.  I would focus on the higher horizon then, and just kept walking.

5.  “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room” (William Shakespeare, “King John.”)

I saved the best gift for last:  Living a Sober Life means spending your time the way you want to, free from the chains of an addiction that leads to darkness.  There is so much LIGHT in my life because of the new freedom I have discovered that it is okay to feel and express emotions and spend a day doing as I please instead of constantly weighing and measuring myself against impossible standards.  Reading poetry has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but I gave it up to lead a more “serious” life of career and family.  Now it is back in my life and I feel rejuvenated.  Here is a new favorite poet and her artful examination of leading one’s own life:

Poetry
By
Mary Oliver
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering In Community

I told my counselor today that this summer I allowed myself “permission” to just sit quietly (a lot!) and rest, reflect and heal.  When I decided to get sober this past June, I had no idea that I would feel emotionally drained for so long – the exact opposite of what I was expecting.

We overuse the word
We overuse the word “balance” like we do “love.” It is a commitment and daily effort, like love.

 Ironically, for me, the clearer my mind becomes, the less I seek the chaos that was once my life – am I now addicted to peace?

Talk to anybody who has been in recovery for more than a couple of years and they will nod in complete agreement and understanding and say, “the longer you are sober, the more you will enjoy a quiet life.”  The trick is learning how to quiet the things that once stressed me emotionally without alcohol.  This must explain my present state of fatigue, I am like a child learning to ride a bike without training wheels.

Thus, the subject of today’s blog:  How does one successfully “recover in community,” with normal deadlines, stresses, demands and all sorts of other messy obstacles life presents?  I began my sobriety without any kind of in-patient treatment, so I have been “hanging out there” in community trying to stay sober and keep my life going for five months.  It is tiring.  I wish I could say it is thrillingly exhilarating – the gratitude I feel each morning for a new day, a healthy and loving family, and my sobriety is comforting.  But maintaining it all makes me well – TIRED.

I am still in nurture mode with 2 teenagers
I am still in nurture mode with 2 teenagers

Doing what is best for my 2 very different children without the influence of alcohol is certainly much easier and more enjoyable!  However, some days it feels like I don’t have as much to give as I’d like.  My body, mind and soul feel tapped out because all I can do is just “be” and “love.”  Is this enough???  I see other parents (whose sobriety status I am not aware of) really “managing” their kids’ lives and this clearly is not what is happening under my roof.  And the gnawing question I have, now that I am sober is, “what’s the difference between the way I loved drunk and the way I am loving sober?”.  Or anything for that matter.  And I think the answer is caring and feeling versus numb and complacent.  I think my body hurts and my spirit feels tired because it hurts to feel and process one’s thoughts in healthy ways all day long, especially when you are responsible for young adults.

Recovering in Community works best in the company of a safe friend
Recovering in Community works best in the company of a safe friend

When I talk about these fears and feelings to my non-sober friends, I kind of get blank stares.  Other addicts know exactly what I mean.  It’s what makes us all different and interesting, right?  So I continue to make room in my life for AA meetings, conversations with others who are focused on their recovery, and living a day to day life that is healthy, balanced and aimed at giving my family the right kind of love – without cheating myself.  That’s enough for one person to handle.  And that, my friends, is how I am attempting to “recover in community.”

What Teapots and Birkenstocks Mean After 120 Days Sober

In less than 6 months, I will be turning 50.  For the first time in 30 years, I will celebrate sober.  A little over halfway through the journey, sometimes I feel regret that I waited so long to discover inner peace but also many days I feel upset that I can’t party like a rock star anymore!  Maybe that feeling will fade as 120 days rolls into 200, 365 and more.  More time of living in the present and fully engaged.

In many ways, my newfound sobriety has brought me back full circle to the things I have always loved, especially COMFORT.  I am a homebody (though this is surprising to many) who loves my couch, family, warmth of the sun or a roaring fire, homemade meals and simple pleasures.

I think the bare-boned honesty it takes to admit one is powerless over a person, place or thing brings with it comfort and liberation – so really, I have just come “home.”

I choose comfort over cuteness
I choose comfort over cuteness
I want my tea, not my Malbec
I want my tea, not my Malbec

I realized I had accepted my “lot” as a “recovering alcoholic” when I found myself daydreaming about having a pair of Birkenstocks and a good tea kettle.  Chuckle and snort, though I may about this, the darned truth of the matter is:  I AM HAPPY WITH MYSELF!  

There are messes our family must deal with left behind from my years of selfish self-medicating, at the top of which, of course, is my habit of overspending.  But, my God!  4 months ago I could not have stayed clear-headed long enough to even research where our money was going much less devise a plan to resolve it.

A good friend is helping me re-vamp my resume, too.  THIS would never have happened when I was drinking.  She cannot believe I don’t have any “professional” self-esteem.  I can’t believe there is someone out there that sees something I can’t see, but I am willing to dig further, to consider some truths about myself and put myself in the ring of competition for whatever rewarding career awaits me next.  I must do this, not only for myself and my family, but because things are going too well to just sit on my couch (as much as I love it!) for the rest of my life.

Push Push Push.  I think I can until I know I can – the Little Engine that Could.  This is me at 49, a little war-torn and rough but loving the journey and thanking God every day I wake up sober.

120 days sober looks like this when you are 49
120 days sober looks like this when you are 49