Today, my precious first-born graduates from High School. My God, wasn’t I just at her kindergarten graduation? All of us parents share the same wistful feeling about time with our children – it goes by much too quickly. She’s a healthy, balanced, focused, driven, joyful, beautiful and brilliant young woman now. What more could I ask for? I must step aside and watch her grow.
If there is one thing I have learned from my recovery, it is there is no shame in starting over. I do it everyday. We all do. The previous 48 years of “all or nothing” thinking really limited my growth and perspective and that hindrance ultimately led to a dependence which became an addiction. Now I know. To paraphrase the brilliant Maya Angelou famously, “Once you know better, do better.”
People ask me all the time, “How have you stayed sober?”. The answer is simple: each morning when I open my eyes, I thank God for another day of life and I commit to not drinking that day. I have other things I do, and attending a 12-step program is not one of them. I did for the first 12 months and decided I needed to broaden my resources and thinking, and have happily managed a workable – if not patchwork – program on my own. I am enjoying life today instead of enduring it.
Here’s the point I want to make today: you can change at any time and begin a new path. My 18-year old daughter is graduating from High School tonight with beautiful dreams of her own. There were days when she was very young when I would find myself in a heap of laundry and tears on the telephone with my oldest sister saying, “I can’t even take care of myself. I am so afraid and overwhelmed.” But life marched on, didn’t it?.
The takeaway I want anybody reading this today to receive is this:
Never Be Afraid Of Starting Over
Perfection is an unrealistic expectation and illusion that does nothing but create resentment and discontent. Wouldn’t you be happier saying you tried something and enjoyed the moment rather than standing still in perfect silence, terrified by the prospect you can never be perfect? Motherhood taught me so many things, and especially raising such a determined little character as my daughter, Isabella Bernadette. When she was 3 and just starting out hosting “play-dates,” I would be so desperate to please the other Mothers, I would constantly intervene and scold her, telling her repeatedly to “share” with the other children. Her response?
“I want to share with ME!”
Don’t we ALL? Who can argue with the brilliant logic of a 3-year-old little girl?!
The thing is, we all have to learn to be our own cheerleaders and personal life coaches. Instead of looking in all the wrong places (e.g., malls, catalogs, bars, escapes), the answer can be found within. I guess I was too skeptical, cynical and afraid to trust myself. I know better now, so I am doing better.
So happy to bring you this insightful piece from my Recovery Friend, Rose Lockinger. If you are new in your Recovery or simply in need of a fresh perspective, Rose’s piece reminds us to expect a journey full of twists, turns, surprises and mini-victories. In short, like all things in life, when doing the work of Recovery, expect the unexpected and welcome the lessons as they unfold. xoxo Joan
You know how people always say that we take two steps forward, one step back, well in no other place in my life have I found that truer than with my recovery.
See, I have found that the healing process is never linear, although sometimes I would like it to be. Sometimes I want to believe that it will be achieved perfectly but this is never the case. Like it says, progress not perfection, this process of healing involves progress. It never just continues in a straight and logical manner but rather it ebbs and flows, and there are times when I feel like I’m actually healing and other times when I feel like I am completely regressing.
I didn’t understand that this was the way of things when I first got sober and I guess I sort of believed that my life would just get exponentially better day in and day out. The reason why I thought this way is because my life changed so dramatically and so suddenly that I just thought it would continue in this manner forever. The Steps seemed to work perfectly and the further I got into them the better off I became.
I found that I stopped lying as much. I stopped craving drugs and alcohol, and I even started to believe in God, in fact so much healing occurred in that first year of recovery that to a certain degree I kind of felt like I was destined to become the most spiritual being on the planet. That I was destined to be free from all of my character defects within the next year or so, but then reality kicked in and coming down from my little spiritual hilltop, I settled into my new way of life and I began to see that not everything was being healed as quickly as my alcoholism was. I began to see that many of the things in my life that were particularly ingrained were going to take a lot of work to get over and possibly more pain before they were ready to be healed.
I have also found that certain times in my recovery, I thought that I was healed from something, or that I had finally overcome some trauma or defect of character only to be reminded a couple of weeks later that it was still there and there was more healing to be done. I’d get these epiphanies and believe that I understood something that would allow me to change or heal, and to a certain extent I would, but then it would just lead me to more parts of myself that need to be healed.
Without getting too far into the abstract, I sort of believe that this is the way that life works. We are born whole and pure, without any attachment or damage and then through the process of our life we pick up damage and get hurt by people or things. Then once we are ready, we begin the process of healing from this hurt, attempting to get back to a place of wholeness, but the process is unique and there is no set road map. With each layer of healing that occurs another is revealed just like the peeling of an onion, and so the job is never done It is always ongoing.
I’ll give you a recent example from my own life to help illustrate this point. It is something that I have written about a lot and talked about even more, but has been probably the most important thing that has occurred in my recovery and has been one of the greatest sources of healing for me.
For years I hated my ex-husband, but after working my Steps I healed a little bit from the pain that I felt he inflicted on me, and so for a time I was okay. I believed that I had achieved peace with this part of my life and in all honesty for some time, I had. I wasn’t yet ready to really dive into that situation and experience true healing and so I only peeled back the first layer of the onion.
Then I moved back to my home state so that I could be with my kids and in doing so, I had to invite him back into my life. Not in the sense that we were getting back together, but in the sense that we had children together which required regular interaction with him.
Being home and being around him brought up things in me that were tremendously painful and I really struggled for a number of months with this. There were some days where I’d thought I found peace in the situation, only to have it destroyed the following day when he’d make some offhanded comment to me, or I’d find out something he said about me to our kids.
I’d go to meetings and I’d hear bits and pieces of information that I needed in order to heal from the situation and I’d leave these meetings thinking I had finally found the secret that would unlock my healing and allow me to act neutrally towards him, but this just didn’t happen. As the months went on and the pain got greater, I continued my lurch towards healing by taking two steps forward and one step back.
Then something happened that allowed me to know that I truly had healed from the wounds of this part of my life. I finally felt the true acceptance of who he is as a person and what the situation was. I no longer felt anger towards him. In fact, I just felt compassion and realized that he was doing the best he could.
So that’s been the story of my healing, a process that is messy sometimes and seems to move in directions that don’t make sense to me, but in the end, work towards my greater good. Sometimes I am aware that I am moving in the right direction, while other times I’m not even sure where I’m going, but through it all, I usually wind up feeling better.
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:
SpiritualityAdmitting 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;
CreativityBefore 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!;
IntuitionIt 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Accepting Endings And New Beginnings And The Process In Between 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.
Yesterday it became official: After 20 years of marriage, I am officially 31 pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day. But I am too busy getting sober, raising teenagers, losing my reading glasses, finding myself, and holding on to the time I have today with loved ones to really give a damn.
Another thing became official in the last week: my husband believes in the regular “God Winks” I am receiving from my Dad.
Mike witnessed it as we gazed outside his office window anticipating the start of the Kansas City World Series Parade last week: out of the blue, a single feather gracefully frolicked in the wind and made its way to the pavement just beneath us. He looked at me with wonder and said, “Dickie’s here!”. Yesterday, I was feeling like a little kid again, preparing to meet a new friend and try a new AA meeting, and wanting to just go home and hide beneath my covers. I ran out to my car before my friend met me for coffee before the meeting to look for my phone: a single feather lay just beside my car door (it was NOT there when I arrived a few moments earlier). Dad was reassuring me, “Go ahead and go to that meeting. You need it.”
I’m holding on and letting go to everything and everyone these days, it seems: my beautiful teenagers; my youth (and former figure!); things that used to matter but really don’t anymore; my dreams of who I wanted to be and reckoning with the reality of the time I have left to fulfill them or make new ones.
I am still thrilled and sometimes even enraptured by the journey of life – including the scars I carry as a mid-lifer. It’s wild to ponder the things that matter more to me now that I know I don’t have a lot of time on this Earth. I care more about being gentle and kind than winning, at anything. I worry less about deadlines and more about resilience and protection (social work lingo that I love!). We live among the wounded and I want to be a healer.
I guess the trick to living a life of Grace after 50 is to know when to hold on and when to let go. I cannot be in this state perpetually! Luckily, I have had some pretty wise friends share their wisdom with me along the way.
Remember the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”? I picture myself often as the character Kathy Bates plays – Evelyn – that awkward midlife woman, pathetically hanging on to a shell of her former self until she meets Jessica Tandy’s character – Ninny – the older woman in the nursing home who shares the story of her relative, Idgie, in segments for Evelyn, and gives her the gift of strength to prepare her for old age. I had a friend like Evelyn in Winfield, Kansas. Her name was Sally Wilcox and she was a writer. She volunteered to write an article about an old dairy house on our land adjacent to a neighborhood development. Mike and I saw beauty and grace in this old structure. Our neighbors saw blight. They wanted it torn down, we maintained it had Historic value and submitted to the City’s requirements that it be boarded up.
The dairy house was designed and lived in by a relative of a well-known architect from the region. Louis Caton, a musician, lived there for a period of time and was a known local artist and musician. We romanticized the past and the things that transpired in the old dairy house but to the neighbors, it represented a hatred they carried for the former developer of their neighborhood and broken promises. It was ours but, in the end, it was not. Our fight did not matter because the neighbors won the right to tear it down, after all. Looking back, I realize the dairy house was just a symbol to Mike and me of something beautiful we had found and wanted to “tend to” for our children. We imagined a future for them in rural Kansas and all the cool things they might get to do with this beautiful barn like structure set beside a wooded canyon that many children, including Osage Indian children and pioneer children, had played in before.
But maybe we held on to the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons which now, ultimately, does not matter. But I cannot stop thinking about the twinkle in Sally Wilcox’s eyes as she interviewed us and published the article in the local newspaper about it. In all her wisdom, Sally thought the fight was worth it and she liked us, unlike our neighbors! One afternoon before a public hearing about the condemnation of the dairy house we were forced to attend at the City, Sally gave me the earrings she wanted me to wear bearing the words: “People are no damn good.” I will always love her for her strength and courage and carry with me the memory of my very own “Evelyn,” who helped me confront one of my first ugly midlife battles over WHAT to hang on to and WHEN to let go.
So, here I am, almost 50, getting feathers from Dad and remembering a brilliant older friend who gave me many gifts of wisdom. In their own ways, they both sustain me as I daily weigh what’s worth my energy and what’s not.