I got to spend 3 whole days with my daughter who left for college this past August. Let it be known, Momma is still not adjusted to this transition. Daughter, however, is fully settled and thriving. Experiencing her life, all the wonderful parts she chose so lovingly to share with me this weekend, has blessed me immeasureably. I see now the future she embraces instead of the fear, worry and sadness I have held for so long.
The weather was perfect, and our weekend began with my sweet dancer performing in her University’s “Greek Sing,” a talent show of sorts geared toward entertaining the hundreds (if not thousands) of Moms visiting their college students. Seeing the entire ensemble gave me concrete proof that college students are “different” than high school students in many ways.
Young adults moving about the world in their own skin, playing by their own rules and trying new experiences with their peer groups exhibit an energy and effervescence that is contagious.
It felt wonderful to step away from the tired, grumpy, complain-y adult world of “ain’t it awful” to breathing the spring air of fresh life, young energy and optimism for the future. That energy was palpable. I soaked it in. I feel new.
We enjoyed lunch with her new friends and Moms at the Sorority house then a lovely evening meal that she and her friends had carefully plotted – and everything was perfect. I was captivated by watching my daughter and seeing both parts of myself as a young adult and a whole new beautiful person – the unique woman she is evolving to become. She’s on her way. She’s where she needs to be. All my heaviness, worrying, tears – have just been for a Momma who didn’t yet understand her new place in her girl’s heart and life.
She proved to me this weekend I am still very much in her heart. Fairly newly sober, I need “spaces” in each day now to process my thoughts and feelings and renew my energy. Intuitively she understands this. We did everything at my pace and she gently led me through the weekend without pressuring me to do more than I could. Staying centered is important to me now, and I had no idea how very much my daughter respects and understands this.
Instead of continuing the evening with the group after the dinner, she told her friends we’d probably go back to our hotel and watch a movie. I was delighted. Off the hook yet also blessed to feel so “understood.” Ironically, one of our favorite movies happened to be on tv – “The Blind Side.” As we wound down the weekend, the words of Michael Orr to his Coach and later his Momma perfectly reflect my Daughter’s gentle love and presence: “I’ve got your back,” he said. So does she, and this Momma is beyond proud and happy.
Lately I have reflected alot on Brene Brown’s definition of “true belonging” from her latest book, “Braving the Wilderness”:
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to
yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
There is a big whopping heap of wisdom in that one little definition! Consider it from the framework of a marriage: a happy and successful “union,” some say, is the sum of two whole parts. Both partners are complete going into the union. What about the years when outside influences and family responsibilities gnaw at the core of one’s “whole self” – what about times when you are giving so much of yourself, you feel lost inside your own home?
This happened to me when a series of overwhelming challenges happened in rapid succession. Not only did I not belong to myself, I felt separate from the “wholeness” of marriage. Alone and terrified. Money, kids, health, work, geography and all kinds of other mini-challenges crept in my life and the me I was once so solidly familiar with started to disappear. Often weary, I dulled my fighting impulse with red wine. I thought I was stronger (i.e., belonged more authentically to myself) when I was drinking, but this could not have been further from the truth. I forgot how worthy I was of a happy life, so I drowned all my dreams and ambitions in alcohol. Fortunately for me and my family, a spark of life remained and I woke up in 2015 to the realization that I had made a big mess trying to comfort myself through numbing rather than belonging. I was in a crisis of disconnection.
Brene Brown continues her definition of true belonging”
“True belonging is not something that you negotiate externally, it’s what you carry in your heart. It’s finding the sacredness in being a part of something and in braving the wilderness alone. When we reach this place even momentarily, we belong everywhere and nowhere. That sounds absurd, but it’s true.”
I wonder if the quest for “true belonging” isn’t the biggest challenge we as humans are meant to overcome. It seems so simple but the piece that brought me back to myself and the living world and my family was finding the sacredness in being a part of something. Somehow I had internalized the message early in life that belonging equaled weakness so when the road of my life got very twisty – I retreated into myself and stopped connecting.
Many addiction experts believe that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. The joy of connection is an equal opportunity healer – yet for some, the most difficult to attain. If you are around enough people who suffer from addiction disorders, you will likely hear it repeated that they are grateful for their addiction because it led them to this awareness that true belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world.
Living a sober life after years of dulling the brightness of the real world truly is an adventure in re-connecting with the child you once were and the loved ones you travel with. I am grateful to Brene Brown for helping me to clarify the importance of true belonging, it is the foundation for my whole life now.
Next week I will celebrate my 2nd consecutive year living in long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder. Notice my language. It is very specific for a reason: I believe that I will spend the rest of my life working to develop deeper understanding of my need to numb feelings and, hopefully, will be granted the Grace and inspiration to pursue ever-deeper practices for managing and maintaining a healthy, well-rounded life without relying on alcohol.
I am so proud of this achievement yet I know that I could “slip” at any time if I begin to neglect the positive practices that keep me humble and eager for continued sobriety. Just like a person who has changed jobs, my openness about my struggles is just one of many facts about my life – in other words, sobriety will never define me as a person. Yet, surprisingly, maybe because of tv shows like “celebrity rehab” or the heavy infiltration of 12-step type phrases in popular culture, it has been my experience that people automatically have their own sets of expectations of what your recovery should look and feel like.
It is impossible to convey to a person who does not have addiction controlling their life the excitement and liberation you feel once you decide to change, accept your limitations, and work everyday to seek newer and better ways to live “a normal life” without obsessing over wanting to numb. That’s why I write about it. But it makes people feel “awkward,” it seems. So I am supposed to confine and limit my experience to groups of other “users.” This does not make sense to me. You wouldn’t avoid talking to a person about their new “job,” so why would the topic of pursuing a life without addiction be any different? This is why maintaining sobriety can be difficult – it is more “polite” to ignore the addiction monster in casual conversation. This kind of sweeping under the rug behavior is bad for our children. They need to hear us talking about and showing them what a life built on zero reliance on alcohol looks and feels like. Just like we introduce our children to the concept of work by taking them to work with us, we should not be afraid to declare our commitment to sobriety to our friends, family and community.
The reality is that the younger a person is when they first experience alcohol, the more likely it will cause an addiction problem later in life. We don’t perpetuate self-sabotaging cycles in other health-related concerns (for instance, heart disease), so why are we reluctant to openly discuss and support addiction and sobriety?
I have a suspicion it is because many of us believe one of two things: that we are already slipping into bad habits of relying on alcohol to “numb” difficult emotional situations or we mistakenly believe we are immune to addiction. Those are highly dangerous beliefs. I think another reason people don’t want to talk about their feelings related to numbing and alcohol is because there is a widespread misunderstanding of what a sober life looks and feels like. I will definitely admit (if you have not already ascertained this fact!) that I am a much more sensitive person sober than drinking. I have to work hard to process my thoughts, feelings and responses to everyone and everything around me to avoid falling into old patterns of numbing. But that doesn’t mean my life is no longer fun or that I will not tolerate others’ drinking around me (everybody has their own barometer of tolerance about this, so it is always thoughtful to ask).
Over the weekend, I felt so many “feels” as we celebrated our first-born child’s Graduation from High School. At once sentimental and fearful, the onslaught of well-wishing from people in your life you may still be reconciling with, the entire weekend was challenging and tiring for me to navigate. And the past two nights, my poorly trained brain with only 2 years of sober thinking under its belt, even began telling me “You should go ahead and enjoy a drink or 2 or 10. You don’t really have a problem.” This is proof to me that I will spend every waking moment for the rest of my life “managing” this enormous force that lives inside of me that wants to numb everything.
Finally, some thoughts about people in Recovery that might help others better understand this journey:
Sober people are fun people;
Getting sober means the party is just beginning, not ending.
Sober People do not intend to make you feel uncomfortable ;
Sober People would rather you throw out all your old ideas about Recovery and learn by engaging with them rather than avoiding the topic altogether;
Just like becoming confident about one’s performance in a new job, living comfortably in your own skin as a sober person takes time, and you should not have any unrealistic expectations about what this should look like – every sober person is unique.
It has been an honor and a pleasure sharing the past 24 months with Readers. I have received so much love, grace and appreciation from the many people who want to understand addiction. This propels me forward, especially after my 99th cup of coffee during absolutely perfect cold Heineken or margarita weather!
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.
October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends! My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives. Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level. How do I cope?
Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend. For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”: Family, Friends, Faith and Food.
At age 50, I have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react). I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains. And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.
I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.
This means that some old behaviors have to be modified. Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures. In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.
I’ll start with Family. As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles. If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence. And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything! I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh). The result? While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor. I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason. One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations: when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.
Now about Friends: this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others. The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever. I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post! I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse. My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first. So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient. Not needy. I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships. Some of my friendships have lasted decades! In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self. That is so comforting.
Faith. That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown: it is STILL with me. Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will. Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused. Yes, I do and say regrettable things. Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time. I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.
My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter. Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul. That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.
Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress: FOOD!
In particular, COOKIES! How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress. But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples: Butter and Sugar. Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery. For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious! This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint. Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:
1 1/2 cups four
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 teaspoon alt
Pinch of clove
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely ground pecans
Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap. Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step). Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle. Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Discard the plastic sheets from the dough. Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes. If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Adapted from “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan
It’s the First Day of School…..again. Moms and Dads all over the world proudly and wistfully send their hearts out the door as their children take on a new year of challenges. I am all too familiar with the emotions this day brings. Big expectations and hopefulness, with a sprinkle of tears over the loss of another year of youth.
The start of a new school year is like a new chance – an opportunity to discover, redefine and experience life. Our kids probably don’t see it this way, but we parents know how rarely in life we get new chances – and how easy it can be to squander such a beautiful gift. THAT’S why it is bittersweet for us. We don’t want our kids to really know about the frightening and painful parts that new chances bring. Sentimentality overtakes our senses and before we know it, we are overlaying the new chance with memories, stories, pictures and gratitude our children were once innocent. That’s how the first day of school feels for me, anyway.
The backpacks stuffed with homemade craft projects coming in the door are in my past now. I have them all, they are overflowing in plastic tubs but many of them I have framed. The innocence and tenderness expressed through the art my children have bestowed upon us is one of the best experiences of parenthood. Now, instead of art projects, I look into their eyes for those signs of love and expressions of how they are relating to the world. This morning, I saw a freshness in my son’s eyes I have not seen in many years. Hopefully some of the storms of his early adolescence have passed. In my daughter’s eyes, I saw a beautiful, spirited young woman on the brink of leaving the nest – her “senior year” eyes. She loves her journey, and I think we are both on the same page: enjoy every minute.
So this brings me to my final point this morning: I have also been given a second chance, and today is a wonderful day to celebrate and “mark” it. 14 months ago, I began my recovery from addiction. I have been given a second chance to savor the present moment free from the numb world of alcohol. Living in the real world, fully present, each day committing to accepting my journey without altering it in any way – is a beautiful second chance. I am ready for Sophomore and Senior year of High School and incredibly humbled by the gift of this second chance. Even the difficult days are grounded in goodness because they are real and offer second chances to grow into the future.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
This 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.
Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up. This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up! My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house. This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting. I love being a Mom. In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be. I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.” What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!
Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind. Anticipating each last. Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum. One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream: if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness. This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment. Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end. There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers). I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.
Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question: if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children? I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford). Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:
I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten. After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school. I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day. But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten. Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more. But what’s done is done.
I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument. We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible. Our kids love music. But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language. It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals. I do regret this.
Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life. My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse. It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others. My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
More family meals. We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week. Better than nothing! I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do! (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that). Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality. I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions! I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly). To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah! What a beautiful, content baby! She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”. We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents. For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another. Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children. As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.
So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful. Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments. Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.