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.
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:
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.
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.
Last year, ironically without anticipating all the difficult emotional terrain I would cover, I selected the word “Awaken” (or awake, I cannot recall!!) as my “Word of the Year.” Boy did I subconsciously Nail It! The Universe mercifully gave me lots of wake-up calls……and my Divine Power gave me the strength to answer. Suffice it to say, our family soared through potentially staggering emotional challenges and I am now a strong, proud “Friend of Bill’s” (aka Recovering Alcoholic).
This year, it took fewer than 5 minutes to imagine my guiding phrase/philosophy: “Abrazos Fuerte” – Translated from Spanish, it means “Strong Hugs.” Our wise and adoring Primo from Argentina (Spanish for Male First Cousin), Charlie, always ends his written communication with this beautiful phrase – it is his “signature.”
Cousin Charlie (pictured above, enjoying his 71st birthday in Bariloche, Argentina and in 1998, “supervising” my sister-in-law Christine in the family tradition of empanada making), is a strong and loving figure in our family. He is the existing “Patriarch” of the Tamburini family of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the homeland of my husband’s father, Mario Tamburini (my son has his name).
Charlie is the lifeline between my husband and his Argentinian heritage – he can tell us stories and share history that brings the family ancestry to life and provides a strong foundation for our children. When my husband and I announced the news of our engagement to the Argentinian branch of the family, they sent telegrams of congratulations and Charlie offered me abrazos fuerte in the form of one simple line: “Grandma Isabel is smiling for she would have found you extremely simpatico.” Simpatico means likeable and easy to get along with. WHO COULD ARGUE WITH THAT?!!!!
Anyway, life continues to amaze me and the journey would be impossible without MUCHOS ABRAZOS FUERTE. As a side note, I should add that the Tamburini family are known to be extremely strong huggers – so much so that my sisters, as Aunts, have had to caution my son Mario before hugging, “Not too hard, Mario!”. I am the proud Mother of 2 very strong huggers – they will do well in life.
The infamous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo published in Time Magazine from “V-J Day in Times Square 1945” really, for me, visually depicts the spirit of what I hope to achieve in everything I do with everyone I encounter in 2016. In life, one must march onward and celebrate moments with laughter and abrazos fuerte or else what the hell is the point?
Happy New Year, friends! May 2016 bring each of you your own special moments of warm embraces that melt away life’s jagged edges.