Sunday, April 25, 2010

Remembering: Cinderella

Yesterday at my favorite meeting we were discussing the first step. I haven't sat at a first step table in a long time, and as people shared their drunk-a-logs I realized that I've been forgetting the damage I did while drinking, forgetting the awful ways I felt. I realized that I've been taking my sobriety for granted, and as long as I take it for granted I can't be secure in it. In other words, taking my sobriety for granted is the first step down that slippery slope to relapse, and I remember enough to know that I don't want to go there. So I decided that I need to consciously remember some of the worse incidents, so as not to repeat them. Ellie over at One Crafty Mother does this, and her stories are always a great inspiration to me. Now it's my turn.

"Cinderella dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss a fella..." the girls are chanting this little ditty I've taught them in anticipation of our big movie night. Janet* is five and Janie* is two. My husband is gone for the evening, where I don't remember, and we are planning a girl's night. I'm excited, I'm making popcorn, a rare treat in our home, and I've purchased Cinderella 3 on DVD. We've been waiting for this movie to come out for months, maybe a year, and it's finally available. I of course am celebrating with some wine. There's a half bottle of red in the kitchen, more than enough for an evening alone with my two small children. I have a quick glass while making the popcorn, and then pour another and we settle in for the movie.

Somehow, the movie night is not going according to my expectations. Janie is bored, she wanders off to play. Or maybe she is nagging me to play with her, again, the memories are hazy. To settle my nerves I have another glass of wine. The bottle is empty now, and I want more. I don't think I have a problem. I am not a drunk. I just want one more glass. But if I open another bottle, my husband will know and despite justifying to myself that one more glass is no big deal there is clearly a part of myself that knows that it IS because I don't want him to know. So I get the idea to open another bottle and drink it down to the same line that the first bottle was at. I'll hide the first, empty bottle and my husband will think that I didn't have anything to drink at all. Brilliant! But something goes wrong. As the level in the bottle gets lower I start to feel sick. I'm stumbling around, slurring my words. I've completely forgotten about my kids, the movie, everything except the level in that bottle. I have to force the last glass down, I'm that drunk. I don't want any more, but I have to get the bottle to half full and it never, ever would occur to me to dump it out. That would be wasteful!

I don't remember the ending of the movie, or if we even watched the end. Somehow I manage to get my kids upstairs and into my bed. I don't know if we put on pajamas, or if we brushed teeth. We probably did, since I do remember trying to read a book to them, and if I was coherent enough to read a book I probably had them brush teeth, right? Except I wasn't coherent, I was slurring my words like mad. The pages were fading in and out, the print just a blur. I was fighting unconsciousness. The room was going black. I think it was only 8pm. I quit reading and told my kids mommy was 'sick.' Then I passed out.

I don't know if my kids went straight to sleep, or if they stayed awake, talking over their drunken, unconscious mother. I don't know if they felt afraid, all alone in that big house with no one to take care of them. I doubt they knew the danger they would have been in if something had happened, a fire, a burglary, a medical emergency.

I don't remember my husband coming home, but I can only imagine how it looked to him. His wife, sprawled on the bed, passed out, reeking of wine. His two innocent children beside her, sleeping (or perhaps not). Did he try to wake me, to talk to me? Did I slur my words? Did I try to justify myself? Or did he just shake his head and go, wondering why I keep doing this?

At some point I did wake, that point where I was sober enough to face the full horror of what I had done, and sick enough to want to die. Red wine was hard on my stomach (which is why I later switched to white) and I spent several hours not able to sleep from the waves of nausea and repeated runs to the bathroom to puke my guts out. What excuse did I give? Food poisoning? The flu? Did anyone ever believe that I was 'sick' that often? Somehow, I made it to morning. Somehow, I always seemed to finally sleep around 6am or so, and woke up feeling better albeit totally hungover. I looked around at the devastation I had caused, and swore to myself 'never again'. But it was just one of the million times I had said that, and there would be another million before I finally quit for good three years later.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Exercise in Understanding Myself

Forgive me if this blog post isn't a clear story with a beginning and end. My sponsor has asked me to do a sort of self-help exercise, and this seems like as good a place to do it as any! Hopefully, whatever comes out of it will be helpful to more than just me.

A brief outline of the situation: I'm a Girl Scout leader. Cookie sales ended about a month ago. One mother decided not to pay the $840 she owes the troop for the cookies she sold. This, as you can imagine, has been an extremely upsetting situation. She claims that she only sold half the products, and that the money for the other half was stolen. However I have it on good authority that she sold everything and was living off the money. I can only conclude that she never intended to pay the troop. That she saw this golden opportunity to make some cash and took it. Now she is trying to shift the blame to me, by claiming that I am a bad leader, that I am teaching the girls inappropriate materials (because we did a couple of sessions on drug and alcohol awareness) etc. Intellectually I know that she is trying to justify her actions to herself and is most likely looking for an excuse to pull her daughter from our troop, so that she can justify not paying for the cookies. Emotionally, I am mad, frustrated, hurt, offended, and disgusted.

I called my sponsor to ask her how to deal with these emotions because they are getting the best of me. I thought AA would say that I need to find a way to forgive her so that I don't continue to hold this resentment. Well I can't see how to forgive this. I thought AA would tell me to look at my part in the situation, but I honestly can't see where I have done anything wrong in this case. I have remained professional, I have kept my opinions to myself, I have not gossiped, I have continued to treat the child, and as hard as it is for me, the mother, with respect and kindness.

Thankfully, my sponsor didn't tell me either of these things. She asked how I have dealt with the business side of things, the stolen money, and I was able to tell her that I have done everything in my power by turning it over to the authorities. So she said that since I've done all I can there, I can allow myself to let that part go. As for the emotional feelings of being under attack, she said I need to examine my feelings. Why am I hurt by this woman's words? Why, when several parents told me that they appreciated and enjoyed my program, do I focus on her criticism? Is there any validity to what she claims? I believe not. So why let it get under my skin?

I believe it all comes down to the fact that I am a people pleaser. I'm sure a lot of it stems from my childhood, when I was criticized constantly by my parents for never doing anything right. I feared the angry words, the punishments that came with doing anything that my parents didn't like (and this could be something as innocent as reading a book, my dad didn't believe in wasting time reading). I came to associate any kind of conflict or difference of opinion as a situation where I would be yelled at. So I stopped standing up for myself. I hid what I wanted to do and pretended that all was fine, all the time. I actually developed an ulcer from all this stress when I was in high school! High school! Not surprisingly, it went away when I went off to college. But I digress. In this situation, I feel those same old feelings of guilt, depression and stress when confronted with conflict. I want everyone to approve of and like everything I do, and I don't want to deal with any situation where disagreements are bound to occur. But keeping all this stuff in makes me feel like shit.

My sponsor says I need to validate my own actions. I bear no guilt today. I am not drinking. I am present for myself, my children, my husband, my employer and my Girl Scouts. I am a good leader and a good role model. Of course, there will still be people that don't like something I do or say, but that is their problem, not mine. I need to let it be their's. By allowing this woman to get to me I am giving her power over me and she does not deserve that. I can't feel bad about this situation anymore. It's not my fault.

Monday, April 19, 2010

...And it Was Just Right

Most of the time I don’t feel like anything is ‘just right’ in my life. Like Goldilocks, I often find things ‘too hot’ or ‘too cold’, ‘too hard’ or ‘too soft.’ It takes a lot for me to accept something as being ‘just right’. I either strive to change things to make them fit my standard of acceptability, or I reject them as being completely unacceptable. On the surface this seems reasonable, after all, had Goldilocks eaten that first bowl of porridge, she would’ve burned her tongue. Had she eaten the second, she would’ve had cold porridge and really, who wants that?

According to the Big Book;

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation---some fact of my life---unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.

In my search for the ‘just right’ I often lose my serenity. I become caught up in the heat or coldness of the ‘wrong’ things. I rage, I rant, I cry, I obsess and I begin to feel that only unhealthy choices can make me feel right again. I read ‘Acceptance’ and while it brings me much comfort I have a very, very hard time with ‘I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment’. Does that mean Goldilocks should have just accepted that she was meant to burn her tongue and eaten that first bowl?

Applying this passage to the story, perhaps the lesson is not that Goldilocks should accept the first thing that came along, whether it fits her or not, rather that she need not become disturbed about the fact that the first bowl was not for her. Perhaps the moral I can take here is that it is alright not to want what presents itself to me first, or second or even third. It’s alright if a person, place, thing or situation doesn’t suit me. I can accept that it isn’t right and move on without becoming so emotionally unhinged. I can happily try the next bowl of porridge, content in the knowledge that while the first bowl wasn’t what I wanted, this next bowl might be. And eventually I will find something that is just right.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Staring at the Blank Page Before You

Here I go, stealing titles from songs again.

I was on my way to pick up my girls from school yesterday when Unwritten came on the radio. I’ve always really like this song, but it’s the first time I actually listened to the lyrics.

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

In my sobriety these words take on meanings so deep that tears began to run down my face. As I pulled up to the school I wiped quickly at my cheeks thinking “shit, just what I need, to be seen crying by all these parents!” Thankfully, I don’t think anybody saw me and I kept it together, but when I got my girls home I looked up the video and lyrics and listened to the song another 3 or 4 times, letting the tears flow.

Staring at the blank page before you - My life in sobriety is one huge blank page. There are no certainties as to what a day will bring. All I know is it’s my responsibility to keep “And then she took that first drink” from being written on the page each day, and hand the pen over to my Higher Power for the rest.

No one else can feel it for you, Only you can let it in – I am the only one who can choose how I should live, the only one who can grant myself sobriety each and every day.

No one else can speak the words on your lips – I have to stand up for me and I have to take care of myself. I have to open up to people. I have to share. I have to speak my words, they are unique and precious and nobody else has them.

Live your life with arms wide open – Maybe this one should have been the title of this post, it’s so important. All I have to do to allow light and love into my life is open myself up to them. I can be happy or sad, free or enslaved, open to possibilities or closed to the world. I just have to choose to be.

Today is where your book begins – Today is all we have, and just for today, I choose life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Breaking the Habit

Yesterday was one of those days.

The first upset came via email from a person I have to deal with in a non-profit I volunteer for. This person did something really offensive and I’ve been left to deal with it. Despite their attempts to drag me down into the mud with them, I’ve stayed on my moral high ground and refused to engage at that level. I’ve managed to stay professional with them face-to-face, but behind the scenes I’ve been ranting to anyone who would listen about how much I dislike and distrust this person. This tendency to talk about people behind their backs is one I really dislike in myself, and I need to work on it, but it’s not what really disturbed me about the exchange. What I am really mad at myself about is that after we exchanged a few civil emails I actually made a joke. As if I liked this person. As if I had forgiven. As if everything was okay. And it’s not okay.

Later on I was talking to my parents on the phone. My sister is going through a rough time in her marriage and my parents are really worried about her and her kids. Her husband, to put it mildly, is a total douche bag. At one point it was just my mom on the phone and she said something like, “I know Suzie and Bobby will be fine even though their dad is a jerk. You and your sister grew up with one really great parent (meaning herself) and one so-so parent (meaning my dad) and you turned out just fine.” WHOA. Talk about living in a fairy tale mom. My mom was the ultimate absentee parent. Even when she was physically present she was mentally off somewhere else. She never played with us, never talked to us, never showed concern for us when we were little. And she thinks she was really great?! But did I say anything? Nooooo. I just blathered on about “acceptance” and “not being able to change other people”. My feelings of anger, disbelief, and resentment which rose up on hearing those words were stuffed back down inside of me. To be bottled up, ignored, and forgotten if possible. And that’s when I realized that my old, insidious habit of not dealing was still alive and well.

I used to avoid dealing with my feelings by drinking. Now I avoid them by using the teachings of AA. Someone hurts my feelings? Accept it, look at my part of it, and let it go. Someone pisses me off? Tell myself I can’t change them so there is no point in confronting them about it. I’m still hiding, still stuffing, still avoiding, just in another way. And that’s not how the program is supposed to work. As my sponsor once said “Just because you accept someone as they are doesn’t mean you have to be their doormat.” I need to learn to speak up when I hear, see, or feel something wrong. I need to be my own best defense. I need to stand up for me. I can still strive for acceptance and serenity, but I shouldn’t substitute them for dealing with life.

This is all hard for me, because I. DON’T. DEAL. That’s why I’m an alcoholic! I hate confrontation, even when I am in the right. I hate loud voices, angry words, criticisms, blame, shame, and all the rest that in my mind are a given in conflict of opinion. I hate conflict, period! I’d much rather shut my mouth and stew in silence than dare risk any of that. But if I am going to truly recover I have to do it. I have to break the habit of silence.

Today is my 8 month sobriety anniversary. To celebrate I give you one of my favorite songs: “Breaking the Habit” by Linkin Park. You’re welcome.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Because Sobriety Isn't Always Rainbows and Unicorns

There's a story which is meant to teach kids about the power of hurtful words and actions. The story uses a paper doll, let's call her Rachel. Throughout the day, Rachel has one bad experience after another: her mother yells at her, calls her lazy. Her teacher criticizes her, her friends tease her and call her names. With each hurtful word or action, the storyteller rips a piece off the paper doll, until she is destroyed. Then Rachel begins to have good experiences. Her friends treat her nicely, and a piece that was ripped off is taped back on. Her teacher praises her art work, her mother apologizes for her temper and harsh words. In the end, Rachel is whole again, but the places she was torn apart are still visible. The storyteller then shares the moral: even when we apologize for hurtful behavior, we can never make things exactly the way they were before. We leave scars.

This story came to my mind this morning after receiving an email from a friend. I just came out to this friend about my alcoholism. She is being wonderfully supportive and I am so thankful for her kindness and care. In this email, she also brought up an incident in which I hurt her. The incident was actually my rock bottom, my impetus into AA. I was on a trip with her, her family and my family. I got really drunk and acted very badly in front of everyone. I was so filled with shame and remorse the next day that I finally admitted out loud, to my husband, that I am powerless over alcohol. A couple of weeks later I went to my first meeting and I've been sober ever since. But that's not the point of this post. The point is that I hurt my friend. I said something, I don't remember what, which caused her pain. Now in my sobriety I can apologize for that hurt and try to make amends, but I can never erase the scars. That makes me very sad, and for the first time in a while I became very angry that I am an alcoholic.

At a meeting this morning the table was talking about gratitude. I realized that instead of focusing on how bad I feel and the hurt I caused, I need to look at this situation from another angle. Yes, I hurt my friend, and no apology can change that. But I can be grateful that through my sobriety I have the chance to apologize. I can be grateful that I do not have to hide from the situation; I can deal with it, head on and work through it. I believe that I can, with work, get my friendship back. Will there be a scar? Probably. Will our friendship be exactly the way it was before I did drunken damage to it? Probably not. But we have a chance we never would have had were I still an active drunk, and for that, I'm grateful.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Different Kind of Drinking Dream

Over those past couple of weeks which were so hard for me I was having a different kind of drinking dream. Normally my drinking dreams are I'm in some kind of social situation and all of a sudden I realize I have a drink in my hand and I am horrified. I feel awful that I have to start my sobriety all over again and admit to my sponsor that I had a drink. During those hard couple of weeks though, my dreams were different. In them I would be actively and consciously drinking. I would realize at some point that I had been drinking 1 or 2 drinks a night for a while, maybe even a few weeks. I knew that my AA peeps and my sponsor would not approve, and I chose not to tell them. I chose to keep it a secret, thinking that my time in AA had taught me enough that I could control my drinking in moderation.

I woke from these dreams terrified they were true. I had to actively think back about what I had done the night before to ensure I hadn't drank. I had to remember the past few weeks before I knew it was just a dream. These dreams bothered me much more than my regular drinking dreams, because of my attitude. I feared they might be a precursor to going out on a binge. As a friend recently said at a meeting, "There is no such thing as a slip. You think the drink before you take it."

As I wrote in my last post about my way of dealing with the situation I'm in, I found myself feeling much better. The act of telling lifted a huge weight off me. I suppose it's similar to the way I feel better after sharing at a meeting. Facing my feelings by speaking them out loud (or typing them out loud as the case may be) frees me of them.

I haven't had one of those dreams all week, but I did have a different kind of drinking dream. I dreamt that my father died. I was at my grandmother's house with my parents and my children, it was Christmas Eve, and he suddenly died. I was screaming and crying and so incredibly sad and my mom just sat there. In this dream, she didn't care that he was dead. As I freaked out I thought to myself, "I don't know what to do with this despair. Maybe I should drink." Then I thought, "No, dad wouldn't have wanted me to throw away my sobriety because of this."

As disturbing as that dream was, I woke feeling glad that I made the right choice in it. No situation, no matter how awful, will ever be made better by a drink.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Checking In

The past couple of weeks have been really hard, and right now there is no end in sight. My husband was in a car accident, and while he’s fine physically the toll of dealing with the totaled car, the insurance, the costs and the disagreements over what to do now was high. Throw in a fight with my dad and a very crazy situation at school which has put me in the uncomfortable roll of debt collector and my nerves are shot. In the past, I would have drown each of these problems with liters of wine. But I can’t, and don’t want to, do that anymore. So how do I deal? With clich├ęs, and pep talks and a whole lot of prayer.

I put myself to sleep at night reciting the Serenity Prayer over and over. I particularly need this version right now:


Grant me the Serenity

To accept the people I cannot change,

The courage to change the one I can,

And the wisdom to know it is me.

I wake up, and the despair hits me before I even roll out of bed. On the way to the bathroom I chant: “One foot in front of the other. Just put one foot in front of the other. Deal with one thing at a time. Don’t think about what comes next, just take care of what is in front of you now.” In the shower I say the Serenity Prayer a few more times (crazy how calming those 4 lines are) and talk to my Higher Power: “God, take my anger. Take my fear, my frustration, my disappointment. Take this situation. I can’t handle it; you can. It’s yours now.”

For the rest of the day I try to focus on the task in front of me. I try to pour all my concentration and thought into putting on my make-up, packing my lunch, driving my car, doing my job. I remind myself over and over that my priorities are: #1 Me. #2 My children. #3 My husband. When I find myself gnawing at my problems like a dog with an old bone I ask myself if I am focusing on my priorities? Is my worrying helping the situation right now? No? Then drop it. Focus on now, this moment. Is anything bad happening right now in this moment that I need to deal with? Nearly always the answer is no. So I tell myself “I can’t change the past, and the future is uncertain, so there is no point worrying about it. Things will happen as they happen, I have no control over them.”

In a way, I am blessed to be an alcoholic. Because my disease led me to AA, and AA is leading me to a way of dealing with life on life’s terms. It’s leading me to peace, serenity, acceptance, gratitude and joy. In these difficult, dark days I can use the tools of the program to survive. It’s still hard as hell, but I’m not drinking. I’m not contemplating suicide. I’m not screaming at my kids. I’m not hating on my husband. I’m not hiding from my problems. Today, despite it all, is a good day.