Saturday, August 28, 2010

Loss & Faith

Last night I attended a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat service at my synagogue. It was led by a group of teens and they were amazing. I've never see that many teenagers smiling at once! They were lit up with joy in praise. It was truly beautiful. I kept thinking one word: Home. For the first time in my life, with this congration I have found a place of loving kindness, acceptance and joy.

This morning, I learned of the death of a woman in my home group to cancer. A woman I didn't know well, but who always inspired me with her light, love, and hope. Her husband, who is also in the program, attended the meeting despite having just said good-bye to his wife hours before. As he put it, 'At a time like this you want to be with family, and this is my family. She would have wanted me to come.' I thought of my own loved ones. Would I be at a meeting on the day of their loss? I like to think I would. When I first got sober, I had an out: I thought that if I ever lost either of my children that would be my excuse to drink myself to death. Later, I came to understand that to drink again over their death would be to dishonor their memory. They would not want me to give up my life and my sobriety because of them.

At my table this morning the topic was faith. People talked about how their Higher Power saved their lives, how He( or She, or It) kept them safe through their drinking. Personally, I can't believe that God has saved me. To summarize something that Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winning laureate and Holocaust survivor has said; I can't believe that God save me, because to believe that would be to hold my life as more worth of saving than the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. My life is no more worthy than theirs or any others.

They also talked about the line from Acceptance: "Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake", and how having faith that things happen for a reason carries them through. Again, I can't believe that God wants everything that happens to happen. To reconcile this with the loving God that I do believe in I turn to free will. God did not kill those 6 million Jews, Nazi's did. Nazi's - humans - who chose very, very wrong. I think God mourned their choices, the loss of their souls to such depravity and evil just as he mourned the massacre of the Jewish people.

So where am I going with all this? The loss of any life is a terrible thing. It can drag us down, or it can inspire us to lift ourselves up. This morning, I mourned along with a man honoring his wife and her life in the best way he could. Last night I praised God with joy along with a people who survived one of the most atrocious acts of mankind in history. In both places, I found joy, gratitude, and love. Perhaps it is because we have seen the darkest of the dark that recovering alcoholics and Jews are capable of such great light. Perhaps it is because we have faith. Whatever the reason, I am so grateful to have all of these people in my life.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How'd you do it?

August 13th was my one year sobriety birthday. After I received my token at my favorite meeting, surrounded by friends and 'family' and led the table discussion, I was asked the usual question, 'How'd you do it?' My answer was something like this.

I believe I was an alcoholic/addict from the moment I took my first drink/toke. Even though my friends started 'partying' years before I did, I was the one who always pushed for more. Every new drug we tried I was the one wanting to do it again (and again, and again). Within a year of smoking my first joint, I had tried at least 7 other types of drugs. By my senior year I was a meth head. I weighed about 90 lbs, never slept, never ate, and was a major bitch who liked to freak out on my friends. That my parents never noticed any of this still baffles me. Although they must have suspected something, because after high school they shipped me off halfway across the country to college to get me away from my friends. It got me off the meth (thank God) but it introduced me to a new love; alcohol.

College was for drinking and I drank hard. At first it was just a way of having fun, then at a frat party my freshman year, while drunk, I was raped. Probably that experience would cause anyone who wasn't an alcoholic to never drink again, but for me it was an excuse to spend the next two years completely plastered. Not only did I drink and smoke 24/7, but I developed a lot of other habits to hurt myself with. I felt I didn't deserve to be treated well. I felt like a piece of garbage, and I let everyone around me treat me as such.

My last two years of college I did a little better. I met a great guy, I got involved in my campus Women's group. I had a few healthy behaviors to balance out the unhealthy ones, but I still drank. In secret often, to hide it from that great guy, and not as much as before, but it was still my love. When I was sad, angry, depressed, annoyed, tired, happy, celebrating, bored, I drank.

After college I ran away to another country. I was looking for a new life, an adventure, a new me really. Instead I found the lowest point of my life. For 2.5 years solid I drank to excesses I'd never seen before. I put myself into situations time and again where I really should have died. I think now that maybe I did want to die, maybe that's part of why I did the stupid things I did. Still, the things I did during this time of my life shame me to the core. That shame was all I knew for a very long time. It contaminated all my feelings, all my thoughts and all my actions. And it kept me drinking.

At the end of this period I found myself pregnant. I quit smoking, and I reduced my alcohol intake, but I still had a glass of wine a day. Hey, I was in Europe, a glass of wine was no big deal! Even when pregnant. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. Once my baby was born (healthy, thank God) my drinking escalated again. I spent the next 8 years (and second pregnancy) cycling through binge drinking and daily drinking. But no matter how much I drank, the shame was always with me. I felt like such a failure as a mother. I was so miserable in my life. I saw darkness and despair all around me all the time, and the only way I could be pleasant, the only way I could laugh or play with my children, was to have a buzz on. But I knew it was all a facade.

As time went on I became active in my children's lives and schools. I led Girl Scouts, I went to PTA meetings, I did fundraisers and taught Sunday school and had a million play dates. And I hated myself. I did everything wrong, I could never, ever achieve to the level that I thought I needed to. I was never smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, strong enough, funny enough, kind enough. I was a failure not only as a mom but as a wife, daughter, granddaughter, friend, teacher, employee, volunteer. To forget about all my failures I drank. And yet I hated that I drank. I have no idea how many times I woke up in the night, feeling sick, hating myself for having drank so much the night before, and telling myself 'never again'. At least three times a week, usually more, for 10+ years? That's over 1500 nights, over 1500 promises broken. Far over I'm sure. I knew I was an alcoholic, but I didn't want to admit it. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and he was an abusive child rapist. I didn't want to have anything in common with him. Besides, if I was an alcoholic I'd have to quit drinking forever and I definitely didn't want that!

Then a little over a year ago I succeeded in making a complete idiot of myself in front of my husband, my children, my best friend and her family after drinking 1.5 bottles of wine on a camping trip. The next morning I finally said out loud that I had a problem. I told my husband that as soon as I took even one small sip of alcohol I lost all control. It didn't matter what my intentions were before that sip, they all flew out the window and all I knew was a giant craving for more, more, more! I agreed that morning to try AA when we got home. But when we got home I kept drinking. A few weeks later my husband brought it up again, and with a few glasses of liquid courage I called the hotline. I went to my first meeting the next night, and my life changed.

At the first meeting I sat with a bunch of men and 1 woman. As the men told their stories of jail, DUIs, lost wives and children I thought 'I'm not that bad'. I said so. I talked about how I wanted to drink like a normal person, that's all. Oh yeah, and be perfect. And then the other woman spoke about how she wasn't that bad either. She never got into trouble. Yet she was a whole lot worse, because she was a mom, because her drinking was ruining her children's lives by taking her away from them, nearly permanently. That night she gave me a poem about loving myself, and she gave me a Big Book. That night she saved my life.

I'd like to say I never had another drink after that night, but it's not true. The next night, as I sat and read the Big Book, seeing myself in every page, I drank my last glass of wine. My husband drank with me, telling me how I just needed to learn to drink responsibly, that I didn't have to live without alcohol forever. I knew he was wrong.

The next days, weeks and months were some of the hardest in my life, yet looking back on them they seem to be some of the easiest, because there are no bad memories, no shame or guilt associated with them. I had awful, horrible cravings. I hung on with my fingernails most days. I ate a TON of ice cream, and I read a lot. I went to lots of meetings, and I read lots of fabulous blogs like Ellie's One Crafty Mother and Stephanie's Baby on Bored. I joined the Booze Free Brigade and learned about the thousands, probably millions of other moms who are JUST LIKE ME who are also alcoholics and read some of their stories on Crying Out Now.

On the worst days, I walked through my house literally chanting, 'one foot in front of the other. Just take one step, do the next thing that needs to be done, you'll get through the day eventually.' I said the Serenity Prayer over and over again, and the Lord's Prayer too. I learned new prayers, I learned how to talk to God, and I learned how to turn my problems, fears and frustrations over to him. I learned that I don't have to be perfect, I just have to be human, and I don't have to care what other people think of me. And somehow, after 365 days of thinking, praying, and taking one step at a time I found myself receiving my 1 year token from a friend, surrounded by surrogate uncles and brothers, my adoptive grandpa, and two other moms at the start of their journey who I already care more about than I can say.

As my sponsor says, 'I am so thankful to be sober by the Grace of God and the 12 steps of AA'. That's how I did it, and how I continue to stay sober.